2013. Vol.4, No.3A, 283-290
Published Online March 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/psych) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/psych.2013.43A042
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 283
The Impact of Volunteering on Seniors’ Health and Quality of
Life: An Assessment of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program
Theodore W. M c Donald1, Erica L. Chown2, Jordan E. Tabb2,
Amy K. Schaeffer2, Elsa K. M . Howard1
1Department of Community and Environmental Health, Boise State University, Boise, USA
2Department of Psycholo g y, Boise State University, Boise, USA
Received December 21st, 20 1 2 ; revised January 1 5th, 2013; accepted Februa ry 18th, 2013
Past research suggests that senior citizens often face challenges related to deteriorating physical and men-
tal health, and the quality of their lives may suffer as a result. Past research also suggests that volunteering
can improve the health and quality of life for seniors. In the present study, 451 volunteers enrolled in the
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) completed surveys including questions regarding their
volunteer experiences and how these experiences have affected their health and quality of life. The results
suggest that volunteering through RSVP is associated with improvements in health and quality of life
across a variety of dimensions. Furthermore, these improvements may be particularly greater for women,
current volunteers, and older seniors. These findings may help guide interventions designed to enhance
the health and well-being of senior citizens in a variety of settings.
Keywords: Health; Quality of Life; Seniors; Volunteering; Self-Worth; Gender Differences
The population of senior citizens in the United States has
grown rapidly in the last century. Whereas persons aged 65
years or older comprised just over 4% of the American popula-
tion at the start of the 20th century, they currently comprise
nearly 13%, and this percentage is expected to grow substan-
tially in the coming decades (Administration on Aging, 2010;
Arazi, 2011; Blakemore, Washington, & McNeely, 1995; Har-
per, 1995; Steffen, 1996). Unfortunately, although demogra-
phers have recognized for decades that seniors will become
such a large percentage of the population, some scholars (e.g.,
Depp & Jeste, 2009; Duffy & Wong, 2003; Steffen, 1996) have
noted that research on seniors and on issues important to serv-
ing this population has not kept pace. In other words, as the
population of seniors continues to grow, it can be fairly argued
that insufficient research on healthy aging has been conducted.
It seems a fair assessment to state that more high quality re-
search should be conducted to determine what physical and
mental health problems are associated with the aging process,
and to use this information to develop programs, services, and
interventions to address these problems and to improve seniors’
quality of life (Duffy & Wong, 2003; He, Sengupta, Veloff, &
DeBarros, 2005; Hughes et al., 2011; Parker & Thorslund,
It has long been recognized that a decline in physical health
tends to accompany the aging process (Beswick et al., 2008;
Nuñez, Armbruster, Phillips, & Gale 2003; Payette et al., 2011).
Seniors, relative to younger persons, are much more likely to
experience a number of physical health problems, including
arthritis, coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, stroke,
and vision problems (Aris & Draman, 2007; Centers for Dis-
ease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2007). Some of these
problems may be associated with actual physical deterioration
that occurs with age (for example, hardening of the arteries),
however, at least a substantial portion of the variance in whe-
ther seniors develop such problems may be accounted for by
other factors. For example, a number of researchers have noted
that many seniors adopt a fairly sedentary lifestyle after retire-
ment, rather than remaining active in the community. These
researchers have argued that the sedentary lifestyle, rather than
strictly the biological process of aging, may be largely respon-
sible for an increase in health problems (CDC, 2001, 2011;
Minkler, Schauffler, & Clements-Nolle, 2000; Resnick, 1998;
Resnick et al., 2006; Phillips, Pruitt, & King, 1996; Yates,
Djousse, Kurth, Buring, & Gaziano, 2008). This argument is
further supported by a number of studies that show that physi-
cal inactivity at any age is a risk factor for the development of
several types of health problems. These health problems typi-
cally include coronary heart disease, cancer, and stroke—the
three most common causes of death in seniors (American Heart
Association, 2005; Byers et al., 2002; CDC, 2004). Thus, it
appears plausible that some of the physical health problems that
are commonly associated with aging are not simply age-related
problems, but are caused in part by another factor—namely
physical inactivity—that is associated with both aging and
physical health problems.
