February 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 1 // Research in Brief // 1RIB2

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Benefits and Values of the Master Gardener Program

Current and former Missouri Master Gardeners were asked to respond how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a list of benefits provided by the Master Gardener program. Questions were assigned to one of 6 principal components of volunteer motivation. Respondents most strongly agreed that the Master Gardener program provides benefits related to Understanding. Benefits related to Enhancement, Values, and Protective issues formed the second tier of importance. Benefits related to Career were next, and Social benefits concluded the list. Currently active Master Gardeners volunteers were more likely to respond favorably to benefits provided by the Master Gardener program.

Denny S. Schrock
Extension Specialist
University of Illinois
Urbana-Champaign, Illinois
Internet address: dsschroc@uiuc.edu

Mary Meyer
Assistant Professor
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota

Peter Ascher
University of Minnesota
St. Paul, Minnesota

Mark Snyder
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota


Current and former Missouri Master Gardeners were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a list of benefits provided by the Master Gardener program. Clary et al. (1998) have shown that volunteers who receive functionally relevant benefits are more likely to be satisfied with their volunteer experience and to remain active in the program. A significant investment goes into training Master Gardener volunteers (Meyer and Hanchek, 1997). Retaining good volunteers is one way to reduce program costs.

Much of the literature on volunteer retention is based upon authors' opinions concerning effective means of retention (Kipperman, 1995). Other authors merely provide examples of incentives and rewards used to retain volunteers (Buckwalter, Parsons & Wright, 1993) with no statistical measure of effectiveness.

One approach to volunteer retention studies which utilize statistical analyses is to employ an organizational or workplace model (Knoke, 1981; Nelson, Pratt, Carpenter & Walter, 1995). Measurements of volunteer retention using the organizational workplace model of employee turnover have found results similar for volunteer workers as for paid employees. Miller, Powell & Seltzer (1990) found that convenience of the volunteer work schedule had a direct effect on turnover. In Gidron's (1984) longitudinal study, volunteers were categorized as "stayers", "leavers for objective reasons" (uncontrollable turnover), or "leavers by choice" (controllable turnover). The variables, preparation for the task, task achievement, relationship with other volunteers, and work itself--were best at discriminating between "stayers" and "leavers by choice". However, these variables better predicted retention than turnover. In a direct comparison of paid employees and volunteers within eight different organizations, Adams, Schlueter & Barge (1988) found few differences between paid staff and volunteers. It was found that volunteers had higher intrinsic motivation than paid employees.

Other researchers on volunteer retention have focused on the social dynamics of the group (McPherson & Rotolo, 1996; Popielarz & McPherson, 1995). The premise is that voluntary associations are overwhelmingly homogeneous. The theory holds that the flow of members in and out of voluntary groups depends on competition of other groups for members' time and resources. Voluntary organizations lose fastest those members who are either atypical of the group or whose characteristics match closely those of the other group's members.

The most extensive study done to date regarding Master Gardeners' motives for volunteering was done by Rohs & Westerfield (1996). Their survey studied the combined broad factors of social background, societal and community benefits, personal benefits, and influence of other individuals to determine the relative importance of factors influencing volunteering in the Georgia Master Gardener program.

Materials and Methods

As part of a more extensive mail survey on Master Gardener motivation and retention, 417 randomly selected current and former Missouri Master Gardeners were asked to indicate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with a list of benefits provided by the Master Gardener program. Responses were based on a 5-point Likert scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The initial mailing resulted in 216 responses. A follow-up mailing to non-respondents brought in another 66 responses for a total of 282 responses, a 67.6% response rate. Respondents to the first mailing were more likely to be currently active volunteers than respondents to the second mailing (72% vs. 52%, p<0.01). However, other demographic categories and responses to questions, with one exception, did not differ significantly between the two groups. Thus no adjustments were made for non-respondents.

The survey instrument was an adaptation of Rohs & Westerfield's (1996) Master Gardener Societal and Personal Benefits survey. However, rather than assigning questions to the general categories of societal or personal benefits, they were assigned to one of the 6 principal components of volunteer motivation developed by Clary et al. (1998): Understanding (U), Values (V), Enhancement (E), Social (S), Protective (P), and Career (C). Of the 22 questions asked, 5 related to Understanding, 4 to Values, 6 to Enhancement, 3 to Social, 1 to Protective, and 3 to Career (Table 1). Statistical analysis indicated the presence of 6 internally consistent principal components.

