Volunteer Management Literature Review



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Volunteer Management Literature Review


Volunteers are widely recognized as one of the nation's most essential public resources. According to Grossman and Furano (1999), every year, Americans donate approximately twenty billion hours to provide public services free of charge. College students are particularly active since they want to make a difference and try themselves in volunteering (Strickland, 2008). The variety of volunteering activities continues to grow, and people who want to volunteer can realize themselves through a diversity of projects, from delivering meals to elderly people to cleaning their neighborhoods (Grossman & Furano, 1999). Volunteers are believed to be kind, open to cooperation, and altruistic. However, the motives of volunteering and its outcomes vary considerably across different contexts. The field of volunteer management is becoming much more complicated, as non-profit and for-profit organizations are devising new strategies to attract and retain volunteers. The Human Resource Management issues encountered by non-profit organizations in the context of volunteer management are very similar to those, which are faced by for-profit enterprises in their relationships with employees (Jager, Kreutzer & Beyes, 2009). Yet, because volunteers usually work based on the so-called psychological contract (without any fees provided), non-profit organizations experience considerable difficulties with hiring and retaining qualified volunteer personnel.

The purpose of this work is to review everything that was written on volunteer management in the past ten years. Special emphasis is made on volunteer management in academic learning institutions, including universities. The review provides a definition and description of a typical volunteer and a broad overview of the volunteer management field. The following HR issues in volunteer management are discussed: motivation, recruitment, selection, training and evaluation, retention, as well as leadership and volunteer relationships with paid staff. Risk management procedures and concerns are evaluated. A summary of the best volunteer management practices is provided.

Definition of Volunteer(s) and Volunteer Roles

Despite the abundance of research in the field of volunteer management, few recent researchers have tried to define the concept of "volunteering." More often than not, the meaning of volunteering and volunteer management is taken for granted. Meanwhile, the public and professional confusion surrounding the concept continues to persist. Bussell and Forbes (2002) write that defining what is meant by volunteering is an extremely challenging task since volunteers operate in various organizations and the roles they take on are quite diverse. More importantly, volunteers are not homogenous and represent a diversity of ages, genders, backgrounds, experiences, and skills (Bussell & Forbes, 2002). Most definitions of volunteering include the element of exchange: volunteers make decisions based on the costs and benefits of particular volunteering actions (Bussell & Forbes, 2002). Still, the basic definition of a volunteer as provided by Bussell and Forbes (2002) is that is a person, who contributes his/her time without remuneration or coercion. Other researchers present a similar picture of volunteerism.

Millette and Gagne (2008) describe volunteerism as the provision of unpaid assistance in an organized manner to those, to whom the volunteer has no obligations. In other words, a volunteer is not an employee, and volunteering does not lead to direct material benefits for the volunteer (Millette & Gagne, 2008). Wilson and Musick (1997) go even further to suggest that volunteering is a human effort that makes goods and services more valuable. Wilson (2000) assumes that volunteering is when a person gives away his/her time for free to benefit another individual, organization, or community. This view is based on a popular assumption that volunteering is a productive activity, even though it does not result in any material gains. Dutta-Bergman (2004) adds that volunteering is a public, formalized, and socially proactive choice made by the individual, who wants to donate energy and time freely to benefit someone else. Jager et al. (2009) also claim that volunteering is essentially about giving one's time freely without pay to benefit other people's causes. Yanay and Yanay (2008) describe volunteering as the most pro-social form of behavior. These definitions create a multifaceted, although somewhat confusing, picture of the volunteer.

Based on everything said above, volunteering is a pro-social type of activity when individuals make a voluntary decision to provide their help to nonprofit organizations and communities without any material reward. This is also the description that fits my personal definition of volunteering. Volunteers pursue different motives, but they are generally considered to be altruistic (Bussell & Forbes, 2002). However, not everyone agrees with this point. That volunteers do not have any obligations to the target organization does not mean that their decision to engage in volunteering is altruistic. Yanay and Yanay (2008) write that individuals who decide to volunteer may not be altruistic; rather, they may seek to improve their feelings and self-image, enhance their life satisfaction and pleasure. Bussell and Forbes (2002) continue that some volunteers may not be as willing to help the community as to change the policies and laws that directly affect them. Simply put, self-interest and volunteering are not mutually exclusive. Volunteering can also be an obligation when volunteers work as part of non-profit organizations and do it to obtain a university degree (Bussell & Forbes, 2002). However, types of volunteering vary depending on the context.

