Volunteering: what drives and retains it? An analysis of motivational needs together with organizational policies and practices

Fouzia Ashfaq (National College of Business Administration and Economics, Lahore, Pakistan) (Lahore College for Women University, Lahore, Pakistan)
Mattiullah Butt (National College of Business Administration and Economics, Lahore, Pakistan)
Sehrish Ilyas (Lahore College for Women University, Lahore, Pakistan)

Qualitative Research Journal

ISSN: 1443-9883

Article publication date: 28 October 2020

Issue publication date: 12 April 2021




Drawing on expectancy theory, this research explores how and when volunteers’ motivational drives for volunteering relate to organizational policies and practices. The paper analyses four areas of motivational association – affiliation, beliefs, career development and egoistic motives – together with organizational human resource (HR) policies and practices.


The study used a qualitative approach and through 17 interviews of the volunteer managers associated with 13 non-profit organizations (NPOs) examined that how through HR policies and practices, an NPO efficiently taps motivational drives of volunteers and maintains their spirit of volunteering.


The findings of the study indicated that the same behaviour may serve different functions for different individuals. Most of the motivational drives need to be tapped with specific tasks and events to become a source of fulfilment for volunteers, this plays a vital role in their decisions to continue volunteering. NPOs’ HR practices without volunteers’ motivation cannot serve any purpose. In the same vein, volunteers’ motivation cannot sustain for a longer period if it is not properly linked with organizational HR practices.

Research limitations/implications

The research findings may lack generalizability because of the selected research approach.


A great part of existing research, not previously captured in literature, is focussed on the assessment of the motivational underpinnings with respect to HR policies and practices.



Ashfaq, F., Butt, M. and Ilyas, S. (2021), "Volunteering: what drives and retains it? An analysis of motivational needs together with organizational policies and practices", Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 21 No. 2, pp. 189-205. https://doi.org/10.1108/QRJ-04-2020-0024



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


The role of volunteers, though often unnoticed, is crucial in the functioning of a society. Volunteers carry a heavy load, even if they perform at a small scale, within one particular community. They help in providing basic necessities for the underprivileged and at a grander level, promote the ideals of civic participation and active citizenship (Rodell et al., 2017). The spirit of volunteerism throughout history contributed a lot to the improvement of people's lives as well as organizational efficiency, both financially and socially (Shin et al., 2003).

Volunteers are often considered as the backbone of non-profit organizations (NPOs) (Alfes et al., 2017). Unlike the paid employees, volunteers receive neither monetary compensation nor material incentives. Rather, their contribution in terms of services brings intangible rewards that fulfil different motives and needs. The duties performed by these volunteers are often out of care and concern for the beneficiaries of respective NPOs. In present times, the growing need for a volunteer workforce has made it critical to effectively attract, manage and retain these valuable resources (Newton et al., 2014). The key role has to be played by human resource (HR) to facilitate their commitment, engagement, performance and retention (Alfes et al., 2017). Therefore, to effectively manage the unpaid volunteers, the spirit of volunteerism is crucial to be maintained.

Research reveals that HR practices possess the potential to influence volunteers’ outcomes; however, it is unlikely to implement HR practices designed for paid employees to be readily applied on volunteers (Alfes et al., 2015).

A key challenge for the HR administration of NPOs is to explore and understand what motivates volunteers to render their time and efforts. The motivational drive is a dynamic psychological process that results when an individual interacts with the environment (Sekar and Dyaram, 2017a, b). Without linking motivational assessment with the role assignment, continuity of volunteering activity may become difficult.

The understanding of volunteers' needs, wants and motivations is an important task of planning and development. Desire to act is led by a motivation that occurs in the presence of a motivating factor. According to a research study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the top four psychological needs desired by the people are autonomy, competence, relatedness and self-esteem (Sheldon et al., 2001). Clary and Snyder (1991) in their volunteer function inventory (VFI) studied six specific functions, i.e. enhancement (to feel useful and important), career (to obtain experience for a career), social (to strengthen relationships with home members or others), values (to express humanitarian and altruistic concerns), protective (to escape any negative feelings) and understanding (to explore one's strength by volunteering, having new experiences and undergoing skills training). The ABCE model explains affiliations, beliefs, career development and egoistic desires to be a major contributor towards volunteers’ motivational drive (Butt et al., 2017).

