Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA8

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Volunteer Time


Virginia Rowland
Associate Professor
School of Home Economics
University of Southern Mississippi-Hattiesburg

Extension has long relied on volunteers for leadership and communications, but volunteering takes time. With the steady increase of women entering the workplace, fewer volunteers may be able to give time to Extension programs.

In today's busy world, how do some people find time to volunteer. My research suggests that part of the answer lies in the way volunteers look at their personal time resources. Those who volunteer perceive they have more time for helping others than those who don't.

Previous Research

Research says of American volunteers that married women with children and retired people are most likely to be volunteers.1 Conversely, women employed outside the home and with children aged 16 to 18 are more likely to drop out of volunteer work than those with younger teens or those not employed.2 Volunteers are likely to have education beyond high school. Men are less likely to be involved in volunteer work than are women. Well over half the volunteers report annual family incomes of over $25,000. People who live in the South and those who attend church regularly are more likely to be volunteers.3

The Study Sample

This study examined perceived time availability of a group of 43 people who were volunteering substantial time for one agency compared to 192 non-volunteers from varied neighborhoods, occupations, church groups, and organizations. Members of the volunteer group were spending a minimum of about 15 hours each month on the telephone providing counseling and information to callers. Many were also volunteers for church, youth groups, and other programs.

Members of the two groups ranged from 21 to 61 years of age. The volunteers were somewhat older than the other group. Members of the volunteer group were more likely to be divorced than were the other group, but about one-fourth of both groups hadn't married. About two-thirds of both groups were women. Of each group, about half had college degrees, over three-fourths were employed, over half had no children, and over two-thirds were homeowners.

For this study, I used the time resource subscale of the Perceived Adequacy of Resources Scale.4 Four items measured the adequacy of respondent time: (1) to do the things they wanted to do, (2) for leisure, (3) for household work, and (4) to help others. The four items, their means, and results of t-tests are presented in Table 1. Responses were on a Likert-type scale, ranging from 1=strongly disagree to 7=strongly agree; higher numerals (toward 7) indicated that the group of respondents perceived their time resources to be more adequate.

Table 1. Perceived adequacy of time resources.

Item Mean
Others Volunteer T-value
I have enough time to do the things that I want to do. 3.65 4.23 1.89
I have enough time for leisure activities. 3.85 4.44 2.08*
I have enough time for household work. 4.12 4.77 2.15*
I have enough time to help others. 4.41 5.42 4.35*
All above items. 4.01 4.72 3.05*


The volunteers consistently rated their time resources more adequate than did the other group. For all four items, as well as the mean of the items, the average responses of volunteers were above the midpoint (4.0) of the scale. In contrast, the average responses of the other group were lower on all items; the average on the items about time to help others had the greatest difference of all. Responses of the two groups were significantly different on the means of three of the items as well as the mean for the combined responses on all four items.

For both groups, the lowest mean response was on the general item, "I have enough time to do the things that I want to do." However, the remaining three items measured specific kinds of time, and the responses of both groups were higher, indicating that for these people, time for specific kinds of activities seemed to be more plentiful than general time.

Perception of time adequacy for specific kinds of activities is apparently different from that of general time. When we say we are "short of time," we usually mean general time and may indicate, as members of these two groups did, that "time" is limited. However, time for specific activities seemed to be more adequate - probably because smaller amounts of time were being considered.

For both groups, the item "I have enough time to help others" had the highest mean of the four items, indicating members of both groups perceived this type of time to be most adequate. However, based on their responses, the women and men in the volunteer group perceived they had significantly more time to help others than did the other group. Time to help others may be a relatively small proportion of our total time; however, our culture, and even governmental policy, emphasizes sharing resources, including time, with others. Most of us would probably like to spend more time helping others, but our many roles and responsibilities take most of our time. It's interesting that volunteers in Extension programs most frequently cite "helping others" as a primary benefit of volunteer activities.5

Implications for Extension

This research has implications for Extension programming. First, the idea, "if you want a job done, give it to a busy person," is supported by this study. The two groups were similar in employment, hours worked, and number of children, but the volunteers were devoting a minimum of about 20 hours of time each month to one volunteer agency. Nevertheless, compared to the other group, these volunteers perceived they had more general time, leisure time, time for household work, and time to help others.

Secondly, Extension staff seeking volunteers should address volunteers' perceptions of time commitments, and likely benefits from volunteering. Perceptions are subject to change. It's critical to understand that time availability is partly a matter of perception, not just actual hours available.

A majority of Extension volunteers reported volunteering over 10 hours per month and about 20% reported spending over 40 hours each month when activities are at their peak.6 While over half of the volunteers reported no problems with volunteering, some mentioned that too much time is required. Seeking input from Extension volunteers on time commitments, activities, and needed changes can foster communication between Extension agents and volunteers and reduce potential problems.

Extension benefits immensely from volunteers' work. It's estimated it would cost more than $4.5 billion if communities paid for the services provided by Extension volunteers.7 As we plan for volunteer involvement, we need to consider whether there are benefits for volunteers that make volunteering compare favorably with other potential uses of time.

Volunteers, like everyone else, are busy people, but the image of the "overworked volunteer" may be misleading because the volunteers in this study believed they had more time to help others.


1. L. E. Enders and A. M. Fanslow, "Volunteer Service of Professional Home Economists," Home Economics Research Journal, X (No. 2, 1981), 120-26.

2. M. A. Snider and G. I. Olson, "Managerial Strategies and Role Adaptation of Wife/Mother Political Volunteers," inThinking Globally, Acting Locally: The Balancing Act, S. Nickols, ed. (Washington, D.C.: American Home Economics Association, 1985), pp. 149-60.

3. G. H. Gallup, The Gallup Poll: Public Opinion 1981 (Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1982); Partners in Action: Phase I-Agents' Views: Findings, Conclusions and Implications (Madison: University of Wisconsin, Department of Continuing and Vocational Education, 1985); and Partners in Action: Phase II-Volunteers' Views: Findings, Conclusions and Implications (Madison: University of Wisconsin, Department of Continuing and Vocational Education, 1986).

4. V. T. Rowland, R. A. Dodder, and S. Y. Nickols, "Perceived Adequacy of Resources: Development of a Scale," Home Economics Research Journal, XIV (No. 2, 1985), 218-25.

5. Partners in Action-Phase I and II.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.