Both volunteering and gardening are large components of American society. In 2018, 77.4 million Americans volunteered, resulting in an estimated $167 billion economic impact (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2012), and 74% of all United States households participated in some type of gardening activity (National Garden Research, 2017). Because such a large portion of the American population partaking in both gardening and volunteer activities, it is vital for the public to have accurate information about horticultural topics, trends, and research.
To this end, the Extension Master Gardener (MG) program has become an established nationwide framework for participants to increase their own horticultural knowledge while simultaneously providing volunteer service opportunities to help further disseminate horticultural information to the public (Boyer et al., 2002; Davenport-Hagen et al., 2018; Dorn et al., 2019). Although specific topics vary nationally, MG participants typically receive educational training in core areas such as plant science, plant pathology, plant nutrition, insect pests, weed identification and management, pesticide safety, and soils (Purdue University, 2018a). Participants who successfully complete the training sessions and pass a knowledge examination are awarded the title of Extension Master Gardener intern, at which point they are encouraged to complete a set amount of volunteer service hours to be awarded the certification of Master Gardener. Volunteering is a required and fundamental component of the MG program. Historically, most MGs’ volunteer time was spent answering questions in person at the extension office or during horticultural hotline phone calls (Meyer, 2007). Presently, volunteer opportunities are numerous and include helping with demonstration gardens, community gardens, displays and booths at county and state fairs, youth gardening education, and a multitude of other activities that improve the environment or community (Chalker-Scott and Collman, 2006; Dorn et al., 2018; Meyer, 2007).
Master Gardener participants most often engage in the program due to the desire for horticultural knowledge, desire to contribute to the community, and perceived social aspects of the program (Boyer et al., 2002; Dorn et al., 2018; Schrock et al., 2000; Strong and Harder, 2010, 2011; Wilson and Newman, 2011). Regardless of what brought a participant to the MG program, the main goal of the program is to educate the public about horticultural topics (Bauske et al., 2011; Bobbitt, 1997; Chalker-Scott and Collman, 2006; Meyer, 2007). Prior research has provided a snapshot of typical MGs. Participants are generally older (between ages 51 and 70 years), married, white (non-Hispanic), and female; furthermore, they have advanced degrees and incomes higher than the median in the Unites States (Dorn et al., 2018; Rohs et al., 2002). A large number of volunteers remain active in the program for many years because they perceive many personal benefits of the program, including the personal value of the horticultural knowledge gained through the program, the perception of prestige, and the flexibility in the volunteer service activities conducted and completed (Meyer, 2007; Schrock et al., 2000; Takle et al., 2016). However, retention of participants is a concern within the MG program because many members do not remain active (Meyer, 2004; Stouse and Marr, 1992; Takle et al., 2016).
The social and economic impacts of the MG are substantial. For example, in 2018, Indiana reported 2800 active MGs contributing more than 175,000 volunteer hours to their communities (Purdue University, 2018b). This is the equivalent of contributing $4.3 million in volunteer services to their communities (Independent Sector, 2019). With such a large interest and investment in the MG program, it is important to examine who the participants are in this program and why they are volunteering, which may help predict future volunteer behaviors.
This study sought to identify potentially predictive variables of volunteering behaviors of participants and interns in the Purdue Master Gardener (PMG) program and describe the characteristics and perceptions of participants in the PMG program. Supported by the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) as the conceptual framework, potential predictive variables were identified as demographics, attitudes, self-efficacy, participation in the PMG program, and prior volunteering experience. TPB was selected because it attempts to explain and predict behaviors, and it considers the factors of attitudes and self-efficacy in the prediction of behavior and, in this case, volunteer behavior of the PMGs (Ajzen, 1991).
Variables for this study are grounded in prior research of the MG programming or volunteering behaviors. Research has shown demographic variables to be predictors of volunteering behaviors (Tang, 2006; Wilson, 2000). However, volunteering behaviors were not consistently predicted by attitudes about volunteering (Wilson, 2000). Wilson (2000) stated that values (attitudes) fail to predict volunteering, possibly because there are many different contexts of volunteering and because different values (attitudes) influence volunteering in each different context. However, Norman and Rumelhart (1975) posited that when attitudes are combined with other variables, they have a stronger predictive ability than when measured alone. Weber et al. (2004) defined self-efficacy in the volunteering sector as a belief that one can make an impact on the community, and this definition was used in the current study. Self-efficacy has been shown to be a strong predictor of behavior (Bandura, 1986, 1989). When measured in the context of volunteering behaviors, some researchers have found that self-efficacy helps to predict volunteering behaviors (Weber et al., 2004).
There are many ways to characterize prior volunteer experience, such as whether the individual previously volunteered, the type of volunteering activities, participation in service-learning programs, and the age when an individual volunteered. Past volunteer experience may help to predict volunteering behavior (Janoski et al., 1998; Mutchler et al., 2003). Research supports the idea that adolescents who volunteer may also continue volunteering as adults. If an adolescent has formed positive attitudes about volunteering, then that adolescent is more likely to volunteer later in life (Janoski et al., 1998). Observing a parent or adult role model volunteering or making positive associations with volunteering because of that parent or adult role model may help to predict if adolescents will volunteer as adults (Hamilton and Fenzel, 1988).
A focus on either one or two predictive variables is common throughout most research of the identification of predictive variables for volunteering behaviors. Combining multiple potentially predictive variables, as in the current study, may more effectively predict volunteer behaviors. Attitudes may have stronger predictive abilities when measured in conjunction with multiple predictive variables (Millar and Tesser, 1989). In other words, no one variable can predict volunteering behaviors, but multiple variables have the possibility to effectively predict volunteering behaviors. The purpose of this work was to create a predictive model guided by the TPB and the conceptual model along with key factors of the PMG program to enable the prediction of volunteer behavior.
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