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The new public service? Empirical research on job choice motivation in the nonprofit sector

Jessica Word (School of Environmental and Public Affairs, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA)
Sung Min Park (Graduate School of Governance, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Republic of Korea)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine the factors influencing the decision of managers to work in the nonprofit sector and how these choices are shaped by intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. Additionally, this research examines the impact of job choice motivation on social, community and professional outcomes and the unique characteristics of managers in the nonprofit sector.


This research employed data from the National Administrative Studies Project (NASP-III) survey, which measured the mid- and upper-level managers working in nonprofit organizations in Illinois and Georgia. The survey measured the manager’s perceptions of various organizational issues, including work motivation, mentoring and communication, career histories, hiring practices, and organizational cultures and structures. The data were then analyzed using a hierarchical regression model.


The findings of this research support the idea that intrinsic motivation is an important aspect of job choice motivation for individuals in the nonprofit workforce. In addition, the findings suggest other characteristics, including policies that enhance work life balance (WLB), advancement, and job security, are important to understand the job choice motivations of nonprofit managers. This research also found not all types of nonprofit agencies attract similarly motivated individuals, or lead to equivalent community outcomes.

Research limitations/implications

The organizations represented in the NASP III sample included more membership and professional associations than the overall nonprofit sector. This over representation partially limits the generalizability of these findings but it also allows the research to more thoroughly understand this unique subset of organizations that serve predominantly the narrow interests of their members.

Practical implications

This research highlights the advantage nonprofit employers have over other organizations in terms of using intrinsic motivations to attract employees. However, the findings also suggest nonprofit organizations need to focus on human resource (HR) strategies including policies that enhance WLB, advancement, and job security to compete with other employers for talent. Finally, the research also suggests the need to tailor HR strategies to groups of nonprofit employees based upon important employee characteristics such as gender, job type, and prior career experience.


This study extends a well-developed body of knowledge on motivations and selection of career paths to individuals working in the nonprofit sector. It also suggests variations among employees and organizations matter in terms of the type of individuals attracted to particular career path in nonprofits. Additionally, this research suggests future research needs to include more nuanced examinations of the differences which exist among organizations in the nonprofit sector rather than simply focussing upon similarities across the most prevalent types of nonprofit organizations.



This work was supported by Samsung Research Fund, Sungkyunkwan University 2012.


Word, J. and Park, S.M. (2015), "The new public service? Empirical research on job choice motivation in the nonprofit sector", Personnel Review, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 91-118.



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