Institutional facilitation in sustained volunteering among older adult volunteers.

Author:Tang, Fengyan

As more nonprofit organizations rely on older adult volunteers to provide services, it is important to retain volunteers for an extended period of time to ensure service quality and the beneficial outcomes of volunteering. Nonprofit organizations are positioned to facilitate older adult volunteers' role performance. Based on an institutional perspective on volunteering, this study explored what institutional facilitations are needed for sustained volunteering. The sample included 401 older adult volunteers from 13 programs across the nation. Data were collected by means of self-administrated questionnaires. Institutional facilitation was captured by volunteer role flexibility, incentive, role recognition, and training. With volunteers' age controlled for, two-level hierarchical linear models were used to assess the relationship between volunteer duration (level 1 variables) and institutional facilitation (level 2 variables) in the volunteer program. Results demonstrated that a higher level of volunteering duration was associated with institutional facilitation factors of more role recognition and more training hours. Duration was also associated with less incentive. These findings suggest that certain facilitators from organizations contribute to an extended period of commitment among older adult volunteers.

KEY WORDS: institutional facilitation; older adult volunteer; role recognition; sustained volunteering; training


As the first of approximately 77 million baby boomers have entered their 60s, nonprofit organizations are faced with unprecedented opportunities to tap this potential volunteer pool. Volunteers have made significant contributions to U.S. society. It is estimated that in 1999, 26.4 million volunteers age 55 years and over contributed more than 5.6 billion hours at a value of $77.2 billion (Independent Sector, 2004). As baby boomers age, there will be a great potential for volunteering to tackle some of the most troubling social problems, such as failing schools, environmental degradation, youth drug abuse, and child maltreatment (Morrow-Howell, 2006).

Statistics demonstrate that older adult volunteers are more committed than their younger counterparts (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics [DOL,BLS],2007) and that people increase volunteer time commitment with age up to age 75, at which point volunteer participation stabilizes (Hendricks & Cutler, 2004). As shown in a recent national survey, in 2006 those age 65 and older devoted a median of 104 hours annually, compared with a median of 52 hours across all age groups (DOL, BLS, 2007). Among all adult volunteers, older volunteers are actively involved in a wide range of volunteer activities--from mentoring at-risk school children in poor urban communities to engaging in environmental conservation activities, teaching computer skills, and providing professional services (Morrow-Howell et al., 2006).

The individual benefits associated with volunteering have been well documented in the literature, especially health-related benefits to older adult volunteers. Compared with nonvolunteers, older adult volunteers are likely to experience higher levels of life satisfaction, enhanced well-being, decreased physical dependency, and lower rates of mortality (for example, Greenfield & Marks, 2004; Musick & Wilson, 2003; Van "Willigen, 2000). As baby boomers reach retirement age, older volunteers who directly benefit from volunteering also represent an organizational resource with the potential to increase capacity to provide services and expand public support (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2005).

Sustained volunteering is important to maintaining or improving the benefits and service quality linked with volunteering. Volunteer turnover is costly to an organization, to service delivery, and potentially to older adult volunteers themselves (Stevens, 1991).Volunteer performance and retention varies across organizations; the challenge is to assess what factors lead to retention of an individual in the volunteer role (Brudney, 1999).The effectiveness of volunteer performance and retention depends critically on organizational support (Grossman & Furano, 1999). Despite this, there is a dearth of hard evidence of this relationship. What exists in the literature on this topic is not empirical; rather, it is descriptive, programmatic, or prescriptive (Brudney & Kellough, 2000). This leaves much to be learned empirically about what factors contribute to sustaining older adult volunteers in their roles.

An institutional perspective has previously been applied as a means to understand variations among volunteer organizations in the use of volunteers and in the effects of institutional facilitation on volunteer role performance (for example, Morrow-Howell, Hinterlong, & Sherraden, 2001; Morrow-Howell et al., 2003). Organizations vary in the number and types of volunteer roles provided. They also vary in actions taken or resources used to improve the efficiency of role performance and create a positive experience for volunteers (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003) .The institutional variations may result in differences in sustained volunteering over an extended period of time. Various forms of facilitation can be used to make good use of volunteers' skills and experience. This, in turn, may result in improved volunteer commitment. On the basis of a recent study and an overview of literature, we identified facilitators that an organization may rely on to retain volunteers. These are the provision of role flexibility, training, incentive, and role recognition (Hong, Morrow-Howell, Tang, & Hinterlong, 2006).

Role flexibility is important for successful volunteer programs (Rochester & Hutchison, 2002), and it may be especially important to baby boomers approaching retirement age with competing employment and informal caregiving demands (Center for Health Communication, 2004). Role flexibility refers to the extent to which volunteer role demands can be adjusted to accommodate variability in volunteer capacity (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003).When volunteers have a choice in schedules and types of activities, this flexibility increases the recruitment of older adults from diverse backgrounds (Tang, Morrow-Howell, & Hong, 2007).

Training provides opportunities to improve individual capacity to meet volunteer role demands (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003).The importance and necessity of initial and ongoing training in preparing volunteers to deal with what they will encounter in their roles has been documented (Skoglund, 2006). Such training is particularly important for programs related to direct client services, such as crisis phone centers, information and referral services, and medical-related tasks (Grossman & Furano, 1999). When volunteers receive sufficient initial and ongoing training, they know what is expected of them and what they will face on the job, thus leaving them better prepared for volunteer role engagement (Skoglund, 2006).

Incentive refers to cash, cash-equivalent, or in-kind compensation for volunteer role performance, which may serve as an inducement or reward to sustain commitment (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003). The extrinsic or material incentive, including provision of a small stipend, is already an established structure within national volunteer programs and private initiatives. Incentive can address financial concerns among low-income people and may help to sustain volunteering when combined with appreciation and recognition (McBride, 2006). Empirical evidence demonstrates that free medical services and free meals have been correlated with increased volunteering hours in the settings of human services organizations (Cnaan & Cascio, 1999).

Role recognition is the public honoring or appreciation of volunteers for their contributions (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003). Particular to older adult volunteers, role recognition is important in sustaining role performance and enhancing satisfaction with volunteer programs (Cnaan & Cascio, 1999; Kovacs & Black, 1999; Stevens, 1991). Considering the high level of engagement and contributions of older adults in volunteering, they deserve more public recognition (Zedlewski & Schaner, 2005).

Given the great potential for volunteering among aging baby boomers, volunteer organizations, nonprofits, and government agencies are faced with the opportunities and challenges of engaging and facilitating older adults in volunteering and sustaining their commitment. Based on the institutional perspective theoretical framework, the study reported here aimed to answer the following research question: "What institutional factors are related to sustained volunteering?" This study concerned itself with volunteers age 50 and older, recruited by organizations whose volunteer programs were self-identified as being for "older adult" or "senior" volunteers. Each of these volunteer programs was identified as such within the framework of organizational operations. We hypothesized that a longer period of volunteer commitment would be associated with more facilitation provided by the volunteer programs themselves, including such factors as volunteer role flexibility, training, incentive, and recognition. The findings have implications for volunteer programs aiming to facilitate older adult volunteers in role performance and to sustain these volunteers' commitment.


Sample and Procedure

Data presented here were collected from 401 volunteers at 13 volunteer programs that participated in a larger study examining the current status of older adult volunteer programs and the characteristic volunteer experience among older adult volunteers in the United States (Morrow-Howell et...

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