The current study grounds predictions in expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) to identify the basis of behaviours that result from sensible choices amongst alternatives, whereas the purpose remains to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. Vroom apprehended that effort and performance are linked to motivation. The theory draws its framework around three key elements, i.e. expectancy, instrumentality and valence.

  1. Expectancy: The belief that better performance is linked with increased effort (Chen and Miller, 1994; Fang, 2008). According to Vroom, the motivation of a person depends on the extent of his/her belief that his/her efforts will attract acceptable performance.

  2. Instrumentality: The belief that a valued outcome will follow upon performing well and that performance will attract rewards (Redmond, 2009).

  3. Valence: The association of value assigned by the individual to the outcome (Lawler and Porter, 2013). Vroom defined it as “. . . the affective orientation toward particular outcomes”.

The three elements of the theory explain what motivates volunteers to perform in an NPO. If they perceive that their efforts are fulfilling their motivational drives, they continue their volunteering activity. However, if the valence, i.e. the reward is not valued by them, they do not find enough motivation to perform. For volunteering climate, application of expectancy theory may enable NPOs to understand the motivational drives and values of volunteers and their link with performance and reward.

This paper offers a better understanding of the motivational drives of volunteers. It reveals that the same behaviour may serve different functions for different individuals. Most of the motivational drives need to be tapped with specific policies and practices to become a source of satisfaction for volunteers, this plays a vital role in their decisions to continue volunteering.

HR policies and practices enable NPOs to ensure that the requisite knowledge and skills to achieve NPOs’ mission are in line with volunteers' motivational drive and values (Rogers et al., 2016). HR management plays a significant role in assessing the human potential and then tapping it to achieve organizational objectives as well as maximizing individual development. This can only be achieved when planning, development and regulation of the policies are focussed on the effective utilization of HRs (Akingbola, 2013).

The current study focusses on a motive-based perspective for volunteers’ recruitment in Lahore, Pakistan. It implies that understanding the motivational drive that leads individuals to volunteer is the first step for NPOs as it allows them to match their recruitment activities with potential volunteers (Clary and Snyder, 1999). The study also explores the effectiveness of HR practices through charismatic leadership, training and development as well as the creation of an environment that fosters support, task enrichment, increased interaction, flexibility and encouragement for a positive contribution towards volunteers’ intention to continue volunteering in an NPO.

The current literature on volunteering remained mainly focussed on volunteering practices without considering the contextual importance that impacts these activities. Particularly, the identification and extent of effectiveness of HR practices that promote valued volunteer outcomes. The current study addresses the research gaps identified by Alfes et al. (2017) in their meta-analysis. It accounts for the contextual factors, i.e. the environment that operates the organization and explores its impact on volunteers’ performance and retention. Further, the study offers findings in Asian settings and adds to the literature that mostly carries studies on Western countries, thus addressing another existing research gap (Alfes et al., 2017).

Literature review

The primary function of HR practices is recruitment, development and retention of a workforce that is talented as well as motivated to contribute towards organizational goals. To create increased motivation and to have the most effective outcomes, HR practices have to be strategically aligned rather than singly carried out (Ridder et al., 2012). The perception of volunteers' towards HR policies and practices leads their attitudes; hence, such organizations that defy the volunteers' perceptions and motivational drives while implementing HR practices harm the organization (Nishii et al., 2008).

Understanding motivation

The motivation along with certain values and expectations energizes volunteers to devote their time (Agostinho and Paço, 2012). The volunteers' expected rewards may be in the form of some indirect economic gains of personal or social nature as there exist no monetary compensations to their efforts (Shantz et al., 2016). Their extrinsic and intrinsic motives go beyond simple philanthropy and can need career advancement, love of the activity or social gains (Newton et al., 2014).

The idea that individual makes sacrifice of his/her time and energy for another individual, especially when he/she is a stranger, has fascinated the students of social behaviour since long term (Clary et al., 1998). The fundamental questions to understand the processes that direct and sustain people in volunteering activities remain: “why do people volunteer?” And “what sustains voluntary helping?” In addressing these questions, the research study has adopted the strategy of the functional analysis.

The functional approach to motivation

The functional analysis is an approach that is focussed with the reasons and the purposes; it underlies and generates psychological phenomena – that is, the personal and social functions that take place because of an individual's thoughts, feelings and actions (Snyder, 1993). According to Butt et al. (2017), a functional approach to volunteerism is widely used with little amendments and additions.

