Young adult volunteers are vital to the current and future operations of nonprofit organizations yet many countries report low and declining volunteer participation by this group. Moreover, university students are a particularly under-utilized and under-researched segment of potential young adult volunteers. As such, the current study examines the functions and norms that drive university students to volunteer. A survey of 282 students indicates that the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI) does not adequately explain the volunteering of today's university students. For instance, t-tests reveal that the importance of the VFI functions among current students differs significantly to the importance of the functions among the previous generation of students. Also, factor analysis shows that the structure of the VFI model is unstable for the current sample while multiple regression reveals that the VFI explains only 11% of university student volunteering. In contrast, χ2-tests indicate that volunteering by university students is dependent on the observed volunteering of primary reference group members (i.e., parents, siblings, close friends). The results suggest that nonprofit organizations may need to revise their recruitment strategies for today's university students: rather than appealing to the functional benefits of volunteering, positioning volunteering as the ‘normal’ thing to do may be more successful. Further research is needed to develop a richer understanding of reference group influences on the volunteering behavior of today's young adults.
Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.