Volunteer motivation and retention of older peer walk leaders: a 4-month long investigation

Marlene Kritz, Nikos Ntoumanis, Barbara Mullan, Afroditi Stathi, C Thogersen-Ntoumani

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Background and Objectives: Peer volunteers offer a promising avenue for promoting physical activity in older adults. However, recruiting and retaining such volunteers are challenging. We aimed to examine longitudinally factors that determine whether older volunteer walk leaders will persist in their role.

Research Design and Methods: We recruited older adults volunteering as walk leaders, from retirement villages in Perth, at the start of a 16-week walking intervention. Using a mixed-methods multiple case study design, informed by self-determination theory, we examined the motivational processes of three profiles: Dropouts, Completers, and Extenders. One male and 10 female (medianAge = 75 years, age range: 66–83 years) peer walk leaders were interviewed twice over 4 months, and data were analyzed using thematic analysis. Questionnaires provided information on volunteer characteristics, leadership confidence, and volunteer motivation.

Results: Self-orientated goals, obligation and guilt, emotional exhaustion, lack of psychological need satisfaction, and perceived lack of support were barriers to volunteer persistence. Social confidence and relatedness satisfaction motivated volunteers to persist until program completion (Completers). Altruistic goals, using sustainable helping strategies, psychological need satisfaction, optimism, and enjoyment were important for continuing the role after the program (Extenders).

Discussion and Implications: Results describe how differences in volunteer motives, personal characteristics, and training may affect motivational processes that determine persistence as an older peer walk leader. We provide suggestions on selecting, training, and supporting older volunteer walk leaders to facilitate their retention.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1118–1130
Number of pages13
JournalThe Gerontologist
Issue number7
Early online date17 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • Health promotion
  • Physical activity
  • Multiple case study design
  • Longitudinal


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