The main premise of the functional approach to volunteering is that the same actions performed by different people may serve different psychological functions (Houle et al., 2005). This approach is branded with functional theories of attitudes and persuasion (Houle et al., 2005). The theory's classifications state that humans' attitudes have different motives.

  1. Some attitudes are considered as a knowledge function that brings a sense of understanding of the world.

  2. Other attitudes show inner, believed values; the expressions of helping others show one's convictions.

  3. Still, other attitudes represent an ego-defensive function to buffer less fortunate against bitter truths of life.

  4. Besides, Katz suggested a utilitarian function through which experiences with rewarding and punishing events reveal attitudes.

Clary's work of VFI in which he catalogued six functions of volunteerism is based on Katz's classical theory of attitude. He stated that previous theories providing foundations are readily interpretable within this functional framework.

Volunteering functions

A total of four directions lead volunteers’ motivation (Butt et al., 2017).


To comply with the expectations of others, people get involved in volunteering activities. Their friends, family members and people around influence them and drive their motivation (Butt et al., 2017). For example, due to external social motives, people donate blood (Houle et al., 2005; Wiegand et al., 2017).


The deeply held belief on the importance of helping others and contributions towards society are the foundation of this function of volunteerism. This has also been referred to as altruism in the literature (Omoto and Snyder, 1993). The research study revealed that 70% of participants endorsed that helping others is a reason for their volunteering (Houle et al., 2005).

Career development

The research study shows that young volunteers consider their work as a learning opportunity as well as self-development (Paço et al., 2013). Volunteers learn specific tasks not only for their personal development but also to prepare themselves for new careers by exploring new opportunities (Clary et al., 1998).


The fourth direction is linked with desires of volunteers’ connected to an individual's ego. Volunteers want to protect and enhance their ego; they need acknowledgement and appreciation (Butt et al., 2017). This direction of volunteerism also reduces feelings of guilt to help the less fortunate or to forget one's own problems (Claudia and do Paço, 2013). A volunteer feels needed and important, feels good about oneself which increases self-esteem (Claudia and do Paço, 2013).

Human resource policies and practices in non-profits

Recent literature has shown that the performance of NPOs is greatly linked to the alignment of HR management to organizational objectives (Akingbola, 2013). The existing literature on NPOs proposes that generally, the design, use and effectiveness of HR practices are shaped by the specific characteristics of volunteer organizations.

Empirical research indicates that HR practices of volunteer organizations are configured differently from the public sector and for-profit sector organizations as the non-profit employees get a non-monetary orientation and their values and commitment to the cause are different (Haley-Lock and Kruzich, 2008). For instance, the participatory structure and the culture in NPOs emphasize on shared tasks rather than on individual tasks and rewards (Rothschild and Stephenson Jr, 2009). However, funding pressures, lack of resources and implementation cost make it hard for the NPO to introduce proper HR practices (Ridder et al., 2012). Moreover, most of the time, due to funding pressures, NPOs shift to more project-based temporary contracts. They also find it hard to attract experienced and skilled labour. To address these changes, many NPOs react by copying the management systems of for-profit sector organizations rather than devising a new system that would address their needs (Ridder et al., 2012).

Recruitment and selection of volunteers

The function of staffing involves both the recruitment and selection of HRs. Evidence suggests that job analysis, job description, person specification, competency analysis and competency framework all lead to “good practices” of recruitment and selection (Rees and Smith, 2017). It is widely believed that these “good practices” enable organizations to secure the best and highest performing personnel (Rees and Smith, 2017). Phillips (1998), the meta-analysis revealed that

no recruitment issue has generated more attention than realistic job previews (RJPs), the presentation by an organization of both favourable and unfavourable job-related information to job candidates (Phillips, 1998) (p. 673).

The essentiality and the attention given to RJPs make it reasonable to ask the question, “do inaccurate or unreasonable job expectations create a major issue?” Dissimilar to recruiting process, no data whether at the national or corporation's level have been gathered to provide any information on realistic expectations. However, individual studies fill the gap to some extent and suggest that unsatisfied expectations are a recurrent happening.

