international private and public groups are assisting in Asia after the tragedy that occurred two weeks ago, it may interesting to revisit the idea of volunteerism by U.S. companies and organizations over the past several years. Three peer-reviewed articles based on qualitative and quantitative research are compared here to provide a brief idea of the type of studies being conducted on this topic.
In "Volunteering the inner light: when it comes to giving back to your community," Lofshult (2004) cites U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) statistics that volunteerism is on the rise. Approximately 63.8 million Americans performed some type of unpaid work in the period from September 2002 to September 2003. This continues a trend: The number of volunteers has risen steadily over the past decade.
DOL (2003) also finds that women tend to volunteer their time more often than men; people 35 to 44 years old are most likely to volunteer, followed closely by those 45 to 54. Among teenagers, the volunteer rate is increasing. Adults who are 65 and older devote the most time -- a median of 88 hours per year to volunteer activities. The rate of volunteerism is higher among the employed than their unemployed counterparts.
As an editor of IDEA Fitness Journal, Lofshult interviewed a sample of fitness professionals and IDEA staff members to gain examples of volunteerism in today's society. He found that volunteerism is an increasing trend among fitness experts, as well. In last year's IDEA Trendwatch report, 16 of the 20 survey participants polled said they donate personal training sessions or club memberships to charity to promote goodwill and give back to their communities (Lofshult 2003). Two of the main reasons for this volunteering are compassion for the less fortunate and creating awareness of need. Volunteering efforts include teaching incarcerated youth, youth sports, helping the ill, school activities, fitness education, and fundraising.
It is very surprising that this is a peer-reviewed article. Although qualitative reports can provide valuable information if done well, this does not. No where does it mention how many people were interviewed. Since only 20 people were quoted in the 2003 Trendwatch, and not many more individuals are cited in this article, it appears that information was gained from a similar number of people. This population is not only small, but not random: many of those interviewed are IDEA staff. In addition, although the interviewees' age and background is not stipulated, it can be assumed most are young. One positive point: it is hopeful to read about young people who are volunteering, due to the DOL numbers that stress the involvement of senior citizens. By no means, however, can this article be a definitive comment on young people and volunteerism.
The article by Karafantis and Levy (2004) is markedly different than the above from a research and value standpoint. Overall, this quantitative study gives a better understanding of what encourages children to volunteer. The authors conducted two studies with 9-to12-year-old children to test a hypothesis on how the malleability (flexibility) of human traits impact judgment of and behavior toward groups in need of volunteer help. In 1995, over half of U.S. teenagers participated in a volunteer activity, such as working at religious and educational institutions. Volunteerism among youth will likely continue to grow as the government increases financial support for such efforts. Past research has shown that academic, social, and psychological factors promote youth volunteerism. For example, 9th-grade students were more likely to volunteer through 12th grade when possessing higher educational aspirations, grade point averages, and intrinsic motivation toward school (Johnson, et. al, 1998).
A number of studies have also compared children with malleable vs. fixed views, suggesting that those holding a fixed view are steadfast in their trait assessments. "Given that they made less extreme inferences about another's character from past behavior and expected change in future behavior, children holding a more malleable view, we suggest, might be more willing to try to help someone change for the better," note the authors. Is it then true, ask Karafantis and Levy, if potential volunteers think people can change, they will not consider their effort wasted on helping people? Conversely, if potential volunteers believe change is less possible, will they be less willing to help? To find out, study 1 assessed children's past helping behavior for groups in need; study 2 sought to replicate study 1 findings by examining a different disadvantaged outgroup and to extend study 1 findings by measuring actual volunteer behavior.
Study 1 recruited 169 fifth and sixth graders between the ages of 9 and 12 from two schools. The racial background was predominantly white and the median household income ranged from approximately $104,000 to $208,000. Children answered questions that determined malleability/fixed ideas about others. The researchers found evidence for their two main hypotheses. The more children reported believing in the malleability of human attributes, the more positive were their attitudes toward homeless children.
Study 2 comprised 176 fifth and sixth graders from a middle-sized suburban elementary school. They were asked questions about a specific group of people helped (UNICEF children), their degree of enjoyment from collecting funds for this organization and their willingness to volunteer again. Results included: the more children believed in a malleable view, the more positive attitudes they had to UNICEF-funded children; the more children subscribed to a malleable belief, the greater active participation they reported and the greater was their enjoyment with their volunteer experience; and the more children subscribed to a malleable view of traits, the more they were willing to help in the future and the more they recommended volunteerism to a peer.
This study was significantly better than the previous one, not only because of the quantitative vs. qualitative approach (it is well-known that quantitative studies can have major statistical flaws; conversely, qualitative studies can provide valuable information), but more so due to its value. It showed how children can be encouraged to be prosocial toward socially stigmatized groups, which is critical because of increasing U.S. diversity and the continued presence of prejudice among children and adults. It would be of interest to see this study repeated with a more diverse group of children -- not primarily white -- to compare the tendency of different races to volunteer. Similarly, how does malleability/fixed view impact adult volunteerism?
The most interesting and informative article of the three is "Volunteerism and social problems: making things better or worse." This article, in Journal of Social Issues by Penner, combines a literary review of academic works on volunteerism, a quantitative study and a narrative by Penner on the findings from his sociologist perspective.
Following the literary review that covered the definition of volunteering and characteristics/demographics of volunteers, are the results of a quantitative study that Penner conducted after September 11 regarding the impact that such major disasters have on volunteerism, whether the place people volunteer is impacted by the type of disaster (in this case terrorism), and lastly, whether similar volunteer demographics exist for a disaster and social action in general. The data for his study came from the website Volunteermatch.com, where people from all over the country enter personal information and are given different categories of charities based on their interest.
Penner found that 9/11 had a significant impact on the number of people volunteering, demonstrating that historical events can activate a person's willingness to volunteer. Further, although the greatest number of volunteer increases were for crisis-related organizations, there was also a two- to three-fold increase for "unpopular" charities, and the demographics of those who volunteered remained unchanged.
The author then offered the two sides of the volunteering debate on continually increasing the number of volunteers. It is always helpful to boost volunteers to help those in need? Or, is it better to lower (or maintain) the amount of volunteers, because…