Volunteering, volunteer service, volunteer demand, volunteer impact


The two research questions presented in this study are: (1) What factors motivate cities to include volunteer service in strategies designed to address local challenges? and (2) How do cities describe the impact of initiatives that rely on volunteer service to address local challenges? This constructivist grounded theory study (Charmaz, 2006) uses the data coding technique proposed by Corbin and Strauss (2008). Themes in the data are uncovered through the coding process, which includes open coding, axial coding, and selective coding (Corbin & Strauss, 2008). The triangulated data for this study derives from two types of sources: extant texts and key informant interview transcripts from the 39 key informant interviews conducted for this study. The criterion-based purposive sample (Patton, 2002) for this study includes 39 cities belonging to the Cities of Service coalition as of June 2012 that participated in key informant interviews through elected or appointed officials. The Cities of Service coalition is made up of over 100 cities that have subscribed to a Declaration of Service resolving and committing to engage citizens in strategies to address local challenges (Cities of Service, 2010). The Cities of Service initiative specifically promotes the use of volunteer service in addressing local challenges. This study makes a theoretical contribution to the scholarship on volunteering by proposing a grounded theory model for volunteer service demand. The findings of this study suggest that the motivational bases for local governments to engage volunteers in iii strategies to address local challenges are economic motivation, aspirational motivation, and need-based motivation. Additionally, certain feasibility considerations bear on volunteer service demand by local governments. Those feasibility considerations relate to the liability climate, skilled volunteer supply, partnership opportunities, manageability, measurability of impact, and resources. Using data from city organizational charts and 2010 U.S. Census data, the researcher explored whether differences existed as to motivational bases for volunteer service demand relative to city size, mayoral political affiliation, and form of government. No statistically significant differences existed with respect to city size or mayoral political affiliation. The data for this study suggest that cities organized according to the council-manager form of government are less likely to report aspirational motivations for volunteer service demand than cities organized according to the strong mayor-council or weak mayor-council form of government (χ2 =14.36; df=2; p-value=0.007). Additionally, as to need-driven motivations, cities organized according to the council-manager form of government were less likely to be motivated to include volunteers in strategies to address local challenges based on citizen need than cities with the strong mayor-council or weak mayor-council forms of government (χ2 =6.59; df=2; p-value=0.036). According to the findings in this study relative to the second research question, cities assess the impact of service in a variety of ways. Specifically, cities report assessing the impact of volunteer service initiatives in three ways: (1) by creating metrics; (2) by measuring outcomes; and (3) by telling qualitative stories. Notably, two cities report that iv they applying a mix of methods to assessing the impact of volunteer service. The grounded theory model for volunteer service demand and the coded data presented in this study were used to create a generalized logic model for assessing the impact of volunteer service as a strategy to address pressing local issues. Additional findings were made on the data. In particular, a typology for citizen service for cities grounded in the data for this study is presented as an additional finding. The typology identifies four ways citizens serve cities through volunteerism: (1) by serving as ambassadors; (2) by giving money; (3) by supporting city function; and (4) by delivering services. Differences between cities with respect to citywide volunteer coordination based on city size, mayoral political affiliation, and form of government were also explored. A statistically significant difference was observed between small and large cities with respect to the existence of citywide volunteer coordination (χ2 =5.68; df=1; p value=0.007). No statistically significant relationships between mayoral political affiliation or form of government and citywide volunteer coordination were found in this study. Finally, nonthematic observations on the data are presented. These non-thematic observations are comprised of data that did not emerge as a core category of data with respect to the research questions. In sum, cities drive demand for volunteer service, and that demand can be explained through certain motivational bases—economic, aspirational, and need-based—together with various feasibility considerations. Citizens meet the demand for volunteer service in a variety of ways, as the typology offered in this study suggests. The impact of this service v demanded by cities and supplied by citizens can be assessed in a multitude of ways. This study shows that, while assessing the impact of volunteer service as a strategy to address local challenges may be inherently difficult, employing a logic model may be useful to effectively communicate the impact of volunteer service as a strategy to address local challenges.


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Graduation Date





Martin, Lawrence


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Health and Public Affairs


Dean's Office, Health and Public Affairs

Degree Program

Public Affairs








Release Date

May 2013

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Health and Public Affairs, Health and Public Affairs -- Dissertations, Academic