Developing and Understanding Volunteer Community Leaders

Study by:
Joyce Bono* - University of Minnesota
Mark Snyder - University of Minnesota
Emily Duehr - University of Minnesota
It has long been recognized that healthy communities depend on involved and committed citizens and volunteer community leaders. It is for this reason that hundreds of community based programs aimed at developing community leaders have emerged over the past several decades.
These community leadership programs introduce members of the community to the critical issues of the community as well as aiding them in the development of leadership skills. Such programs aim to prepare civic leaders, increase citizens' commitment to the community, develop community stewardship, and motivate volunteer activities. 
In 2003, we began a longitudinal, multi-survey study of the effectiveness of community leadership programs. Programs in over 50 communities (approximately 2000 participants) completed surveys prior to the start of a community leadership program, at the end of the program and at one year following program completion. Our primary goal in this study is to gain a better understanding of the factors that influence individuals' decisions about whether and how to become involved in their communities. We are particularly interested in community engagement at the leadership level, including activities such as neighborhood organizing, serving on non-profit boards, and involvement in the political process. Our research examines both characteristics of individuals (e.g., personality traits and motives) that lead to community involvement over the course of a lifetime and characteristics of community leadership programs (e.g., curricula and activities) that lead to increases in community leadership following completion of a community leadership program. 
Preliminary data from this study generally indicate that community leadership programs are successful in increasing individual's confidence and skills as leaders as well as increasing their intentions to become involved in their communities. Furthermore, our data suggest that individuals' personality and motives for getting involved in their community are linked to the types of activities they choose to engage in (e.g., volunteering for a speakers bureau vs. neighborhood organizing vs. participating in a formal charity event). 
Our preliminary data also suggest that community leadership programs increase participants' desire to become more involved in the community. By collecting data on community leadership activities one year after program completion, we will be able to determine whether or not this desire translated into actual increases in community involvement. Because we consider both individual and program characteristics, the results of this research may be useful in the selection of individuals to participate in community leadership development programs and in the understanding the characteristics of effective community leadership programs. More broadly, our results speak to the issue of whether or not investments in community development programs yield the expected results (i.e., increased involvement in the community by graduates of such programs). 
The principal investigators in this program of research are Joyce Bono of the University of Florida and Mark Snyder of the University of Minnesota. 
* Joyce Bono is now at the University of Florida, Warrington College of Business Administration.