Building a Digital Platform for Volunteering

IBF Net Group
5 min readMar 21, 2024


This is the first part in a series of blogs on the subject. First published at

The Benevolence platform by IBF Net was an innovative move to unitize the contribution (sadaqah) of funds and human efforts for the benefit of ethical and developmental projects. It underlined the Islamic approach to bring about comprehensive human development and well-being by placing equal importance on financial as well as human capital. It recognised the role of philanthropy-driven action which may involve either donation of funds, or volunteering of human efforts and skills, or both. Indeed, the platform sought to address some major pain points with philanthropy-driven developmental initiatives. In the case of volunteering-based projects the pain points seemed to be more severe, since the contribution of volunteers (quality and/or quantity of human efforts) was neither objectively measured, nor adequately incentivised. This led to some avoidable adverse outcomes. It made the allocation of resources less efficient due to absence of reliable information on the quantity and quality of available resources in terms of human efforts. The Benevolence platform sought to address the challenges by facilitating objective measurement of charitable and benevolent action (sadaqah) in the form of contribution of assets (SA) and of efforts (SE) and conversion of the same into tokens of value. So what additional value Benevolence (Volunteering) 2.0 now seeks to bring in?

Celebrating Volunteering

Volunteering is an altruistic activity. A volunteer provides labour for no financial gain. Volunteering builds social capital. It strengthens civil society by generating trust and facilitating the effective organisation of people.

Volunteering also delivers benefits to the volunteer. Society can also experience secondary benefits from the personal changes experienced by the volunteer. Volunteers have lower mortality rates, socialise more, form better emotional attachments, achieve a stronger personal sense of accomplishment, and are less likely to be involved in criminal activity in adulthood. Volunteering can also improve occupational achievement, which in turn facilitates entry into paid work. For older adults, volunteering can moderate a loss of purpose following the loss of major role identities, such as the wage earner or parent. There is supporting empirical evidence on all the above.

In short, volunteering offers benefits to the volunteer, to the recipients of the unpaid work and to society more generally. Yet the recruitment and management and longer term support of volunteers are not always handled well.

Most people assume that volunteers are simply unpaid workers. This is so despite the fact that wages are only one differentiator between a volunteer and professional workforce. There are indeed a range of differentiators, including hours of work, workplace dependency, affiliation to multiple organisations, legal liabilities and performance management. The differences between volunteers and paid staff make it unlikely that HR practices designed and implemented in a paid context can be readily transferred to volunteers. One of the key issues at stake here is a better understanding of the motivations of the volunteer together with new HR practices that could marry these motivations to specific volunteer opportunities.

Digital systems offer new opportunities to match volunteers to opportunities and can help ensure that the goals and expectations of the volunteers are fully aligned with the needs of the host organisation. Alright, let’s break this down into why people decide to volunteer and what they expect from it, and how sometimes, there’s a bit of a mismatch between those expectations and reality. While many jump into volunteering with the best of intentions, they might not fully grasp what they’re getting into, which can affect how long they stick around and how motivated they feel day-to-day.

The Psychological Contract

Everyone who volunteers is hoping to get something out of the experience, whether it’s a feel-good factor, new skills, or connections. However, in contrast to a commercial contract, here you have this idea of a psychological contract (PC) — kind of an unspoken agreement about what employees and employers expect from each other. When you start a new job, there’s usually an “onboarding” process to help you get the hang of things, which is super important for feeling good about the job. But when it comes to volunteering, it’s a bit more complicated.

The transaction stuff, like fair work conditions and rewards, might not be as big of a deal for volunteers as feeling recognized and like they’re part of the team. There’s some research out there, but not a ton, about what volunteers expect in return for their time and energy. For instance, folks volunteering at community sports clubs really dig doing meaningful work and the social perks that come with it, even if they sometimes feel stretched too thin. On the flip side, the people running these clubs are more hung up on rules, standards, and keeping the volunteer roster full.

And here’s the kicker: feeling like the deal — that psychological contract — has been broken is a major reason volunteers bounce. This sense of a broken promise can leave folks feeling undervalued and less inclined to stick around, which is a big deal for organisations that rely on volunteers to keep things running smoothly.

So, what we’re curious about is how these expectations and the reality of volunteering align, or don’t, and how both volunteers and their coordinators navigate this dance. Plus, we’re thinking about how digital tools could make this whole process smoother and more fulfilling for everyone involved.

Understanding the motivations behind why people volunteer and the expectations they carry into their volunteering experiences, is usually encapsulated within a framework called the values-motivations-opportunities (VMO). It highlights how social connections and personal invitations play a significant role in drawing individuals into volunteer work, often based on the alignment of personal values with the organisation’s goals. However, there’s a noted gap between initial expectations and the reality of volunteering, affecting volunteer retention and motivation.

The concept of a psychological contract (PC) is crucial here, representing the unspoken expectations between volunteers and organisations. While tangible benefits might be less critical for volunteers compared to paid employees, aspects like recognition and a sense of belonging are vital. Yet, mismatches between volunteers’ expectations and their actual experiences can lead to a sense of contract breach, significantly influencing their decision to stay or leave the organisation.

(To be continued)

Key Reference: Lisa Thomas, Gary Pritchard and Pam Briggs. 2019. Digital Design Considerations for Volunteer Recruitment: Making the Implicit Promises of Volunteering More Explicit. In Proceedings of C&T 2019, June 3–7, 2019, Vienna, Austria.

Do you know that IBF Net’s Netversity offers a comprehensive self-paced online certification course on Islamic Volunteer Management? This course has been assesed and accredited by CPD (UK) making you eligible for 42 CPD points on successful completion. For more information and enrollment, visit and/or email us at



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