Is Volunteering Equal to Donating, and Vice Versa?

Looking on, we can find the following definition for volunteering, "To give or offer to give voluntarily: volunteered their services; volunteer to give blood." For donating, we have "To present as a gift to a fund or cause; contribute."

Looking at the first definition, we see "volunteer to give blood", which is also stated as "donate blood" in some American Red Cross posters. This is one case, then, where the two words can be interchanged, and do imply the other.

Yet, they are not interchanged freely. 'Volunteer to give' is swapped with 'donate', and vice versa. Could we say "Volunteer to donate blood"? It appears that we can, and that we are not repeating ourselves too much. After all, "Get paid to donate blood" is used often enough; 'donate' is here used in place of 'contribute'.

Again according to, "To give or supply in common with others; give to a common fund or for a common purpose." Yet, it can also mean "To submit for publication: contributed two stories to the summer issue." Some people do contribute articles, and get paid for doing so. So, contributing is not completely without pay, as 'supply' in the first definition for 'contribute' suggests.

But do volunteers not get paid for volunteering? Can we think of any instances where they do get paid? Clearly, if someone volunteers to man a booth, yet is given free food, one might argue that they are getting paid. After all, in exchange for sitting at a booth, they get food that they otherwise would have had to have paid for. If we take this far enough, we could argue that the recognition volunteers get is a kind of service done for the volunteers, in exchange for them volunteering, for good publicity brings recognition to an individual, which leads to some level of trust.

We can look to Mother Teresa for another example of this. While giving her time to help others, she did it because she believed it was the thing to do to be a moral individual, according to the religion that she prescribed to, or believed in.

So it appears both volunteering and donating can be seen as things that are done not only for the act itself, but also for the things that the act will bring about (recognition, broadly). But does that mean that we can say that volunteering and donating is the same thing? Can we think of any case where the one cannot be substituted for the other?

Perhaps it's best to look at what originally brought this question up - donating clothing. Is there a difference between sitting at a booth and donating clothing? I think one could argue that there is indeed a great difference. In the first case, one offers up their time, while in the second case they only offer up a good that they may be through with. I would argue that there is a great difference between spending half an hour sitting at a booth and picking out some clothes that I no longer wear and donating them. While they both require some time on my part, as far as preparation, the former requires a constant effort of time, while the latter only requires that I perform a brief task.

Volunteering, then, suggests a greater contribution than just donating. Of course, as pointed out above, one could say that they donate their time, in which case donating would be very similar to volunteering. Yet, I think I would argue that volunteering is consistently 'greater than' donating, as far as what the former is able give to a cause.


Definitions from, visited May 6 2005.