Koch after a review of several RJPs concluded that on the part of new personnel there exist frequent reports of unmet expectations (Koch, 2017). Particularly, on account of new hires in the context of psychological contracts, there exists sufficient evidence that organizations mostly have not lived up to arrangements that were already agreed upon (Breaugh, 2000). This lack of meeting expectations on part of the organizations becomes a source of demoralization for recruits, particularly volunteers. Yet, at present, the literature lacks an in-depth analysis of linking volunteers’ motivation with organizational HR policies. This study aims to fill this gap and explore whether volunteering is a function of mere motivation or it depends on the way volunteering programmes are conceptualized and implemented by HR management.

The organizations need to understand the motivational forces and later implement those observations in the creation of volunteering climate for the benefit of both the volunteers and the NPO. A recruitment plan that is aligned with organizational objectives, its mission and strategy, provide it with the platform to hire the best and most talented workforce. However, volunteer organizations lack in this domain. In volunteer organizations, recruitment is often pursued informally; affiliations play their part – often personal connections, religious groups or influential parties are the significant players in recruiting HRs. In volunteer organizations, internal applicants receive preference that restricts the search for good candidates and causes relocation and deficiency of motivated personnel (Betzelt, 2001).

The pool of skilled workforce for for-profit organizations is always vast, whereas the available applicants for volunteer organizations are always on the lower side. Also, volunteer organizations due to constrained financial resources rarely act upon the changes taking place in the environment on account of recruitment and selection practices. Hence, these NPOs may be left with an enduring deficit of motivated and qualified workforce (Walk et al., 2014).

The key to recruiting volunteers will base on the fact that how effectively the organization shows potential volunteers the way the activities of volunteering will better satisfy their motivational needs. The attributes of groups can provide clues about the motivational drives of potential volunteers (Clary et al., 1992).

Selection of volunteers is a less researched area than recruitment (Alfes et al., 2017). Hager and Brudney (2011) explored that volunteers’ screening and matching to proper assignments according to their interests is positively linked with volunteers’ retention. Staffing of HRs is often based on a chain of rational decisions. To have the best personnel, utility-maximizing exercises having validated measures assess the candidates' relevant knowledge, abilities, skills, traits and motivational drives. However, the ground realities are different and in practice, rarely these models are opted for hiring and staffing personnel.

Some trends of human capital receive limited attention from organizational researchers (Kuhn, 2015). The proper linking of human abilities and motivation with assigned tasks is much needed, particularly in the non-profit sector as motivational satisfaction is the main drive behind volunteering. The present literature on differences in staffing practices mostly focusses on the beliefs of practitioners, their cognitive ability and utility analysis. In this study, the research study contends the usefulness of grounding on the general motivational orientations since this provides the causal basis that plays a pivotal role in shaping the judgements and decisions regarding hiring and staffing (Kuhn, 2015).

The volunteering environment

Even after the recruitment and selection of motivated volunteers, much is expected from an NPO. It has to provide an environment that offers opportunities for volunteers to perform such tasks that fulfil their motivational needs (Lepak et al., 2006). Providing support, opportunity and empowerment to volunteers are necessary to establish a volunteering environment (Boxell and Purcell, 2008). Unlike paid staff, volunteers get motivation through social interactions to contribute towards the achievement of the organizational mission (Pearce, 1983). Alfes et al.’s (2017) meta-analysis revealed that three HR practices, as per the existing literature, are used to create volunteering environment that facilitates volunteers’ efforts and retains them in volunteering. These practices as according to him are

Tasks: The assignments that volunteers’ carry out. The features of tasks typically rely on the job characteristic model (Fried and Ferrris, 1987). The volunteering environment is based on the assumption that job enrichment that contains skill variety, task identity, task significance and empowerment provides volunteers with the opportunity to perform according to their motivational needs and skills. Schreor and Hartel (2009) found that the job characteristic model positively impacts volunteers’ satisfaction and the time they spend on volunteering.

Support: The second way a volunteering environment can be entrenched within an NPO is through providing support to volunteers. The research study reveals that social interactions create a positive volunteering climate as in this way, volunteers feel guided and supported by others (Valéau et al., 2016). Because of the supportive work environment, volunteers form meaningful relationships with their supervisors and with other members of the NPO. This creates an opportunity for them to fulfil their motivations and remain associated with volunteering (McCormick and Donohue, 2016). Allen and Shaw (2009) argued that in the creation of a motivational climate, a sense of relatedness plays a significant role. Studies, however, do not provide much detail regarding what type of support is required by the volunteers.