Types of Volunteers

As stated by Bussell and Forbes (2002), volunteers make up a heterogeneous group of participants. Different types of volunteers work in non-profit organizations. Hartenian (2007) suggests that volunteers can engage in direct service and provide indirect support. Direct service volunteers work with paid staff and participate in point-of-service activities (Hartenian, 2007). Such volunteers often work in critical or core positions within non-profit organizations and possess specialized knowledge and skills that help them complete their tasks (Hartenian, 2007). Indirect role volunteers are engaged in secondary tasks, such as answering phones, raising funds, delivering supplies, or providing service to boards of directors (Hartenian, 2007). Indirect role volunteers replace the need to hire additional staff. Their specific roles will depend upon the features, design elements, and structure of the programs, in which they participate.


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Field of Volunteer Management

Volunteering is on the rise, and the growing optimism around the value of volunteer services can hardly be concealed (Bonnicksen, 2003). For decades, expanding the nation's social capital through volunteering has been a matter of high priority in the developed world (Brudney & Gazley, 2006). However, the current field of volunteer management is rich in stories that raise the problem of hiring, training and retaining volunteer personnel (Brudney & Meijs, 2009). At the same time, the design and structure of volunteer programs undergo serious shifts. According to Perry and Imperial (2001), volunteering is no longer associated with a purely unpaid service. New forms of volunteer programs emerge, including mandatory service-learning programs and stipended service (Perry & Imperial, 2001). For instance, in 2001, several students working in a public library as volunteers received $500 college scholarships for their work (Shelton, 2008). Still, in all programs, the administration is a key to continued success.

The Administration and Leadership of Volunteer Programs

Volunteer administration is an essential element of the volunteer management field. It is primarily concerned with studying and developing practices to help volunteers integrate into non-profit organizations more smoothly (Association for Volunteer Administration, 2005). Volunteer administrators are also responsible leaders, who are expected to create a favorable social climate and ensure that their followers are involved in decision-making (Association for Volunteer Administration, 2005). However, leadership in the context of volunteer management is not the same as leadership in for-profit organizations. Due to the absence of direct obligations, coercion, and control, leadership in the volunteer management field is less formal and, for this reason, much more challenging (Jager et al., 2009). Jager et al. (2009) have found that leading volunteers is all about balancing their acts with the needs of the organization, where the respect for volunteers' free will is capitalized and used as an essential organizational resource.

The Role of Ethics and Accountability in Volunteer Management

Given the complexities of volunteer management, ethics and accountability can be regarded as issues of the utmost importance. The following ethical values shape the basis of volunteer management practices: citizenship, responsibility, respect, compassion, trustworthiness, and justice/fairness (Association for Volunteer Administration, 2005). By following these values, volunteer managers and administrators will guarantee that their programs are available to diverse groups, meet stakeholder needs, and contribute to public trust (Association for Volunteer Administration, 2005). In other words, it is through ethics and accountability that volunteer management can achieve its purpose.

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Volunteer Motivation, Recruitment, Retention, Training, and Human Resource Management Issues


Motivation to volunteer is one of the most popular subjects in volunteer management research. Studies that were published within the last 10 years create a multifaceted picture of volunteering motives and values. An emerging consensus is that different incentives bring individuals into volunteering work, and the same person may decide to engage in volunteering for both personal and altruistic considerations (Hwang, Grabb & Curtis, 2005). Earlier studies found that volunteers engaged in prosocial activities, looking for social interaction and an opportunity to serve others (Netting, Nelson, Borders & Huber, 2004). All they wanted was to have praiseworthy work. Today, volunteering is associated with both egoistic and altruistic motives (Shye, 2010).

