ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Friday, November 30, 2012 - 10:17am
posted by
 Carlton Yoshioka, Ph.D.,
Professor and Director
of Academic Programs
ASU Lodestar Center

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Recent research findings by Christopher Einolf and Susan Chambre (2011) provided empirical evidence of the strong influence of both formal and informal social networks on volunteering. They found that individuals actively involved in activities with social organizations were more likely to volunteer. Previously, the positive impact of religious congregations and social networks on volunteering was found by Park and Smith (2000). This strong relationship was also evident for informal social networks where friend and neighbor interactions significantly increased the likelihood of volunteering (Bekkers, 2005; Okun, Pugliese, Rook, 2007). What about volunteers in Arizona and particularly senior volunteers? Are Arizona seniors influenced by both formal and informal social networks to volunteer? Do socioeconomic characteristics, health, and social isolation of an aging individual limit the likelihood of volunteering?

These challenging questions were addressed by the 2010 Arizona Health Survey sponsored by the St. Luke’s Health Initiative. Over 8,000 adults were surveyed about their physical, mental and social well-being. Fortunately, over 2,000 adults over 65 years old responded to the survey. Dr. Lili Wang and I analyzed the sample of seniors to determine the impact of social context on senior volunteers in Arizona. The average age of the sample was 75 years old and 64.5% of the sample was female. 24% of households had an annual income between $30,000 and $49,999. About one fourth of the seniors (24%) had a high school diploma or equivalent, followed by a four-year college degree (15%). Most of the seniors (86%) did not work. Close to half of the respondents were married (48%) and only a fraction of them (2.4%) had grandchild under 18 living in house.

The results of this survey support the positive influence of social context on Arizona’s senior volunteers. The findings show that seniors are more likely to volunteer when they have more friends to rely on spend time with others more often, help friends and neighbors, and participate in social clubs or religious and other organizations. In terms of socioeconomic status, the results show that higher levels of education and self reported positive health significantly increased seniors’ chance of formal volunteering; however, age, gender, income level, employment status, and having children had no effect.

The findings suggest that nonprofit organizations, governments, and community groups that are interested in recruiting older Arizonans might best seek seniors from local associations or through social networks. Additionally, current volunteers can seek out friends and neighbors who are ready to help others, but who are not connected with organizations.

Lastly, the dataset’s cross-sectional methodology presented a limitation, which makes it impossible to identify causal relationship. However, the findings were consistent with the results of some other studies, which increases our confidence of the conclusions.



  1. Bekkers, R. 2005. Participation in voluntary associations: Relations with resources, personality, and political values. Political Psychology, 26, 439-454.
  2. Einolf, C. J. and Chambre, S. M. (2011). Who volunteers? Constructing a hybrid theory. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, 16, 298-310.
  3. Park, J.Z. & Smith, C. (2000). “To whom much has been given…”: Religious capital and community voluntarism among churchgoing Protestants. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 39, 272-286.
  4. Okun, M.A., Pugliese, J. Rook, K.S. 2007. Unpacking the relation between extraversion and volunteering in later life: the role of social capital. Personality and Individual Differences, 42: 1467-1477.


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Click here to read Kelly Proulx's post, "Research Friday: Senior Volunteering: Burden or Benefit?"

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