«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»
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AbstractAlthough volunteering – in donation of time and skills – has increased in the last decade, one problem that NPOs are facing is the difficulty in attracting and retaining dedicated volunteers.
This is an important issue for public relations practitioners because, in NPOs, PR professionals are often assigned roles that include the management and recruitment of volunteers and up to date there is not much understanding of what motivates individuals to volunteer and remain as a volunteer for an organization. In this study we explored how attitudes, beliefs and self efficacy predict volunteering behavior for students. Additionally, we explored the effects of requiring students to volunteer for a class on their current volunteering behavior. As part of a larger study, we collected data from 308 students in a Midwest university about their current volunteer behavior, their attitudes, self efficacy, and beliefs about volunteering and information about classes that required them to volunteer in the past. Our results indicate that after controlling for student group membership and past volunteering experiences, attitudes toward volunteering was the strongest predictor of volunteering behavior. In general, students who had taken a course that required them to volunteer were more likely to be currently volunteering. Implications of these results for public relations practitioners are discussed.
IntroductionVolunteering has become a very important factor in today’s society. Volunteerism is seen as a way in which individuals can benefit their careers at the same time that they are helping society (Farmer & Fedor, 2001). Volunteers are especially important for non-profit organizations (NPOs) because they enable these organizations to sustain the services they offer without exhausting their operational budget (Laverie & McDonald, 2007). And, as governmental sources of funding disappear for NPOs, these organizations will need to turn to volunteers to help in terms of time and financial support (Farmer & Fedor, 2001). Because of this in the last 15 years there has been more academic and applied research trying to understand what motivates individuals to volunteer and what volunteers actually do for NPOs (Clary & Orenstein, 1991;
Clary et al., 1998; Penner & Finkelstein, 1998). For public relations scholars and practitioners understanding volunteer behaviors is important because in NPOs one of the relationships that PR practitioners manage is with volunteers, thus by understanding what motivates and hurts volunteering behavior can be useful in the process of recruiting and managing the volunteer workforce.
Most of the research that has explored volunteering behaviors has primarily focused on predicting above average volunteering (Farmer & Fedor, 1999, 2001; Greenslade & White, 2005), understanding motivations to volunteer (Clary et al, 1998; Penner & Finkelstein, 1998), looking at the effects of demographic factors on volunteering behavior (Dutta-Bergman, 2004;
Winterich, Mittal, & Ross, 2009), and exploring how organizations can understand the performance of volunteers and how to retain them (Boezeman & Ellemers, 2007, 2008;
Stephens, Dawley, & Stephens, 2004; Grube & Piliavin, 2000; Laverie & McDonald, 2007).
One aspect that has not received a lot of attention yet is how the combination of attitudes, beliefs, self-efficacy, and previous experience with volunteering affects volunteering behaviors. This paper tries to address that gap.
We are also interested in understanding is how the movement towards requiring students to volunteer as part of class assignments affects their future volunteering behaviors. Although researchers exploring the effects of volunteerism within courses and university life argue that it has positive effects for students (Beaumont, Colby, Ehrlich & Torney-Purta, 2006; Spiezio et al., 2005; Hillygus, 2005), there is not a lot of research exploring the unintended consequences of requiring volunteerism as part of a course grade. One point of view would suggest that forced volunteerism may promote more volunteering from students in the future. By requiring community involvement, students may become more aware of social issues and may believe that volunteer efforts have a lasting impact on communities, and thus, these individuals may be more likely to volunteer in the future. On the other hand, if students perceive that they are obligated to volunteer, they may develop a negative attitude toward future volunteering. If volunteerism is enforced within classroom, students may perceive that their freedom is restricted and may act against the desired behavior (this has been labeled psychological reactance). Psychological reactance suggests that when individuals are forced to engage in a particular behavior, they may develop negative attitudes toward the behavior (Brehm, 1966). Therefore, requiring students to volunteer may lead to less volunteering in the future.
With this in mind, the current study focuses uses the theory of planned behavior (TPB;
Ajzen, 1985) and to better understand how attitudes, beliefs, perceived behavioral control, and past volunteering experiences affect future volunteering behavior. To explain the rationale for this project the following section includes a description of what volunteerism is, followed by an explanation of the factors that predict volunteerism and how previous volunteering experiences 682 affect volunteering. Finally, the methodology for current study is described, followed by the implications of this study for PR scholars and practitioners.
Review of Literature Volunteerism Volunteerism refers to any activity by which individuals freely donate their time, money, or services to benefit another person, group, or organization (Wilson, 2000). Generally, volunteering is a manifestation of human helpfulness that is planned, proactive, and primarily intended to benefit others (Clary et al., 1998; Wilson, 2000). Although volunteering is generally clustered with other helping activities, some researchers argue that volunteering is a unique form of helping in that it requires a lot more planning, sorting priorities, and the matching of the capabilities of the individual and interests with some type of volunteering opportunity (Benson et al., 1980; Clary et al., 1998; Wilson, 2000). Given this, it is important to differentiate volunteering from other forms of helping. Unlike spontaneous help which is reactive, brief and often chaotic, volunteering is proactive and it entails commitment and time effort (Wilson, 2000). Volunteerism also differs from caring (another helping behavior), in that caring implies some form of obligation that is not found in volunteering (Wilson, 2000).