Volunteers’ involvement: Sharing information and enabling volunteers to participate in the decision-making process. Implementation of these practices reveals that NPOs value their volunteers that leads to reciprocation of positive volunteering outcomes by the volunteers (Lo Presti's, 2013). Practices of involvement and participation of volunteers create an opportunity for volunteers to use their skills and motivational needs to perform well. The satisfaction they get through empowerment helps them in continuation of volunteering activities.

The research method

The sample and procedure

The purpose of this study is to identify the motivation that a potential volunteer seeks and how organizations can tap these motives through HR practices and organizational climate to retain the volunteers. The exploratory study design is adopted in this study to get further insight into the subjective meaning of the variables of research and shed light on ambiguous situations.

The aim of the research study is not to derive definite evidence but rather to serve as a basis for further research. Little research has so far been done on the linkages between volunteers’ motives and organizational HR policies and practices. Hence, to research this less explored topic, interviews have been conducted to achieve the purpose of the study and an insight into the organizational HR practices coupled with volunteers' motives.

The qualitative analysis we conducted on the interviews followed lines inspired by the grounded theory tradition (Corbin and Strauss, 1990). We focussed on meanings attributed by volunteer managers to which they assess volunteers’ motivation and organize HR practices for volunteers. For interviews, prior appointments were taken from the published registered list of NPOs operating in Lahore, Pakistan. The participants volunteered without receiving any rewards. They were informed regarding their participation in a study that was investigating a linkage between volunteers’ motives and organizational HR policies and practices.

The specific qualitative approach used towards the enquiry in the current study is phenomenological. The phenomenological strategy provides a theoretical understanding of various individuals for their common shared experiences of a phenomenon. This study focusses on semi-structured interviews for developing meaning.

Purposeful sampling was involved in the selection of “information-rich cases” to interview informants who were knowledgeable about a subject from personal experiences, such as key volunteer managers. This process was continued until saturation of information was reached (Bowen, 2008).

We have interviewed 17 volunteer managers of 13 NPOs operating in Lahore. The NPOs included in the study were involved in different sorts of welfare activities giving the sample a proper representation of different NPOs. The variety of tasks performed by different NPOs provided us with the opportunity to analyse diverse HR practices followed by these organizations to recruit and retain volunteers. All 17 interviewees held professional degrees and held managerial positions. Their professional backgrounds were predominantly in primary- and secondary-level education (3), microfinance (2), community-oriented projects (8) and healthcare (4). Volunteer managers were employed full time. Although they were paid, however, most of them (10) claimed that they are volunteers as they are associated with the organization without judging the salary and perks and have no intention for switching to other profitable organizations. There were ten male and seven female respondents with an average work experience of 20 years. The average age remained around 43 years with an age range of 26–68 years.

The interviews were conducted face to face. Anonymity was guaranteed to all interviewees with a promise of confidentiality of the data. The length of interviews averaged 30 min for the volunteer managers. Interviews were digitally recorded and then transcribed.


The interview had two parts. The first part entailed questions from the volunteer's job perspective and the assessment of the volunteer manager about the volunteer's motives. The volunteer managers were asked to identify the volunteer's apparent motives and their sources as identified in Butt et al.’s (2017) scale. The second part comprised questions from the volunteer manager's job perspective that covers NPOs’ policies and practices. Guiding the semi-structured interviews, volunteer managers were asked about the existing practices of identifying volunteers’ motivation and linking these motives with assigned tasks, the ways of encouragement for existing and new volunteers and the mechanisms to deal with volunteers who have high expectations.

The analysis of semi-structured interviews

For the thematic analysis, interviews were transcribed, coded and then grouped accordingly to the common factors exhibited between respondents. To get familiarization with the data content, repeated readings were given to transcript. In the first step of the analysis, analytical induction was used to elicit common themes regarding motivational drives of volunteers and current HR practices in volunteer organizations.

The interview transcripts were loaded into content analysis software (NVivo). A coding scheme, based on prior literature and the conceptual model discussed in the literature review, was developed (King, 2012). Items were clustered into two areas: (1) volunteer motivational identification and (2) HR policies and practices of the NPOs. The data were categorized into themes and subthemes. Specific codes and titles were allotted to emerging themes. Later, screening was performed for identification of themes and categorization of volunteers’ motives and organizational HR practices. By rechecking the transcribed data and coding, the final step of verification was performed.