Demographic questions included age, gender, marital relationship status, ages of children, household income, occupation, level of education, location and length of residence. In addition, respondents were asked to indicate whether they are presently volunteering as a Master Gardener, how many years they have been active as Master Gardener volunteers, and level of volunteer time commitment to the Master Gardener program in the past year. Demographic data are reported elsewhere (Schrock, Meyer, Ascher & Snyder, 1999a).


Overall means for the 6 principal components of benefits provided by the Master Gardener program are reported in Table 1. Respondents most strongly indicated their agreement that the Master Gardener program, more than any other similar organization, provides benefits related to new learning experiences categorized as Understanding (U). The overall mean for Understanding was 4.35 on the 5-point Likert scale. Benefits related to personal growth and self-esteem, labeled Enhancement (E); those related to altruism and humanitarian concern, labeled Values (V); and guilt reduction over being more fortunate than others and addressing one's own personal problems, labeled Protective (P), formed the second tier of benefit importance. Benefits related to preparation for a new career or maintaining career-relevant skills, categorized as Career (C) were next. Benefits concerning relationships with others, classified as Social (S), concluded the list.

Table 1
Perceived benefits provided by the Missouri Master Gardener program
Benefit categoryMean1
Understanding4.35 a
Enhancement3.52 b
Values3.48 b
Protective3.42 b
Career3.10 c
Social2.69 d
1 Means from 5-point Likert scale,
1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree.
Mean separation by Duncan's multiple range test, p=.05.

Rankings of specific benefits provided by the Missouri Master Gardener program are listed in Table 2. The top five benefits, which all received scores of 4.0 or greater on the 5-point Likert scale, relate to increasing knowledge and understanding. This indicates a close match between primary motivational factors for joining the Master Gardener program reported by Simonson & Pals (1990), Finch (1997), and the motivational portion of the current study (Schrock, Meyer, Ascher & Snyder, 1999b). Simonson & Pals found that most Idaho Master Gardeners joined the program to increase knowledge for their own use, while Finch found that the horticultural information available in the San Antonio, TX, Master Gardener program was the most important reason for joining and for remaining active in the program. Rohs & Westerfield (1996) generally found these Understanding-based reasons to be highly ranked as well.

Table 2
Ranking of benefits provided by the Missouri Master Gardener program
Benefit providedMean1
1. Opportunity to learn about plants, soil and horticulture(U)24.72a
2. Practical classroom instruction and hands-on experience(U)4.44b
3. Master Gardener materials are excellent(U)4.27bc
4. Educational benefits not provided by private businesses(U)4.26bc
5. Teaches knowledge and skills that advance society(U)4.05cd
6. Contributes to community growth and development(V)3.97de
7. Flexibility to conduct types of volunteer work I want(E)3.95de
8. Opportunity to assume responsibility(E)3.65fg
9. Social rewards for productive effort(V)3.58fgh
10. Feeling good about ability to perform life tasks(C)3.55fgh
11. Encourages individual independence(E)3.55fgh
12. Meets adult needs not met by other parts of society(V)3.48fghi
13. Plenty of staff assistance after becoming volunteer(P)3.42ghij
14. Status of belonging to the Master Gardener organization(E)3.40ghij
15. Master Gardener organization is highly prestigious(E)3.37hij
16. Training for leaders in several skill areas I wanted to develop(C)3.27ij
17. As a Master Gardener I have gained respect in the community(S)3.20j
18. I receive praise and recognition from being a Master Gardener(E)3.18jk
19. As a Master Gardener I can help alleviate societal problems(E)2.91k
20. I became a Master Gardener because I wanted to meet people(S)2.52.l
21. Certain economic benefits from being a Master Gardener(C)2.48 l
22. Many influential people in my community are Master Gardeners(S)2.34 l
1 Mean separations by Duncan's multiple range test, p=3D0.05, on a Likert scale of
1=strongly disagree to 5=strongly agree.
2 U=Understanding, V=Values, E=Enhancement, P=Protective,
C=Career, and S=Social categories of benefits.

