Measuring benefits of Senior Corps participation for volunteers

Abstract: 

Senior Corps Volunteer Participation: An Effective Means to Improve Life Satisfaction, a study by National Service Fellow Peter J. Gartland, provides a systematic method that Senior Corps program directors across the country can use to quantitatively measure and demonstrate volunteers' benefits from their volunteer experience. The method is a two-page, self-administered, anonymous questionnaire for volunteers that measures quality of life and successful aging indicators. There are three versions of the Volunteer Impact Scale, one for each of the Senior Corps programs — Foster Grandparents, RSVP, and Senior Companions.

Issue:

National service programs provide structured opportunities with visible benefits to participants and to communities. Senior Corps programming has generally relied on qualitative reports by volunteers to confirm how (or whether) volunteers benefit from participation in service. This practice offers a systematic form of measure to quantitatively demonstrate how Senior Corps volunteers benefit from their volunteer experience.

Action:

The study provides a method that Senior Corps program directors across the country can use to measure their program efficacy with regard to volunteer benefits. The questionnaire measures overall life satisfaction, 10 specific quality of life and successful aging variables, and satisfaction with the program. Quality of life factors measured are: physical health, sense of well-being, feeling that someone is looking out for them, and ability to make ends meet. Successful aging factors measured are: amount of pleasure gained from daily activities, feeling you can make a positive difference, feeling you have a purpose in life, sense of accomplishment, looking forward to each new day, and sense of self-esteem.

Successful practices from the study include:

  • Providing local program directors with a survey method to periodically test how well local programming contributes to the improved life satisfaction of volunteers with the goal of improving recruitment and retention by matching actual volunteer experience to expectations.
  • Providing local program directors with the original 2001 Atlantic Cluster survey results as a normative sample against which they can compare local results.

Outcome:

In the original study, Senior Corps volunteers overwhelmingly reported that life was better than before they began to volunteer. Volunteers looked forward to each new day and gained pleasure from daily activities. They felt they had a purpose in life, had a sense of accomplishment, and felt they were making a positive difference in others’ lives. Volunteers also reported being very satisfied with program staff, their assignments, and with their station site supervisors.

To summarize, the study indicated:

  • Participation in Senior Corps programming does result in quantifiable changes to factors that lead to improved satisfaction with life among its volunteers.
  • Participation enables volunteers to satisfy both basic and self-actualizing needs that lead to improved life satisfaction.
  • Senior Corps appears to be an effective means for providing volunteers with opportunities to contribute to the meaning and enjoyment of their lives; therefore, participation in the programs can be an effective method for improving the quality of life for elder volunteers.

Evidence:

The study focuses on Senior Corps volunteers in the Atlantic Cluster, which stretches from Maine to Maryland — they contacted program directors at 105 program sites (35 from each of the three Senior Corps programs); each program director distributed 15 copies of the survey, for a total of 1,575. Volunteers returned a total of 1,075 completed surveys.

Most respondents were female, the sample was ethnically diverse, the average age was 73 years, most were widows/widowers, most lived alone, 53 percent had volunteered for five years or less, 47 percent had volunteered for over six years, and 71 percent of the sample reported volunteering over 16 hours per week. (Of the sample, 72 percent was FGP or SCP volunteers, required to complete 20 hours per week. RSVP volunteers have no minimum monthly requirement, and 71 percent of them reported volunteering for 10 or fewer hours per week.)

Of all respondents, 93 percent said the overall quality of their life is "Better" to "A Lot Better" than before they began to participate. Although all of the 10 specific quality of life and successful aging factors were perceived as improved since participation in Senior Corps, volunteers reported highest positive change in the following: pleasure gained from daily activities; feeling they make a positive difference in another person's life; feeling they have a purpose in life; having a sense of accomplishment; and looking forward to each new day.

Some other key findings: 1) Those volunteers with lower annual incomes demonstrated higher positive change in their overall quality of life since participation in Senior Corps programming; 2) Those volunteers living alone demonstrated higher improvement scores in the overall quality of their lives than those not living alone; and 3) Those volunteers reporting higher volunteer hours per week reported higher overall quality of life scores.

For more information:

Related Resources: 

Senior Corps

Citations: 

Gartland, P. J. (2001). Senior Corps volunteer participation: An effective means to improve life satisfaction. Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service.

 


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