It has also been recognized that senior citizens may be at
greater risk than younger persons of certain mental health
problems. According to a press release from the University of
California-Irvine Medical Center (2006), depression is clearly
the most prevalent mental health problem in senior citizens,
followed by anxiety disorders. Other researchers have also
confirmed the prevalence of these two mental health problems
(e.g., Andreescu et al., 2007; Batterham, Christensen, & Mac-
kinnon, 2012; Dunner, 2003; Lenze et al., 2003; Vink, Aartsen,
& Schoevers, 2008; Waern, Rubenowitz, & Wilhelmson, 2003).
The prevalence of depression among seniors may be one reason
T. W. MCDONALD ET AL.
why suicide rates among senior citizens are the highest for any
age group in the United States (persons over the age of 65 years
account for 18% of all suicides in the US, although this age
group comprises less than 13% of the population; He et al.,
2005). Researchers have identified numerous factors that might
lead to high rates of depression in seniors. These factors include
deteriorating physical health (Brewer et al., 2004; Fiske, We-
therell, & Gatz, 2009; Kivela, Viramo, & Pahkala, 2000; Vink
et al., 2008; Wrosch, Schultz, & Heckhausen, 2004), loss of
significant others (Blazer, 2009; Fiske et al., 2009; Parkes,
1992; Stroebe, Schut, & Stroebe, 2007), social isolation (Gold-
en et al., 2009; Mireault & de Man, 1996; Muller-Spahn &
Hock, 1994), a decreased sense of self worth, lack of meaning
and purpose (Low & Molzahn, 2007; Mascaro & Rosen, 2008;
Mossey, 1995), and even a lack of exercise (De Moor, Beem,
Stubbe, Boomsma, & De Geus, 2006; Hamer, Bates, & Mishra,
2011; Pierce & Pate, 1994; Singh, Clements, & Fiatrone-Singh,
2001; Sjosten & Kivela, 2006). Overall, it seems that, although
the physical deterioration commonly associated with aging is a
risk factor for depression, a number of other psychosocial vari-
ables, including several that can be addressed through preventa-
tive interventions, also predict depression in seniors.
Quality of life, which is generally defined as an individual’s
satisfaction with his or her own life (Hendry & McVittie, 2004),
is a construct that has recently received interest as an outcome
variable in a variety of populations, including seniors (Fried-
man, Parikh, Guinta, Fahs, & Gallo, 2011; Low & Molzahn,
2007; Netuveli & Blane, 2008; Potter, Ellard, Rees, & Tho-
rogood, 2011; Wilhelmson, Andersson, Waern, & Allebeck,
2005). Although much past research has focused on the extent
to which seniors’ physical health affects their quality of life
(Bowling & Gabriel, 2004; Strand, 2001), this relationship is
somewhat problematic in that community health professionals
and other interventionists are limited in the extent to which they
can arrest the physical deterioration that naturally accompanies
aging. Furthermore, some researchers have found that the em-
phasis placed on the impact of physical health as a determinant
of seniors’ quality of life may be misplaced. For example, Ed-
wards and his colleagues (Edwards et al., 2003), in a study of
factors predicting quality of life in a large sample of mostly
low-income seniors, found that physical health did not emerge
as a significant predictor of quality of life perceptions (similar
findings were reported more recently by Hall, Chui, Williams,
Clark, & Araujo, 2011). They did find that quality of life per-
ceptions were significantly predicted by sense of life meaning-
fulness, level of concern shown by family, self-re ported mental
health status, and hours spent in social interaction. Other stud-
ies have found that personal and community relationships and
perceived societal reciprocity (Lowenstein, Katz, & Gur-Yaish,
2007; Mellor et al., 2008; Street & Burge, 2012; Van Willigen,
2000; Wiggins, Higgs, Hyde, & Blane, 2004) are major indica-
tors of a senior’s quality of life. Thus, it seems that seniors’
quality of life is affected by a number of variables that can be
influenced by interventions, as well as possibly by the physical
health problems commonly associated with aging.
