Stepping Up to the Plate: Common Traits of Community Volunteer Leaders

Study of community volunteer leadership traits

Beginning in August 1993, researchers at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., conducted extensive interviews with 250 volunteer leaders who had started their own community initiatives.

The study sought to identify the specific characteristics of people who start volunteer community initiatives and to develop a process to:

  • Enable residents of a neighborhood to find these community entrepreneurs.
  • Trigger them to action.
  • Help them develop new, small, sustainable activities to help needy people in the community.

Key Findings

  • Researchers found that community entrepreneurs had four characteristics in common:

    • They are prepared to engage based on certain personality traits.
    • They step forward to begin because of one or more "triggering" events.
    • They sustain the work because of certain benefits or small successes.
    • They find meaningful success in the work because they behave in a certain way.

Key Results

  • Following the study, pilot programs began in three locations (San Jose, Calif., Newark, N.J. and Dallas, Texas) to test whether communities can activate community entrepreneurs. The programs were supported mainly by local philanthropies.