Indicators of Environmental Stewardship Volunteer Retention

Examining Knowledge, Attitudes, and Practices: Indicators of Environmental Stewardship Volunteer Retention

Researcher: Ashley Reichard

The primary objective of this research project is to collect data on the larger cadre of environmental stewardship volunteers (in this case, Citizen Pruners, First Detectors, Master Gardeners, Master Naturalists, Tree Care Advisors, and Tree Stewards) to determine if there are specific indicators for volunteers who will stay involved longer than others. The aim is to determine which specific factors (categorized as knowledge, attitudes, practices, and personality) influence the length of volunteerism in a specific volunteer field. The primary endpoint is to understand common volunteer retention length and to better understand if there are specific factors that relate to the volunteer retention length. There is little to no information regarding volunteerism length, and more specifically volunteer length in environmental stewardship programs.

Previously, research has been done to understand public attitudes and behaviors regarding general environmental aspects (Zhang et al., 2007; Wynveen, 2015; Dresner et al., 2014; Kuhns & Reiter, 2009). There has also been research regarding motivations for environmental volunteerism (Clary & Snyder, 2016; Hartig et al., 2007; Asah & Blahna, 2012; Moskell et al., 2010; Clary et al., 1998; Still & Gerhold, 1997). This study is meant to compliment previous research and increase the body of knowledge in that regard. Existing research focuses on approaches to change the short-term involvement and increase long-term involvement through indicating gaps in leadership and planning (Hyde et al., 2016; Ryan et al., 2010). However, there is little research regarding volunteer retention and commitment in terms of days, months, years, decades, etc. Chen et al. noted that “the other direction worth consideration is to include more variables with the potential to influence volunteers’ retention in addition to the commonly investigated variables on demographic information and training” (2010). The study suggested in this abstract is meant to fill this gap and determine specific time lengths and factors that influence retention.

To address the survey design more specifically, this survey is inspired by the KAP Study by Karlyn Eckman (2013). This design is meant to measure changes over time in knowledge, attitudes, and practices, and to understand what people know, how they feel, and how they behave. It is important in this study to understand how training programs affect change in knowledge, attitudes, and practices. This information will further be used to determine if these changes indicate future, long-term volunteer involvement. This research is meant to deepen the body of knowledge on attitudes and practices and to fill the gap regarding specific time length of volunteerism. An optional component of this study will be to look at personality and its relationship to volunteer retention. Previously, there has been research on personality characteristics of research volunteers, mainly in the mental health fields (Lonnqvist et al., 2007, Allen & Rushton, 1983; Davis et al., 1999). This study will include an optional component using the Big Five Inventory (BFI) that is meant to describe human personality and psyche (John & Srivastava, 1999). This component is meant to survey a sample group to understand if personality has some bearing on volunteer retention in environmental stewardship programs and if this is an aspect that could benefit from future research.

Two study interactions will be completed based on if the volunteer is new to environmental stewardship programming or if they are an existing volunteer in one or more of the six participating programs. The first study interaction will include a series of three surveys for new volunteers currently in training programs. The three surveys will contain the same questions for pre-training, post-training and post season, sans demographic questions that will be asked only in the first round of surveys. An optional personality assessment can be completed by volunteers only within the first round of surveys. All three surveys will be distributed via e-mail and be available to be completed online. The second study interaction will include one survey for previously trained volunteers that have completed a training program in the past. The survey will be distributed via e-mail and available to be completed online. This survey will ask the same questions that the new volunteers will answer in their initial survey. The survey materials will be distributed and collected throughout 2017 and part of 2018.