Most of the respondents felt that retention of volunteers is largely dependent upon their recruitment according to the motivational needs and providing them with an organizational climate that polishes their skills and shows support and encouragement to retain them. The findings discussed below are supported by direct quotations from the interviewed volunteer managers. The detailed analysis of each factor is shown below.

Volunteers’ motivation


Respondents indicated that volunteers' motivational drives were different. For some volunteers, their motivational drive was based on their need of affiliation. The affiliation motive was composed of two variables of social and socialization (Butt et al., 2017). Volunteers having this motive had strong affiliations. Their friends, family members and people around influenced them and drew their motivation (Butt et al., 2017). Based on the content analysis of the interviews, the interviewees mentioned that

Volunteering starts with the family; it is in the blood. When you see your close associates in volunteering, you start in that direction as it expected from you….. (respondent 1).

Some volunteers start volunteering as their friends are already in this activity. It makes them more acceptable within their social circles (respondent 11).

The semi-structured interviews revealed that volunteer organizations, although, do not have luxury setups and abundance of resources. However, organizational climate should foster an environment in which volunteers feel proud of their affiliation with a group that is willing to help others. Internalizing such emotions can influence volunteers’ actions (Rodell et al., 2017). On the other hand, ignoring this motive and not reinforcing the positive image in the assigned tasks of the volunteers will lead to inconsistent behaviour of volunteers (Rodell et al., 2017).

… . the potential volunteers with affiliation motive need proper linkage with the HR policies, particularly branding strategies; otherwise, the poor linkage will undermine organizations volunteering strategies (respondent 4).


According to volunteer managers, beliefs or the values based on helping others are the biggest contributor in the functions of volunteering. Mostly, the volunteers perform as they want to do good to others. They participate with a desire to make a difference and contribute to the community (Sekar and Dyaram, 2017a, b). After coding the data in NVivo, the results indicate that serving the community is the most used phrase during the interviews. The interviewees revealed

Most of the volunteers are satisfied and contented in their personal lives so they want to spare their time to help others. This creates satisfaction for them as they feel that doing good here will also reward them in the life hereafter (respondent 7).

When a person reaches a certain level of age where they feel themselves a bit free from their core responsibilities and are mature. They then want to utilize their time in a useful way and want to pay back to the community for inner satisfaction (respondent 11).

Although losing motivational drive of such volunteers is the biggest loss for any NPO, however, this group is mature with knowledge of ground realities and is easy to manage. Their motivational drive is relatively persistent, irrespective of the HR policies and practices (respondent 8).

Volunteers with this motive require little from the organization. Yet, their energy and commitment enable the organizations to accomplish hard tasks and challenges. They are mature and highly motivated and if for a short period they do not find activities suiting their motivational needs, they are even happy to be associated with available tasks.

… .mostly people with strong belief are mature volunteers whose motivation is a big asset to the organization. These people are strong followers of believing that variations in policies, place or job assignment should not affect the ultimate goal of doing good (respondent 10).

Growth and learning

Volunteers learn specific tasks not only for their personal development but also to prepare themselves for new careers by exploring new opportunities (Clary et al., 1998) and to extend their career paths (Wu, 2011). Most of the respondents revealed that

… . .half of the volunteers come from colleges and universities for internships, so their motives are mostly career growth and learning. While those volunteers who approach us directly without any mandatory requirements are keener to impact the community with their helping behaviours (respondent 13).

… . .volunteers with career motives normally come for a short time, they complete their projects and leave. Few of them show long term commitment, whereas most of them require clear job description and are only interested in specific tasks according to their requirements. For sustaining their motivational drives, organizations need to carefully link their demands with the offerings (respondent 7).

Ego protection and enhancement

The participants revealed that volunteering creates satisfaction amongst volunteers as it enhances their esteem by making them feel important as well as needed. This motivational drive is linked to an individual's ego. Volunteers want to protect and enhance their ego; they need acknowledgement and appreciation (Butt et al., 2017). Volunteering not only makes them feel better for themselves but also relieves them from unpleasant and negative feelings (Clary et al., 1992).

… . .For some volunteers, rendering selflessly without any reward protects them from being lonely and tied up with negativity. They feel better about themselves when they help others (respondent 16).

This motivational need gets satisfaction through appreciation. All the respondents have the same point of view that acknowledgement is the life of volunteerism. No volunteer is without this motive.

…it provides energy to volunteers to carry their work and continue with their passion (respondent 10).

