Good Work, If You Can Get It: How to Attract and Retain Dedicated Volunteers. (Research Update)

By Henderson, Karla; Silverberg, Kenneth | Parks & Recreation, November 2002 | Go to article overview

Good Work, If You Can Get It: How to Attract and Retain Dedicated Volunteers. (Research Update)


Henderson, Karla, Silverberg, Kenneth, Parks & Recreation


Volunteering refers to any activity in which an individual gives freely to benefit other people, groups or organizations. Volunteers, however, also benefit greatly from their giving. Volunteering is part of a general cluster of helping activities and could mean involvement in voluntary associations as well as activism focusing on social change or donations of money, supplies or blood (Wilson, 2000). Other emerging terms associated with volunteering include community service, neighborliness, experiential learning, corporate social responsibility, friends groups, self-help, public service, service learning and community involvement (Winter, 1998a).

Americans spend more time volunteering than citizens of any other country, and the amount of time spent volunteering increases in every age group except the very old (Powers, 1998). Volunteering is an activity that, when established early, continues throughout life (Powers, 1998). Approximately 50 percent of American adults volunteer in nonprofit organizations, with an estimated $150 billion worth of services being provided annually (Independent Sector, 1990). In 2001, the dollar value of volunteer time was $16.05 per hour (Independent Sector, 2002).

Facilitating volunteering in organizations requires investment and training, but has obvious benefits--a recent study in Europe estimated that every dollar invested in volunteering brought eight in return (Smith, 2001). The purpose of this research update is to highlight how research on volunteerism can assist parks and recreation organizations with recruiting and promoting volunteerism in their organizations.

Reasons for Volunteering

Two related but distinct dimensions must be discussed regarding volunteers. These include individual as well as organizational aspects. The psychology of volunteering is important to address and relates directly to the sociology of organizational behavior. For instance, a recent study in public parks and recreation settings found that satisfied volunteers had higher levels of commitment to the organization and exhibited more organizational citizenship behaviors towards their co-workers (Silverberg, Ellis, Whitworth, Kane, in press).

Limited research has been undertaken to describe how volunteering possesses characteristics of work as well as leisure (Henderson, 1981). The value of thinking about how volunteering is like leisure lies in how recreation professionals facilitate opportunities for individuals to volunteer to meet their needs as well as to develop social capital.

Volunteering may take on many facets. Stebbins (2000) described how volunteering might be casual or serious. Serious or career volunteering refers to involvement such as an amateur or hobbyist with a substantial commitment and identity associated with volunteering. Examples might include serving as an officer in an organization or being a youth sports coach or scout leader. Casual volunteering is on the opposite end of the spectrum and includes immediate, occasional activities that generally don't require a long-term commitment.

These volunteers might also be referred to as lend-a-hand or short-term volunteers (Tedrick & Henderson, 1989).

Wilson (2000) undertook a major literature review to examine theories that have influenced volunteer involvement. He noted that people volunteer because of their characteristics, relationships and the community context. Clary and colleagues (1998) determined major motivations for volunteering, ranging from altruistic reasons to career opportunities. Becker and Dhingra (2001) studied religious involvement and volunteering, and found that social networks and impressions of organizational identity drew people into volunteering. People in public parks and recreation departments volunteered because someone they knew benefited from their volunteering, they perceived that the program wouldn't survive without their help or they wanted to be better citizens and learn about local government operations (Silverberg, Ellis, Backman, & Backman, 1999). …

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