Volunteer motivation and retention

July 2015

What was the purpose of the Roundtable?

This was Volunteering Victoria’s fifth Research Roundtable. The purpose of the Roundtable was for participants to explore volunteer motivation and its implications for retention.

Who attended?

A mix of 24 researchers and practitioners from across Victoria attended the roundtable, including participants from volunteer resource centres, volunteer-involving organisations and universities. The roundtable was facilitated by Sue Noble (Volunteering Victoria) and hosted by La Trobe University.

What was discussed?

Presentations by Art Stukas, Pam Kappelides and Leonie Lockstone-Binney Associate Professor Art Stukas (La Trobe University)

Presentation on Motivations to Volunteer: Implications for Recruitment and Retention. Using a functional approach to volunteering (Clary, Snyder et al.1 998), Art discussed volunteering motivations from the perspective that volunteers are purposeful, planful and goal oriented.

The research broke down volunteer motivations into the following key areas:

  • Values Function: The volunteer seeks to express or to act on important values, such as humanitarianism and helping the less fortunate
  • Understanding Function: The volunteer wants to learn more about the world and/or to exercise skills that are often unused
  • Enhancement Function: The volunteer is seeking to grow and to develop
  • Protective Function: The volunteer uses volunteering to reduce negative feelings, such as guilt, or to address personal problems
  • Social Function Volunteering allows the volunteer to strengthen their social relationships
  • Career Function High in student circles

Understanding volunteer motivations leads to higher volunteer satisfaction. To best predict outcomes from volunteering, one must know about both the person and environment.

Academic Pam Kappelides (La Trobe University)

Pam used Psychological Contract (PC) to understand a volunteer’s intention to continue volunteering in a VIO. PC is created in the mind of an employee (in this case a volunteer) based on their perceptions of what promises, mutual beliefs and informal obligations have been agreed on, beyond those of any formal contract of employment with the individuals organisation (Rousseau, 1995 p 9). Interviews were conducted with 40 episodic and traditional volunteers with different demographic profiles.

Key highlights of the research were:

  • perceptions of expectations of the organization are very important
  • recruitment process and communication systems are critical to keeping volunteers engaged and motivated
  • Volunteer Managers need to deal with issues as they arise and find the time to provide an opportunity for face to face contact
  • Volunteers often provide support to new volunteers as paid staffs were unavailable. In some instances, this relationship led to new volunteers feeling connected to the service/organisation, leading to volunteer retention
  • Organisations need to provide meaningful work projects and tasks

Associate Professor Leonie Lockstone-Binney (William Angliss Institute)

Volunteering is associated with higher levels of wellbeing. Poor health can be a barrier to volunteering. Research examined volunteer stress from the organisational perspective. Collected data during a 40 minute interactive workshop at the 2013 National Volunteering Conference, Adelaide (71% of conference attendees were Volunteer Managers)

Cause of stress include:

  • volunteers taking on too much responsibility
  • working too many hours
  • lack of support from the organisation
  • Volunteers overstepping the boundaries of their roles. Other stressors identified:
  • competing demands – work/family/ social life balance
  • conflict with the other volunteers – new v existing volunteer
  • stressful roles for volunteers

Recommendations: organisations implement support mechanisms: provide clear position descriptions, provide stress management, offer job flexibility, training for staff, spend time with volunteers.

A mentoring model can help new volunteers understand their role/duties as well as orientate them in the workplace.

Overall: volunteer management was acknowledged as being an under resourced management function in volunteer-involving organisations.

For more information about this research please contact: leonieL@angliss.edu.au

Practitioner and Academic Panel Discussion

  • Roz Wollmering (RSPCA) provided a detailed insight into the RSPCAs volunteer recruitment/screening process. Roz discussed the importance of clear communication lines between Managers and volunteers as well as setting expectations, being flexible and finding the right role for volunteers based on their motivation to work at the
  • Amanda Everton (AMES) spoke about the importance of collaboration with other organisations and finding the right role for each volunteer. She also discussed the fluid nature of volunteering acknowledging that volunteers today move around a lot more between services and organisations than before. Amanda suggested that VIOs need to collaborate more effectively to match volunteers to appropriate roles, within their own organisation or at an external organisation. Work also needs to be done with the board and management to facilitate better volunteering

There was general discussion between panellists and participants about a range of issues including:

  • Suggesting that Volunteering Victoria provide case studies of Best Practice in Volunteer Management possibly drawing on and documenting organisations that were present today. In addition, establishing a centralised source of data and feedback for Volunteer Management on our website would be a useful tool for Volunteer
  • Need to view volunteers as part of an organisations workforce. Volunteers (sometimes exclusively, in volunteer run organisations) are central to an organisations operations and as such, should receive proper support and acknowledgement. Having appropriate front line management and Volunteer Management is crucial to keeping volunteers motivated and retained in the

How do we convince organisations about the importance of volunteers? Influence senior management? What data do we need?

  • Social connections are important. Creating social opportunities can strengthen volunteer connections to the organisation and to other volunteers and paid staff. Both Leonie and Pam’s presentations touched on the importance of Volunteer Managers spending time with volunteers to provide support and gain feedback about their role in the

Daniel Leighton from Inclusion Melbourne has benchmarked volunteer costs using postgraduate commerce students. Case Loads are important for good volunteer management. Daniel raised the question of what are the criteria or workload (number of volunteers) for a Volunteer Manager


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