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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Research Friday: Senior Arizona volunteers -- how do they stack up against the rest of the nation?

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert from our academic faculty to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

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Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes, and we in the nonprofit sector are thankful for their involvement any time we can get it. But how do we target our recruiting efforts? Which groups of volunteers are the most active? How do we best utilize different types of volunteers? Complex questions, no doubt. Seniors, in particular, are an especially important age demographic to learn more about. What can we expect from senior volunteers in the coming years?

Many experts predict that there will be a surge of older Americans volunteering in the future. The Corporation for National and Community Service, using the Current Population Survey (CPS), reported that by 2020 more than 13 million older Americans will volunteer — a 50 percent increase. Einolf (2009) analyzed the baby boomer generation and predicted a similar increase in volunteer numbers and rates. However, others (Goss, 1999 and Putnam, 2000) suggest lower rates of senior volunteering due to reduced social capital and decreased religious involvement. Einolf (2009) also stated that increased diversity (primarily Hispanic and Asian American, which are less likely to volunteer in formal settings than Whites) might compromise the prediction of overall higher rates of senior volunteering. Some of these contradictory estimates by experts can be partially explained by different research methodologies, such as those discussed by Mark Hager in his recent blog, Really, how many people volunteer?

A few years ago, the ASU Lodestar Center, working in collaboration within the AIM Alliance (nonprofit centers in Arizona, Indiana, and Michigan), investigated giving and volunteering behaviors specifically within those three states. To establish a national point of comparison on senior volunteering, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) — based on the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study (COPPS) of 6,000 households — was analyzed for senior volunteering. Education, religious attendance, and good health were found to be significant determinants of senior volunteering.

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Next, the research team conducted a three-state telephone survey of giving and volunteering. Over 3,500 households in Arizona, Indiana, and Michigan were asked about their giving and volunteer behavior.

Factors that Increase Senior Volunteerism

  Increase in likelihood of volunteering Increase in average hours volunteered (per year)
Bachelor's degree (or higher  




Religious Attendance  








Good Health  




*no significant difference

What did the study find? The major determinants of senior volunteering were the frequency of religious attendance and level of educational achievement. Those who regularly attended religious services were 3 percent more likely to volunteer, and they volunteered 51.7 more hours per year on average. Seniors with a bachelor's degree or higher were 13.7 percent more likely to volunteer and served 24.4 more hours per year. These findings echoed those of the national PSID survey. In addition, good health was found to increase the probability of volunteering by 10.2 percent and the average volunteer time by 22.8 hours. Senior males volunteered 24.6 hours less per year than senior females. Interestingly, Arizona seniors were not significantly affected by some other common factors related to volunteering, including marital status, race, employment, family, economic status (debt and home ownership), and immigrant status.

In conclusion, Arizona seniors were similar to their counterparts throughout the country and were generally similar to seniors in Indiana and Michigan. In the future, if aging Americans are healthier, possess higher levels of education, and/or are attending religious services, the number and rate of older adults volunteering will be significantly higher, benefiting both nonprofit organizations serving the community as well as the senior adult volunteers.

^ [1] Einolf, C. J. (2009). Will the boomers volunteer during retirement? Comparing the baby boom, silent, and long civic cohorts. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 38, 181-199.
^ [2] Goss, K. A. (1999).Volunteering and the long civic generation. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 28, 378-415.
^ [3] Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: Collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.


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