February 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB3

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Volunteerism in Ohio Central Cities and Surrounding Communities: Frequency, Potential, and Demographics

A 1993 research study in five Ohio cities investigated the prevalence of volunteerism and demographics of volunteers and non-volunteers. Random telephone surveys of 2116 households were conducted by trained volunteers. Seventy-one percent of all respondents had volunteered in the previous three years. A statistically significant larger percentage of study respondents had volunteered than compared to similar statistics for the entire nation. Volunteer respondents differed from non-volunteer respondents in being slightly older and having higher total household incomes. The findings will enable Extension educators to build stronger collaborations with adult volunteers in developing proactive strategies to address urban issues.

R. Dale Safrit
Associate Professor, Agricultural Education
Extension Specialist, Leadership Education
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address: safrit.1@osu.edu

More citizens must assume active volunteer roles in local human and community service educational programs if the quality of community life is to be maintained and improved (Lappe and DuBois, 1994). Peterson and his co-authors from The Urban Institute (1992) emphasized that the crises facing our nation's urban communities will be addressed successfully only through strong leadership at all levels of the community.

The need and demand for expanded Cooperative Extension educational programs in urban communities continues to grow. However, as Extension operating budgets hold steady or even decrease, more volunteers will be needed to assist in planning, implementing, and evaluating urban Extension educational programs. According to the Strategic Framework for the National Cooperative Extension System (ECOP, CSREES 1995):

Extension's history is strongly identified with farming and rural communities. Some legislators and other community leaders have recognized Extension's success in rural America and are now insisting that Extension's expertise and methods also focus on critical issues in metropolitan districts. Extension must find ways to emphasize rural-metropolitan interdependence and serve audiences in both settings (pp. 8-9).

Direct citizen involvement as volunteers with Extension educational programs that address critical human and social needs is one important opportunity to encourage and strengthen such rural-metropolitan interdependence.

Little data exists regarding volunteerism in urban settings. If Cooperative Extension organizations are to build successful partnerships with volunteers in urban communities, then data is needed about the current status of and potential for volunteerism in central cities and surrounding communities, and to learn more about who volunteers and who does not. The purpose of this study was to investigate the current level of and potential for volunteerism and acquire demographic data on volunteers and non- volunteers in Ohio central cities and surrounding communities.


The population for the study was the 6,270,000 adult residents living within the central city and contiguous communities surrounding Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton, Ohio (U.S. Department of Commerce, 1991). The total study sample size was 2,116; the accessible sample size was 1,492.

The researcher developed a telephone questionnaire of 19 questions organized into five sections around five research constructs: volunteer activity (level, type, and focus of activity), reasons for volunteering, barriers to volunteering/volunteering more, philanthropic behaviors, and demographics. Section 1 contained five items that investigated a respondent's level and type of volunteer activity. Section 2 investigated 18 potential reasons why the respondent may have volunteered, while section 3 investigated 17 potential barriers to volunteering or volunteering more. Section 4 included three questions that investigated respondents' plans to volunteer during the next two years and their philanthropic behaviors. Section 5 consisted of nine questions about respondents' demographics.

The researcher established the face and content validity of the questionnaire through a panel of fifteen experts in urban volunteerism from the five study cities, including professional volunteer managers and actual volunteers. Reliability was established through a pilot test with 26 purposefully identified respondents in the five research cities.

Trained volunteers utilized the telephone questionnaire to collect data from randomly-selected respondents. According to Fowler (1988), a telephone questionnaire methodology is especially applicable to urban and suburban areas.

Data were collected in each research city during any two consecutive weeks beginning September 7 and ending October 14, 1993. All completed and partially-completed questionnaires were coded into a personal computer and analyzed statistically using the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (Norusis, 1988). Basic frequencies were calculated for descriptive purposes.


Response and completion rates of 71% and 52%, respectively, were achieved; a response was defined operationally as someone answering the telephone; a completion was defined as either a totally or partially completed survey.

Seventy-one percent of all respondents had volunteered in the past three years. Fifty-eight percent had volunteered in the past twelve months; 37% had volunteered in the past three years, but not in the past twelve months. Volunteer respondents contributed an average of 21 hours per month.

Based upon modal responses, the typical adult volunteer was a white married female between 30 and 40 years of age with a high school diploma or Grade Equivalency Diploma (GED). She was employed full-time with a total household income between $25,000 and $50,000, had resided at her current residence more than three years, and contributed an average of 21 volunteer hours per month. Ninety-five percent of all current volunteers indicated they planned to volunteer in the next two years.

The typical adult non-volunteer respondent was a white married female between 20 and 30 years of age with a high school diploma or GED. She was employed full-time, had a total household income between $10,000 and $25,000, and had resided at her current residence more than three years. Although they had not volunteered within the past three years, 45% of all non- volunteers indicated that they planned to volunteer in the next two years.

Conclusions and Implications for Cooperative Extension

Volunteerism is a highly prevalent phenomenon in Ohio's central cities and surrounding urban communities, both in current practice and future potential. A statistically significant larger percentage (58%) of adults in this study volunteered when compared to the findings of the Independent Sector (1994; 48%). The number of hours contributed by adult volunteers in both studies is similar, averaging approximately 16-20 hours per month. The results suggest that adult residents of the urban communities studied are more likely to volunteer than the general United States population.

The adult volunteers identified in the study were demographically similar to those identified for the general United States population by the Independent Sector (1994). However, the adult non-volunteers identified in the study differed from the adult volunteers in being younger (age 20-30 as compared to the volunteers' 30-40) and having a lower total household income ($10,000-$25,000 as compared to the volunteers' $25,000-$50,000).

Many of the critical issues facing contemporary urban communities directly affect identifiable segments of our total population, such as the elderly, youth, individuals and families with limited resources, and racial and ethnic minorities (Peterson et al., 1992). In developing and supporting educational programs, Extension educators should make concerted, focused efforts to identify and locate individuals within these population segments for targeted recruitment as volunteers.

Young adults should be encouraged to contribute to their communities through volunteerism, and older adults to remain active in their communities as volunteers. Individuals with limited formal education and from households with limited income should be encouraged to identify even the most focused of roles where they may voluntarily contribute time, energies, or talents to their friends, neighborhoods, and communities, either informally and on-their-own or through formal Extension educational programs.


Extension Committee On Policy (ECOP) and Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES). (1995, February). Framing the future: Strategic framework for a system of partnerships. Urbana: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.

Fowler, F.J., Jr. (1988). Survey research methods. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Independent Sector. (1994). Giving and volunteering in the United States: Results from a national survey. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Lappe, F.M., & DuBois, P.M. (1994). The quickening of America. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Norusis, M.J. (1988). SPSS advanced statistics user's guide. Chicago: SPSS Inc.

Peterson, G.E., Bawden, D.L., Harrell, A.V., Hill, P.T., Mincy, R.B., Nightingale, D.S., Turner, M.A., & Walker, C. (1992). Confronting the nation's urban crisis: From Watts (1965) to South Central Los Angeles (1992). Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute. (ERIC No. ED359310)

United States Department of Commerce. (1991). Statistical abstract of the United States: The national data book. Washington, DC: Bureau of the Census.