Many community health professionals have professed an in-
terest in helping to improve seniors’ physical health, mental
health, and quality of life. One way that some researchers be-
lieve these goals can be accomplished is to help seniors remain
active in the community through volunteering, which may serve
as a preventative tool against many of the problems associated
with aging (Adelmann, 1994; Fengler, 1984; Komp, van Til-
burg, & van Groenou, 2012; Musick & Wilson, 2003; Young &
Glasgow, 1998). Indeed, some research has shown that volun-
teering provides a socially rewarding and physically active
environment that greatly benefits seniors (Cattan, Hogg, &
Hardill, 2011; Piliavin, 2003; Van Willigen, 2000; Warburton,
Paynter, & Petriwskyj, 2007). Research by Musick and Wilson
(2003) and by Rietchlin (1998) suggests that volunteering may
help reduce psychological distress—particularly symptoms of
depression—in volunteers, and that seniors may benefit more
from the experience than members of other age groups. Musick,
Herzog, and House (1999), in a study featuring a large, repre-
sentative sample of seniors, reported that volunteering may
even reduce mortality among seniors (for additional research on
the relationship between volunteering and mortality, see Oman,
Thorensen, & McMahon, 1999). Interestingly, Rietchlin (1998)
maintains that formal volunteering leads to a stress-buffering
effect, in which individuals are able to withstand stressful ex-
periences better due to volunteer participation. Other research-
ers maintain that volunteering may benefit seniors primarily by
offering opportunities for physical activity and social interac-
tion (Fengler, 1984; Mellor et al., 2008; Morrow-Howell, 1989;
Tang, 2009). Furthermore, volunteering has been conceptual-
ized as a positive and organized activity that fills the void of
structure created by retirement (Hank & Erlinghagen, 2010;
Van Willigen, 2000; Wilhelmson et al., 2005). It may also help
seniors to feel that they are continuing to make a meaningful
contribution to society, thus helping to develop and maintain a
healthy sense of self-worth, sense of accomplishment, and con-
fidence (Babic, 1972; Komp et al., 2012; Martinson & Minkler,
2006; Morrow-Howell, 1989). Each of these individual benefits
may contribute to a synergistic combination that positively
improves seniors’ overall health and quality of life. Finally, it is
difficult to argue that encouraging seniors to volunteer can be
enormously beneficial to organizations that work with them, as
seniors often possess marketable skills accumulated from a
lifetime of employment and are available more often and for
longer periods of time (Babic, 1972; Bowman, 2009, Principi,
Lindley, Perek-Bialas, & Turek, 2012). Thus, the encourage-
ment of senior volunteering creates a mutually beneficial rela-
tionship in which the volunteer organizations benefit from a
plentiful source of qualified volunteers, and the seniors benefit
from the structured environment that provides socialization and
physical activity (Morrow-Howell, 2010; Tang, Choi, & Mor-
The purpose of the present study was to assess the benefits of
volunteering on seniors across a variety of domains. Although,
as discussed above, several research studies have focused on
the relationship between volunteering and certain important
outcome indicators, they have rarely focused on many out-
comes. Thus, this study contributes to the scientific literature by
assessing how volunteering may help improve seniors’ lives in
a number of ways, and focuses particularly on physical and
mental health, as well as quality of life. The study itself was
initiated in response to a request from two regional directors of
the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP). RSVP is
one of three programs federally administered in the US through
the Senior Corps, and coordinates volunteering opportunities
for individuals aged 55 and older at thousands of sites (Senior
Corps, 2012). RSVP coordinates opportunities that include
working with children and schools, providing administrative
support to non-profit organizations, building homes and tending
community gardens, serving in neighborhood watch and com-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
T. W. MCDONALD ET AL.
munity development organizations, and providing disaster relief,
among others. In return for services provided, volunteers re-
ceive training for their position, supplemental insurance while
volunteering, and reimbursement for travel expenses incurred
while volunteering (Senior Corps, 2012).
