• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site

Volunteers Are Happier and Trust People More

It is a myth that civil society is underdeveloped in Russia – more than a third of Russians take part in solving problems in their communities, and 3% volunteer for some or other organization. Elena Petrenko, Assistant Professor at the HSE Faculty of Sociology presented her report 'The Russian Volunteer Movement, Its Actors and Environment' at the Tenth National Conference on Voluntary work

Volunteers in Russia are people with successful careers, good incomes, and loving families. They tend to be happier and more trusting. But the proportion of volunteers in Russia is still very small – just 3% of the population over the past six years. However, the country has good volunteer potential, since 37% of Russians actively help other people in some way andare involved in sorting out social problems in their communities.

Elena Petrenko's report is based on the findings of twenty representative surveys by the Public Opinion Foundation with a total of 28,500 adult respondents in 43 Russian regionsin 2012-2013.

Volunteers: Well-resourced and Mature

A number of grassroots initiatives over the past few years bear witness to the birth of the volunteer movement in Russia:

  • extinguishing forest fires in the summer and repairing the damage caused byicey rains in the winter in 2010;
  • volunteer relief efforts for flood victims in Krymsk in 2012 and in the Far East in 2013;
  • protests against the rigged State Duma election results in the winter of 2011-2012.

Elena Petrenko distinguishes between volunteers affiliated with non-governmental organisations and volunteer centers (3%, 909 respondents), and informal activists not affiliated with any organisation (37%, 10,680 respondents).

Petrenko further categorises the non-volunteer respondents into 'online people' (i.e. those who spend much of their time online, 24%) and 'offline people' (36%). The latter two groups of non-volunteers are auxiliary to the study and help highlight the specific features of volunteering as a phenomenon in Russia.

The surveys portray volunteers and activists as people in their 30s and 40s as opposed to 'offline people' in their 50s and above. The average ages are 37 for volunteers, 43 for activist, 55 for 'offline', and 34 for 'online' respondents.

In terms of income, volunteers were found to be well-resourced people who do not have to worry about making ends meet – their personal monthly income averages 16,667 rubles. Activists come next with 13,998 rubles, followed by 'online people' with 13,805 rubles, and 'offline people' with 10,494 rubles a month.

In terms of gender, education, and occupation, 47% of volunteers were men, 39% had a university degree, 9% held managerial positions, 14% were technical specialists, 22% were students, and 17% were retired.

Volunteers' Electoral Behaviour

Respondents were asked two questions about presidential and parliamentary elections: 'What Russian politician will you vote for if presidential elections are held next Sunday?' and a similar question about parliamentary elections to the State Duma. The responses show that 44% of the volunteers surveyed would vote for Vladimir Putin (which is the average for the general population), 11% for Mikhail Prokhorov, 11% for Gennady Zyuganov, and 14% for Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Among the activists surveyed, 42% would vote for Putin, and 7% each for Prokhorov and Zyuganov.

As far as parliamentary elections, 31% of the volunteers (and 35% of the activists) would vote for the United Russia Party, 17% each for the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, and 6% for the Just Russia Party.

Almost a third (31%) of all volunteers and 16% of all activists would agree to take part in public protests in the next few months, while 54% of the volunteers said they would never participate in any protests.

This means that volunteering in Russia is not overly politicized, except the so-called web-volunteers who spend three or more hours of their leisure time online every day – they are less likely to vote for United Russia.

Volunteer Roles

Respondents were offered a test to assess what they would do in three different scenarios: disaster relief, cleaning a local forest area, and protesting against election fraud. Those who said they would be willing to organise activities in at least one scenario were identified as organisers. Those who agree to participate in any of the activities were identified as participants, and those prepared to donate money to support an activity were identified as donors. The responses were used to make a citizenship behaviour index (CBI).

One in four respondents (26%) were organisers with the highest CBI of 48; about half (52%) were participants with the CBI of 23, and 9% were donors with the CBI of 9%, while 14% were described as passive since they were not prepared to act in any of the above roles.

Elena Petrenko says, these findings appear to contradict the assumption that civil society in Russia is underdeveloped, but in reality things are more complicated, because preparedness to act also depends on the proximity of relations between the actor and the recipient.

The CBI test assumed that the activity would benefit the respondent's family, friends, and acquaintances – thus the people felt responsible for providing a solution.

But people are less prepared to act when they do not really know the recipients. “It’s not so much that our activists are useless, but that the institutional climate is wrong,” Petrenko explains.

Lack of Trust

"Surveys and in-depth interviews suggest that civic involvement in Russia  depends on our ability to overcome a systemic lack of trust," says Petrenko.

Our respondents tend to trust and help those in their proximity, but rarely those outside their inner circle.

Those respondents who are active and have friends among volunteers tend to trust others more:

  • "Most people can be trusted," said almost a third (32%) of respondents involved with other activists, but  only 19% of those who do not have activist friends agreed;
  • "You can trust people in your inner circle," said 74% of respondents who have activist friends and 61% of those who do not.

People who consider working for an NGO some time in the future tend to have more faith in personal and social situations – 30%of them believe that most people can be trusted, while only 20% of those who would never consider working for an NGO think the same.

Having participated in public protests also builds trust in others. "32% of those who have  joined in public protests – but just 24% of those who have not – believe that most people can be trusted; 76% of those having participated in protests trust their inner circle as opposed to 65% of those who have not."

Citizenship Climate Index

Petrenko produced a Citizenship Climate Index (CCI) based on people's trust in others generally and in their inner circle, and on their declared willingness to act jointly with others. She identified 5 zones of different citizenship climates:

  • 22% civic (CCI = 96).
  • 26% proto-civic (CCI = 60).
  • 12% paternalistic (CCI = 40).
  • 21% particular (CCI = 20).
  • 19% passive (CCI = 0).

Respondents from different civil climate zones are involved in activism – this includesbeing aware of volunteer activities in the community and knowing volunteers personally – to different degrees.

Those from civic and proto-civic zones are more likely to participate in civic initiatives; they tend to be more aware of what activists are doing and often know some of them personally.

How Happy Are Volunteers?

The respondents were asked whether they were happy and what made them happy – their internal state or external circumstances. Those with the highest CCI and CBI – ie the most active people – were also the happiest.

However, over the past six years the proportion of volunteers in Russia has not been growing. There are at least two reasons: a systemic lack of trust which makes people unwilling to help those outside their inner circle, and the institutional matrix of bureaucracy and restrictive legislation which puts the brakes on volunteering.


Authors: Maria Selivanova, Olga Sobolevskaya, November 15, 2013