Understanding National Service: Applying Models of Volunteerism

Study by:
Alexander Maki - University of Minnesota
Patrick C. Dwyer - University of Minnesota 
Mark Snyder - University of Minnesota
The study of motivation, identity, and personality has proven useful in understanding the experiences and consequences of volunteering. These constructs may also shed light on the experiences and consequences associated with forms of national service, such as AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps, a nation-wide service program, focuses on supporting and improving local communities, with over 400,000 members since 1994. Despite its size, little research has been conducted on AmeriCorps. Given its focus on community improvement, AmeriCorps could be seen as a form of volunteerism. However, it retains characteristics reminiscent of employment, as AmeriCorps members serve 40 hours a week and receive modest financial support. Given the hybrid nature of AmeriCorps, it is possible that models of volunteerism may be useful for understanding and predicting important service and volunteer-related experiences and outcomes, such as satisfaction with service and future intentions to volunteer. Our goal was to examine whether motivation, identity, and personality could predict important experiences and outcomes relating to AmeriCorps service.
Surveys were administered to 110 AmeriCorps service members across the state of Minnesota over the course of their service year. AmeriCorps members completed surveys at the beginning, middle, and end of their service term. Surveys contained appropriate measures relevant to different models of volunteerism, which emphasize the importance of personal motivations (Clary et al., 1998), volunteer role identity (Grube & Piliavin, 2000), and prosocial personality characteristics (Penner & Finkelstein, 1998).
Results revealed that AmeriCorp members' motivations for service predicted intentions to volunteer, satisfaction with AmeriCorps, and frequency of volunteering outside of AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps member role identity predicted initial volunteer intentions as well as satisfaction, but did not predict volunteer behavior. Finally, prosocial personality predicted initial interest in volunteering, but did not predict other relevant outcomes. 
Models of volunteerism do appear to be useful in understanding national service. The complementary models of motivation, identity, and personality all predicted important experiences and outcomes of national service, such as satisfaction with service, intentions to volunteer in the future, and volunteer behavior outside of national service.
A presentation on this research was given at the 2012 meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association in Chicago, Illinois