As described in detail below, the study involved surveying
all RSVP volunteers in two administrative regions in south-
western Idaho. Volunteers were asked to comment on the extent
to which participating in RSVP and volunteering in their com-
munities had affected their lives across a number of domains.
We hypothesized that the survey respondents would report
improvement in all measured areas of their lives as a result of
volunteering, and particularly in terms of their physical health,
mental health, and perceived quality of life.
The participants in this study were 451 individuals who were
enrolled as RSVP volunteers in two RSVP administrative re-
gions located in southwestern Idaho. The majority of the par-
ticipants (74.9%) reported being women, and the median age
was 77 years (with a range from 43 to 97 years). The median
length of service as a RSVP volunteer was 48 months (with a
range from less than one month to 540 months). The vast ma-
jority (92.5%) of the respondents reported currently volunteer-
ing during the year the study was conducted.
The materials utilized in this study were individual survey
packets containing a cover letter, an attached three-page survey,
and a postage-paid return envelope. The cover letter was ad-
dressed to potential study participants, and signed by the direc-
tors of the two regional RSVP programs. This cover letter in-
vited RSVP volunteers to complete the attached survey as part
of an ongoing program evaluation effort, and stressed that
completion of the survey was strictly voluntary and anonymous.
The actual survey was based primarily on an unpublished tem-
plate created by national RSVP administrators, which had been
made available to RSVP regional directors across the United
States. The survey that was utilized in this study contained
several demographic items concerning participant age, gender,
length of RSVP volunteer service, and current volunteering
status. The survey also contained several items designed to
assess whether volunteering with RSVP had led to changes in a
variety of aspects of the participants’ lives. Specifically, the
respondents were asked to indicate whether participation with
RSVP had resulted in changes in the participants’: 1) sense of
accomplishment; 2) feeling that they have a purpose in life; 3)
feeling they can make a positive difference in another person’s
life; 4) looking forward to each new day; 5) amount of pleasure
gained from their daily activities; 6) sense of self-worth; 7)
perceived physical health; 8) perceived psychological health; 9)
overall sense of well-being; and 10) overall quality of life. The
response format for all of these items featured five-point
Likert-type scales. These scales measured levels of life change
that respondents had experienced since they began volunteering.
The scales also measured the nature of any perceived changes.
The values on the scale included: 1 = It’s a lot worse (i.e., an
aspect of my life is a lot worse since I began volunteering
through RSVP); 2 = It’s worse; 3 = No change (i.e., this aspect
of my life has not changed since I began volunteering through
RSVP); 4) It’s better; and 5 = It’s a lot better.
The research team and the two RSVP regional directors col-
laborated in order to create the survey instrument that was used
in this study. Some of the survey items were gleaned from the
unpublished RSVP program evaluation template and some new
items were added that were believed to be useful for the final
survey. The RSVP regional directors provided the research
team with printed address labels for all of the RSVP volunteers
that were currently enrolled in their regions. Members of the
research team affixed these labels to envelopes containing the
cover letter, survey, and a self-addressed postage-paid envelope
that the participants could use to mail the surveys back to the
researchers. A total of 1661 surveys were mailed to RSVP vol-
unteers. Eighty-four surveys were returned to sender, thus 1577
appeared to reach the desired volunteers. A total of 451 RSVP
volunteers completed and returned the surveys, for a valid re-
sponse rate of 28.6%.
The primary purpose of this project was to determine
whether volunteering in the RSVP program had led to changes
in the volunteers’ lives; thus the primary analysis utilized one-
sample t-tests to assess whether the participants’ mean scores
on the 10 Likert-scale items differed from the scale value of 3,
which indicated ‘No change’. As seen in Table 1, statistically
significant mean differences (from the scale value of 3) were
found on all 10 items, with each item being statistically signifi-
cant at the p < .001 level. In addition, all means for the 10 items
were above the scale value of 3 (see Table 1), meaning that the
participants felt that 10 distinct elements of their lives had im-
proved since beginning volunteering through RSVP. Specifi-
cally, respondents reported perceiving that their sense of ac-
complishment, life purpose, ability to make a difference in
another person’s life, looking forward to each new day, pleas-
ure gained from daily activities, sense of self-worth, physical
health, psychological health, overall sense of well-being, and
overall quality of life had all improved significantly since they
had begun volunteering in the RSVP program.