Speaking about motivation to volunteer, an important distinction should be made between the capacity to volunteer and the inclination to engage in volunteering activities. According to Weerts and Ronca (2008), capacity refers to the physical ability to become a volunteer and includes such aspects as career history and physical health, education, and family structure. In the context of universities, the volunteer capacity is usually related to the amount of time available for volunteering (Weerts & Ronca, 2008). For example, Francis (2011) found that parents, siblings, and close friends greatly influenced university students' capacity to volunteer. By contrast, inclination to volunteer is one's willingness to devote time to this type of activity (Weerts & Ronca, 2008).

At present, no universal list of values that drive volunteering can be created, simply because volunteering takes different forms, depending on values and norms (Dutta-Bergman, 2004). These values can be altruistic, obligatory, or instrumental (Jager et al., 2009). Based on these values, volunteers can be classified as "classic", "dedicated", "personally involved", or "volunteers for personal satisfaction" (Dolnicar & Randle, 2007, p.147). As a result, recruitment strategies and motivation approaches in volunteer management should be properly adjusted to the needs of volunteers, even when their interests and motives are purely instrumental. Very often, volunteers are "me-oriented" and use volunteering as a means to achieve their learning and career goals (Briggs, Peterson & Gregory, 2009). Volunteer management should be prepared that, any time soon, volunteering will cease being a matter of sole altruism, and managers will have to change their recruitment procedures to adjust to the new conditions of volunteer performance.

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It is surprising that, with the growing importance of volunteer management in non-profit organizations, literature devoted to recruiting volunteers remains particularly scarce. Nevertheless, the challenge of transforming a recruit into a committed volunteer is widely recognized (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). Volunteer recruitment is a challenging procedure. Media advertisement, Internet marketing, and telephone calls have the potential to increase the number of recruited volunteers (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). Still, personal asking remains the central approach to volunteer recruitment (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). Using friendships and personal networks has proved to be particularly effective in terms of volunteer recruitment (Handy & Cnaan, 2007).

Modern researchers provide a variety of perspectives on volunteer recruitment, one of them being the social identity theory: according to Boezeman and Ellemers (2008), the discussed model is effective in volunteer management because it addresses non-material motives and outcomes. However, the authors seem to ignore the widely acknowledged fact that volunteering is no longer limited to altruism and non-material outcomes (Hwang et al., 2005; Shye, 2010). Any mismatch between the organization's and volunteer's goals will necessarily lead to discontentment and attrition (Akintola, 2011). At the same time, personal networks are never enough to staff non-profit organizations with volunteers and help them meet their volunteering needs (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). On the one hand, potential volunteers may experience social anxiety that will prevent them from engaging in volunteering activities, even if they have the capacity and inclination to do so (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). On the other hand, the absence of any follow-up procedures may reduce individuals' motivation to become volunteers (Handy & Cnaan, 2007). The current research suggests that non-profit organizations are deeply in need of more effective recruitment and selection strategies that will help them attract qualified and promising volunteers.


The process of selecting and evaluating volunteers should take place with great caution (Pakroo, 2011). Each nonprofit organization must have procedures in place that will help to hire only those volunteers, who can achieve the organization's goals (Pakroo, 2011). Selecting and hiring the right volunteers for the right positions is impossible without developing explicit job descriptions and needs (Pakroo, 2011). No less important is the development of staff hierarchies (Pakroo, 2011). Still, the most essential is the review procedure that will be used by the staff to measure volunteers' performance against the most important criteria and objectives. These objectives and criteria are to be determined before the recruitment decision is made.

Grossman and Furano (1999) provide valuable information on selecting and evaluating volunteers. The study was published more than ten years ago, but its findings are still relevant. The researchers provide valuable advice as for the criteria of evaluation and measurement to be used when the most appropriate volunteer applicants are being selected. The first criterion is that of safety: volunteers often come in touch with vulnerable populations, and organizations must ensure that these populations are kept safe (Grossman & Furano, 1999). Second is the need to evaluate the volunteer's qualifications and skills. Finally, non-profit organizations must ask future volunteers to share their ideas as to how they intend to fit their volunteering activities into their daily schedules (Grossman & Furano, 1999). Today's researchers are convinced that agencies use more steps and are more thorough when they hire direct volunteers and heavily depend on their work (Hartenian, 2007). As a result, many direct volunteers are likely to be screened similarly to employees (Hartenian, 2007). They are also likely to be trained and evaluated like their paid colleagues.   

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