Research Update: Making the Most of Volunteers: A Study Shows Volunteers Are Giving Their Time in Exchange for Community and Social Benefits

Article excerpt

Volunteer labor is extremely valuable to an organization because it provides its administrators with the ability to sustain services, expand the quantity, quality and diversity of these services, while keeping a project's budget within its pre-specified limits (Strigas & Jackson, 2004). For individuals associated with voluntary organizations, offering time, services and expertise helps increase self-esteem, facilitates new relationships, develops skills and abilities, reduces depression levels, and builds healthier attitudes about aging (Shin & Kleiner, 2003).

However, one of the predominant benefits of volunteering is a stronger sense of social and community cohesion. Communities that face challenging problems rely heavily on volunteer labor to overcome needs and difficulties, improve their public image and promote social harmony, understanding, equality and tolerance.

According to 2004 Bureau of Labor Statistics data collected for its monthly Current Population Survey (CPS, U.S Department of Labor), about 64.5 million (28 percent) of the population age 16 or older had volunteered for various organizations at least once during the previous year. This volunteer labor force spent a median of 52 hours on volunteer activities. Considering the estimated value of a volunteer hour is currently up to $17.55 (Independent Sector, 2005), it is obvious that volunteers have an enormous financial impact on the fabric of the U.S. society.

People in the 35- to 44-year-old age bracket (34.2 percent of the U.S. population) were found to be the most likely to offer time and expertise in order to serve various social causes, among them the enhancement of park and recreation services. This group was followed closely by the 45- to 54-year-old group (32.8 percent) and the 55- to 64-year-old group (30.1 percent). The survey also discovered that teenagers demonstrated a relatively high volunteer rate (29.4 percent), which is attributed to the new emphasis in schools on volunteer activities.

The study also found Caucasians volunteer at higher rates than any other ethnic/racial group in the United States; part-time employees are more likely to participate in volunteer activities than full-timers; and married people volunteer at higher rates than people who are divorced, single or live with a partner.

Based on this data, and considering research reports on volunteerism for park and recreation agencies from countries that resemble the characteristics of the U.S. (i.e. Canada, Australia), the profile of the typical community sport volunteer is an individual between 34- and 45-years-old with a higher education degree, a full-time job and an annual income that exceeds $60, 000 (Doherty, 2005). That person most likely has participated in organized sport activities in the past and was surrounded by people who volunteered.

Findings from the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering, and Participating (Imagine Canada, 2000) also provide an interesting insight on this issue. The survey results seem to align themselves with results from generic studies in volunteerism regarding the predominant motives for volunteering services: time and expertise.

The survey found that volunteers for sport and recreation offer their assistance because they want to help a cause they believe in (94 percent), want to develop skills and acquire experiences in order to contribute to the leisure organization's cause (87 percent) and because someone they are affiliated with (significant others, children, etc.) is affected by the leisure organization and its programs (76 percent) (Doherty, 2005).

These results are greatly supported by a number of volunteerism studies on recreational sport events, conducted by Strigas and Jackson (2001, 2003). According to these studies, the primary motives for volunteering were because it was fun to volunteer services for recreational sport events; the volunteer wanted to help make the event a success; volunteering creates a better society; the volunteer wanted to put something back in my community; and volunteering makes the volunteer feel better about himself or herself. …