Although the primary purpose of this project was to deter-
mine whether volunteering through RSVP led to changes in the
lives of volunteers as a whole, it was determined that an as-
sessment of the differential changes that respondents may have
experienced as a result of volunteering would also be valuable.
In particular, we were interested in assessing whether men and
women reported different degrees of life change as a function
of their volunteering experiences with RSVP. As seen in Table
2, statistically significant differences as a function of gender
were found on perceived changes for all 10 elements of life,
with women reporting significantly more positive changes on
all 10 elements. Therefore, although both men and women re-
ported that volunteering through RSVP had led to significantly
positive changes on all measured dimensions, these changes
were significantly greater for women than they were for men.
A third set of analyses was conducted in order to assess whe-
ther current RSVP volunteers (i.e., participants who reported
volunteering during the study year) and non-current RSVP
volunteers (i.e., participants who reported volunteering in the
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 285
T. W. MCDONALD ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Perceived life changes as a function of volunteering thr o u g h R SVP.
Question: To wha t extent has vol unteering resulted in a change of your MMean Difference from 3 (No Change) t
Sense of accomplishment 4.201.20 35.46***
Feeling tha t you have a purpose in life 4.171.17 33.34***
Feeling that you can make a positive difference in another person’s life 4.231.23 38.38***
Looking forward to each new day 4.031.03 27.35***
Amount of ple asure you gain from your daily a ctivities 4.111.11 30.89***
Sense of self-worth 4.121.12 29.89***
Perceived physical health 3.390.39 9.62***
Perceived psychological he alth 3.740.74 20.08***
Sense of overall well-being 3.850.85 22.76***
Overall quality of life 3.850.85 22.92***
Note: All means are on a 5-point scale with higher values indicating more positive change. ***denotes statistic al signif i c anc e at the p < .001 level.
Perceived life changes resulting from volunteering through volunteering as a funct io n of gender.
Question: To wha t extent has vol unteering resulted in a change of your Female Male t
M SD M SD
Sense of accomplishment 4.27 .68 3.99 .72 3.66**
Feeling that you have a purpose in life 4.25 .72 3.92 .71 4.24**
Feeling tha t you can make a positive difference in another person’s life 4.27 .67 4.12 .62 2.02*
Looking forwar d to eac h new day 4.10 .78 3.83 .74 3.16**
Amount of pleasure y o u g ain from your daily a ctivities 4.17 .74 3.94 .74 2.80**
Sense of self-worth 4.19 .76 3.92 .79 3.21**
Perceived physical health 3.46 .82 3.18 .84 3.05**
Perceived psychological health 3.78 .76 3.61 .73 2.00*
Sense of ove r all well-being 3.91 .74 3.65 .80 3.06**
Overall quality of life 3.91 .74 3.68 .80 2.81**
Note: All means are on a 5-point scale with high er values indicating a more positive change. **den otes statistical s ignificance at th e p < .01 level and *denotes statisti cal
significance at the p < .05 level.
past, but not during the study year) differed significantly in the
extent to which they felt their lives had changed as a function of
volunteering through RSVP. Statistically significant differences
in perceived life changes were found between current and
non-current volunteers on four of the 10 elements of life; sense
of accomplishment, feeling that one can make a difference in
another person’s life, the amount of pleasure gained from daily
activities, and sense of self-worth. The first finding was ac-
counted for by current RSVP volunteers (M = 4.22, SD = .69)
reporting a perception of significantly more positive change in
sense of accomplishment as a function of volunteering than
non-current volunteers (M = 3.89, SD = .85), t (424) = 2.36, p
< .05. The second finding was accounted for by current volun-
teers (M = 4.25, SD = .66) reporting perceiving significantly
more positive change in the feeling that they can make a posi-
tive difference in another person’s life than non-current volun-
teers (M = 3.89, SD = .64), t (420) = 2.73, p < .01. The third
finding was accounted for by current volunteers (M = 4.12, SD
= .75) reporting perceiving significantly more positive change
in the amount of pleasure gained from daily activities than
non-current volunteers (M = 3.82, SD = .72), t (424) = 2.07, p
< .05. The fourth finding was accounted for by current volun-
teers (M = 4.14, SD = .76) reporting perceiving significantly
more positive change in their sense of self-worth than non-
current volunteers (M = 3.76, SD = .91), t (420) = 2.59, p < .01.