Following the top-ranked Understanding benefits, was a grouping dominated by Values and Enhancement benefits, with scores ranging from 3.37 to 3.97 on the 5-point Likert scale. The relatively high ranking of Enhancement benefits is somewhat surprising in light of the findings from the motivational portion of this study (Schrock et al., 1999b) which found Enhancement to be clearly less important as a motivational factor than altruistic motives.

By the same token, one might have expected Values benefits to rank more highly since it was found that Values motivational factors were as important to Missouri Master Gardeners as were motives related to Understanding. Possible explanations include greater opportunity for personal growth and leadership development provided by the Master Gardener program than applicants to the program anticipated or fewer community service opportunities with social impact than they anticipated. Rankings of Enhancement- and Values-related benefits parallel the findings of Rohs & Westerfield (1996).

The lowest ranking benefits in the current study were either Social or Career-related benefits. These findings confirm those of Rohs & Westerfield and correspond with the lower rankings of these categories as motivational factors in the current study (Schrock et al., 1999b).

Master Gardeners who are currently active volunteers in the program were more likely to respond favorably to many of the benefits provided by the Master Gardener program (Table 3). Those who did not volunteer within the last year were least likely to agree that the Master Gardener Program provided the respective benefit. The more hours of volunteer service given to the program in the past year, the more likely was the response to be in agreement with the statement.

Table 3
Correlation of level of involvement in the Missouri Master Gardener program in the past year with positive response to benefits provided by the Master Gardener program
Benefit providedCorrelationProbability
I receive praise and recognition from being a Master Gardener volunteer0.30<0.01
As a Master Gardener I have gained the respect of people in the community0.25<0.01
I like the flexibility I have as a Master Gardener to conduct the types of volunteer work I want0.24<0.01
The Master Gardener organization is regarded as a highly prestigious organization in the community0.20<0.01
I like the status of belonging to the Master Gardener organization0.19<0.01
Contributes to community growth and development0.17<0.01
Provides the opportunity to learn about plants, soil and horticultural topics0.150.01
Teaches knowledge and skills that contribute to the advancement of mankind and society0.140.02

Several differences in responses were correlated with the age of the respondent. As the age of the respondents increased, they were more likely to agree that the Master Gardener organization is regarded as a highly prestigious organization in the community; meets adult needs not met by other parts of society; provides practical classroom instruction and hands-on experience in horticulture; and provides educational benefits not provided by private horticultural businesses.


Missouri Master Gardeners felt that the greatest benefits provided by the University Extension Master Gardener program were educationally related. They appreciated the personal knowledge they could gain in learning about plants and horticulture through hands-on activities and excellent quality training materials. It was felt this type of training was not available through the private sector, and that the training provided them with the knowledge and skills to advance society and contribute to community growth and development.In order for Master Gardeners to continue gaining horticultural knowledge, it is important that they be provided with ongoing learning opportunities beyond their initial training program. Successful Master Gardener programs typically have advanced training programs, periodic short courses, newsletters, and educational conferences to provide the horticultural knowledge desired by the volunteers. Further study would likely link availability of these training opportunities to improved retention rates.

For the most part, Missouri Master Gardeners felt they had the flexibility to conduct the type of volunteer tasks they wanted to do. They were given the opportunity to assume responsibility and encouraged to develop independence, but at the same time they felt they had plenty of staff assistance as volunteers. Since the range of responses varied across the entire scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, these generalities do not hold for all Missouri Master Gardeners.

Master Gardener retention rates could possibly be improved by increasing the amount of praise and recognition provided within the program since respondents were neutral (average response of 3.18 on a 5 point Likert scale) when asked whether they received praise and recognition from being a Master Gardener. Also, perhaps more community leaders should be recruited into the Master Gardener program since program participants generally disagree that influential people in the community are involved in the program.

The most active volunteers in the Master Gardener program are most likely to respond favorably to the benefits provided by the program. Thus, it is important to keep Master Gardener volunteers actively engaged in meaningful volunteer activities in order for them to perceive they are receiving benefits from the program. Matching volunteer tasks to their motivation for volunteering is one way to create a meaningful volunteer experience. The Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI), discussed elsewhere (Clary et al., 1998), is one means of assessing volunteers' motivations and thereby assisting the volunteer manager to meet their needs. If used as part of the volunteer screening process, the VFI could be a valuable tool in assessing volunteer potential and assigning volunteer responsibilities to match the volunteer's desired outcomes of the experience.


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