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SPA Professor Tracks Impact of Female Leadership on Volunteering Behaviors

Results show that gender congruence has no effect on volunteer rates in membership associations.

New research by SPA Associate Professor Khaldoun AbouAssi shows that the presence of women in leadership positions at membership organizations does not necessarily predict higher volunteerism rates or intensity of engagement among female members.

These findings are explained in his article “Does Gender Congruence Make a Difference in Female Members' Volunteering Behaviors?”, recently published in the open access Journal of Public and Nonprofit Affairs. This work was partially funded by the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Foundation.

AbouAssi used survey data from 23 ASAE membership organizations, along with archival data from the Internal Revenue Service, to analyze the impact of female board members or executive directors on the volunteer behavior patterns of female members. In terms of participation, gender congruence did not predict an increase in volunteering.

“At the end of the day, volunteering is a personal choice. It might be more about the individual herself than the association that she belongs to,” said AbouAssi, suggesting education, marital status, having children, or other commitments might be stronger factors influencing women’s involvement. He further noted that these organizations are not typical nonprofits, but rather fee-charging membership associations; this may give members the impression that the fee itself is sufficient without further involvement.

The study did, however, reveal that female volunteers were more likely to be active in a variety of diverse roles and feel more satisfied with their efforts when females helmed the organization. AbouAssi said that this may reflect a sign of support for females at the top or be the result of differing leadership styles.

“Female leaders, compared to male leaders, often are more interested in participatory approaches and involving others; they create more opportunities for members to be involved,” AbouAssi said. “They reach out to members and try to support them. That kind of a two-way communication between the leaders and the members might create more satisfaction from volunteering.”

Overall, in the nonprofit sector, involvement of women is promising. About half of board members are women and three-quarters have female executive directors, although women leaders often earn less than their male counterparts.

While AbouAssi said that data limitations in this analysis do not allow for broad implications to be drawn, organizations should understand that paying attention to equity and representation does affect stakeholder involvement and satisfaction. He plans to continue this study in future research by exploring the impact of racial congruence, and how gender congruence in an organization affects donors’ support.