Overall, the results of these analyses provide support for the
notion that current volunteers may reap more benefits from
volunteering than persons who volunteered in the past, but are
no longer volunteering.
The final analyses that were conducted were intended to de-
termine whether the age of the volunteer was systematically
related to perceived changes on the 10 elements of life. Corre-
lational analyses pairing age and each of the 10 elements of life
were conducted, and statistically significant relationships were
found on five of the elements of life. It was found that volun-
teer age was significantly and positively associated with: 1) an
increase in sense of accomplishment as a result of volunteering
(r [N = 425] = .15, p < .01); 2) feeling that one has an increased
sense of purpose as a result of volunteering (r [N = 427] = .17,
p < .001); 3) increased looking forward to each new day as a
result of volunteering (r [N = 422] = .15, p < .01); 4) increased
pleasure gained from daily activities as a result of volunteering
T. W. MCDONALD ET AL.
(r[N = 425] = .12, p < .05); and 5) increased sense of self-worth
as a result of volunteering (r[N = 421] = .12, p < .05). Thus, it
seems that at least some of the positive impacts of volunteering
may be greater for older volunteers than for younger volunteers.
In this study, we found that seniors who volunteered through
the RSVP program reported that a number of elements of their
lives had improved significantly since they began volunteering
through the program. As noted earlier, we were particularly
interested in the extent to which volunteering had influenced
the seniors’ perceived physical health, mental health, and qual-
ity of life. The results clearly showed that the seniors felt better
physically and mentally since they began volunteering, and
they felt that their overall quality of life had improved as well.
In addition to these three constructs, we were also interested in
assessing whether volunteering had affected other areas of sur-
vey respondents’ lives. We found that the seniors believed vol-
unteering through RSVP had significantly improved their lives
on every other possible dimension—giving their lives purpose,
providing them with a sense that they can make a positive dif-
ference in another person’s life, helping them look forward to
each new day, increasing the amount of pleasure gained from
daily activities, increasing their sense of self-worth, and in-
creasing their sense of overall well being. Overall, the survey
respondents clearly believed that their lives were better due to
their volunteer experiences with RSVP. The results of this
study appear to offer extremely strong support for the notion
that volunteering is a beneficial activity in which seniors can
In this study, we also found that the benefits of volunteering
seemed particularly pronounced for women, older volunteers,
and those respondents who were currently volunteering during
the year the study was conducted. The findings concerning
gender merit particular interest, as we found that women re-
ported the positive effects of volunteering to be greater than
men on all 10 elements of their lives (differential benefits as a
function of gender were also reported by Ahern & Hendryx,
2008). These findings seem to raise several important questions.
For example, why might volunteering benefit women more than
men? How might the practice or experience of volunteering be
modified to have a greater benefit for men? The first question
might be answered, at least in part, by recognizing that volun-
teering offers opportunities for social interaction and therefore
the development and use of social support. Certainly, studies in
the scientific literature (e.g., Belle, 1991; Denton, Prus, & Wal-
ters, 2004; Rosario, Shinn, Morch, & Huckabee, 1988; Wymer,
2012) exist which suggest that women tend to utilize social
support differently than men. Simply stated, women tend to
have larger and stronger social support systems, and they tend
to access and rely on them more frequently (Belle, 1991; Wy-
mer, 2012). Thus, it could be that women benefit more from
volunteering than men because women tend to maximize op-
portunities to create and access social supports. The second
question, regarding how to improve the practice or experience
of volunteering for men, may be more difficult to answer. A
first step that is important to consider when attempting to an-
swer this question may be to further explore why men report
benefiting from volunteering less than women. Such further
exploration seems warranted, as the answers obtained would
surely help volunteer coordinators to more effectively recruit
and retain male volunteers.