It is also important to differentiate volunteering from activities like organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), participation in voluntary organizations, and activism. OCB is a term used to describe “individual employee behavior that is discretionary, not directly or explicitly recognized by the formal reward system, and in the aggregate promotes the efficient and effective functioning of the organization” (Organ, Podsakoff, & MacKenzie, 2006).
Although some would suggest that OCBs are a form of volunteerism, this project is interested in volunteer behavior that happens outside of the organization of employment or outside the university to which a student is associated. Participation in voluntary organizations can also be different than individual volunteering. Individuals can volunteer on their own time or can join organizations with the purpose of volunteering. Wilson (2000) suggests that these two contexts for volunteering are different. Individuals who seek out volunteer opportunities on their own are considered programming volunteers and are seen to be different from associational volunteers, or individuals who are members of volunteer organizations (e.g., Kiwanis International, Habitat for Humanity, or the American Cancer Society). Where programming volunteers produce the goods needed by others, associational volunteers consume the collective goods of the organization.
Regardless, both types of volunteering are proactive, self initiated, and serve to support others.
Another behavior that is important to differentiate from volunteerism is social activism. Social activists are focused on promoting and implementing social change that could benefit the future of society, whereas volunteers focus on the current state and, instead, devote their time to solving the problems of others (Wilson, 2000). Volunteers dedicate their time to solving current problems and social causes and not to producing radical societal change.
Although there are multiple approaches to volunteering we want to highlight that this project focuses on volunteering as a behavior that is self-initiated and intended to benefit other individuals, groups, or organizations for which the initiator is not a full time employee or registered student. In particular, this project will focus on volunteering as a donation of time and skills to non-profit organizations (NPOs). Recent budget cuts and decreasing resources, along with the current economic environment can negatively impact the survival of NPOs. As funding is being taken away, NPOs need to rely heavily on the efforts of volunteer labor (Farmer & Fedor, 2001). One of the ways to recruit and retain consistent volunteers is by relying on the 683 skills and abilities of PR practitioners. Thus, it is important to have a better understanding of what predicts volunteering and the impact that forcing volunteerism may have on intentions to volunteer on behalf for an NPO. In the next section, research exploring why individuals volunteer is summarized.
Predicting Volunteering Research exploring the factors associated with volunteering and social support suggests that there are many predictors to volunteering. These predictors range from psychological and demographic factors to individual personality traits. In general, the study of psychological predictors can be grouped based on three broad levels: community, organizational, and individual levels (House, 1981; Wilson, 2000). At the community level, researchers have explored how the context in which individuals grow up or live affects their intentions to volunteer (Wilson, 2000). At the organizational level, research has explored the treatment that volunteers receive, and how this predicts intentions to continue to volunteer for the same organization (Grube & Piliavin, 2000). At the individual level, researchers have explained volunteering based on exchange theory, human capital and motives (Wilson, 2000). This study explores volunteering at the individual level based on a motives approach.
Many researchers have focused on identifying demographic characteristics common among individuals who engage in volunteerism (Wilson, 2000; Perry et al., 2008). Research in this area has indicated the value of identifying individual characteristics as a means of ensuring that these organizations recruit the “dream” volunteer, which can in turn assist PR practitioners in recruiting dedicated long-term volunteers to provide support for the mission of the organization. Age, gender, and race are individual characteristics that have been frequently assessed in research on volunteerism (Volunteering in America, 2009).
Demographic characteristics only provide a partial glimpse into understanding why individuals volunteer. Because volunteering is unpaid, some research suggests that individuals who volunteer possess certain personality characteristics that may make them more likely to cope with these responsibilities (Penner & Finkelstein, 1998). Two personality traits that have been linked to volunteering behaviors are altruistic attitude and a pro-social personality (Penner & Finkelstein, 1998). Individuals who possess an altruistic attitude display gratitude for the possessions and resources that they have and may be more likely to extend similar benefits to others as an expression of their thanks (McCullough et al., 2008), and will be more likely to volunteer. In a similar way, proactive personality matters when understanding volunteering behaviors. Proactive personality is a dispositional trait that describes the extent to which individuals take action to influence their environment (Bateman & Crant, 1993). Individuals who score high on proactive personality have a personal disposition to engage in behaviors that alter their environments (Bateman & Crant, 1993). Therefore, those who score high on proactive personality are also more likely to engage in volunteering behaviors.
Although research has tried to understand the predictors of volunteering based on all the factors described above, a theory that can be very useful in understanding volunteering behaviors in the theory of planned behavior. In the next section we summarize this theory and explain how it predicts volunteering behavior.
Theory of Planned Behavior The TPB is largely based on the theory of reasoned action (TRA; Fishbein & Ajzen,
1975) and suggests that individuals are more likely to perform a behavior if they intend to perform the behavior. Intentions are generally defined as an individual’s motivation to engage in a behavior (Ajzen, 1985, 1991). Behavior intentions are in turn predicted by the attitudes and 684 beliefs that an individual holds towards the behavior, the evaluations made by valued social networks, the perceived behavioral control or difficulty perceived in performing this behavior (Ajzen, 1985). The central premise of the TPB is that individuals rationally make decisions about their actions by using the information they have accessible to them, thus the antecedents to behavior are a logical sequence of cognitions (Ajzen, 1985).