The finding that older volunteers tended to report more bene-
fits from volunteering than younger volunteers also merits at-
tention, particularly with respect to its implications. As dis-
cussed earlier, the aging process tends to be associated with
increased morbidity and mortality, as well as a decreased qual-
ity of life. Any activity that might lead to particularly positive
results for older seniors seems desirable to encourage, and vol-
unteering may be a suitable choice. Of course, it should be
recognized that volunteering coordinators might have to be
increasingly creative in developing volunteering opportunities
for older seniors, as many of these seniors may have greater
difficulties associated with transportation, physical mobility,
and so forth. However, to the extent that volunteer coordinators
truly care about the well-being of older seniors, such efforts
appear likely to be successful in making life more healthy and
enjoyable for them. The last finding, that current volunteers
reported greater benefits from volunteering than past, non-
current volunteers, also warrants consideration, although it is
somewhat more difficult to interpret. This finding superficially
suggests that discontinuing volunteering activities may lead to a
gradual reduction in the benefits of volunteering. If this is true,
then this finding has valuable implications regarding the im-
portance of volunteer retention efforts. However, the possibility
exists that non-current volunteers are no longer volunteering
due to recent health problems, which may also consequently
explain why non-current volunteers reported fewer benefits
from volunteering than did current volunteers.
Although the results of this study seem both strong and use-
ful, we should note several limitations of the research. First, the
use of a “retrospective” survey design, or one that asks survey
respondents to remember their perceptions or feelings at an
earlier point in time, is inherently limited. When using this
design, we are forced to assume that people can accurately
recall how they felt (in terms of their physical health, feeling of
life purpose, and so forth) prior to beginning volunteering
through RSVP, in order to fairly compare their pre-volunteering
perceptions to their perceptions after having volunteered for a
period of time. This type of design is not uncommon in pro-
gram evaluation studies, however we do recognize the limita-
tions of it, and also recognize that a pretest-posttest design
would have been far more desirable. Second, we are cognizant
of the need for caution when generalizing our results. Because
we studied the effects of volunteering in a two-region area
comprising 10 counties of a single state, we realize that it may
not be completely appropriate to assume that the results would
be the same if we had surveyed senior volunteers from RSVP
programs located across the nation.
Many researchers and scholars (e.g., Duffy & Wong, 2003;
Friedman et al., 2011) have noted that seniors have been dis-
proportionately underrepresented in the scientific literature, and
because seniors are such a large and growing segment of the
population, continued lack of focus on seniors seems decidedly
unwise. It seems imperative to understand what factors influ-
ence the health and well being of seniors so that we can effec-
tively serve this population and improve the quality of their
lives. As the results of this study suggest, engaging in volun-
teering activities through RSVP may be one way to positively
impact seniors’ physical and mental health, as well as their
quality of life. Therefore, it seems that it would be wise to offer
greater volunteering opportunities, and engage in active out-
reach and recruitment efforts to encourage seniors to take ad-
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T. W. MCDONALD ET AL.
vantage of these opportunities. Although RSVP is a major, na-
tional program with numerous regional offices, there are many
other existing programs that seniors can volunteer through, and
an almost unlimited number of senior volunteering programs
that could be developed by community and senior centers,
churches and other places of worship, schools, and so forth.
Many scholars and members of the general public profess to
care about the health and well being of seniors. By helping
seniors to engage in activities—such as volunteering—that
have been demonstrated to have a positive effect on them, we
can convert our compassion int o action.
This research project was supported by a $400 teaching grant
to the first author from the College of Social Sciences and Pub-
lic Affairs at Boise State University. The authors wish to thank
Elizabeth A. LeMesurier, Komal Mehrotra, and Abel Morel for
their help with data collection and entry, and Lisa A. Mac-
kenzie for reviewing and editing this work.
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