Non-profit orgainzations’ practices for volunteers’ retention

Charismatic leadership

Respondents revealed the role of leadership in creating a volunteering climate, particularly the charismatic style of leading leaves a significant impact. One positive attribute of charismatic leadership is that it maintains intensive contact with the microactivity of the participants (Larsson and Rönnmark, 1996). Traditional theories of leadership take followers’ performance as their dependent variable, whereas the charismatic theory of leadership takes followers’ trust, self-esteem, motivation and performance beyond the call of duty as their dependent variables (Conger, 1988). Further, charismatic leaders articulate the vision and mission of the organization by empowering followers, creating positive images and setting challenging expectations for followers (Conger, 1988). Respondents revealed that predominantly the charismatic style of leading not only retains the motivational drives of volunteers rather enhances these.

… . .the impact of leadership in our organization is so strong that it does not matter that a volunteer comes for which of the motivational need ….as ultimately all volunteers become part of the organization in the longer term. The charisma of the leadership makes them believe that doing good is beyond boundaries of the organization, hence they are not confined to office hours and their specific tasks (respondent 9).

The leader's effect, the religious beliefs or the prosocial nature of these volunteers make them feel that “doing good” is beyond time and boundaries. One respondent revealed that

… . .In its true sense, the role of a charismatic leader encourages volunteers to work for the betterment beyond time and space. It works as an incentive. In our NPO, rarely a volunteer leaves and even if he does he continues volunteering in some form or the other… . . (respondent 9).

The respondents revealed that the charisma of a leader plays a significant role in creating a volunteering climate that arouses the spirit of volunteering and retains it.

Increased interaction

According to respondents, interaction with volunteers is inevitable to retain them in volunteering. Interaction serves two purposes. It increases the bond of volunteers with the NPO and its employees.

For the continuity of the spirit of volunteers most important is the connectivity. So NPO mostly arranges functions and invite their volunteers to attend such events so that the bond remains intact (respondent 5).

We arrange get together and from time to time we knock their door through meetings or messages. We give much importance to their suggestions, provide them with updates of our progress as well (respondent 7).

As per existing research, association with the NPO, teamwork and social interactions foster a positive volunteering climate that motivates volunteers to continue volunteering (Alfes et al., 2015):

Volunteers that have affiliation motives and want to help others because their associations encourage them to do good, need an environment at the organizational level that influences their action (respondent 7).

Respondents revealed that volunteers, particularly, who render services because of affiliation motive get affected by organizational practices. A practical strategy where social events, interactions and networking provide the volunteers with an opportunity to participate progressively will not only make the volunteers enjoy their work rather allow them to continue performing their services.

Fulfilling motivational drive

A total of six organizations said that they have 2–3 meeting sessions in which they decide what task is most suited for these volunteers. One organization said that it does not have such matching practices as its volunteering activities are based on creating awareness in the public. Therefore, its scope is not broad enough to make such bifurcations. All the interviewees have consensus regarding…

… .to tap volunteer's motivational drive, the strong linkage is needed with the human resource practices, otherwise, the motivation will eventually fade away (respondents 1, 4, 7, 9, 11 and 17).

Volunteer managers need to be aware of the changing motivational drives. For the satisfaction of emerging needs, continuation and commitment of services depend on the modification of assignments (Clary et al., 1992). With the passage of time, after meeting volunteers’ original needs, newly relevant motivational drives need to be accounted for (Clary et al., 1992). For example, a volunteer having career development motives will stop volunteering after getting a job, unless he/she is shown that volunteering may fulfil his/her other motivations. The motive of “Career Development” gets greatly affected by organizational HR practices. As according to a participant,

The volunteer managers need to evaluate that whether volunteers have emerging needs or primary needs. Expanding the tasks according to needs will make the volunteers satisfied with the same organization (respondent 9).


Social interactions and teamwork strengthen the coherence amongst volunteers, thus nurturing a positive volunteering climate that retains the motivational drive of volunteers to achieve NPOs’ objectives (Valéau et al., 2016). The supportive environment helps volunteers to use their skills and knowledge for the fulfilment of their motivations as well as NPOs’ objectives. The meaningful relationships with supervisors and associates become a source of their continuation of volunteering activity (McCormick and Donohue, 2016). In this supportive environment, volunteers feel guided and display mastery over their assigned tasks (Saksida et al., 2016). All the organizations in the sample were aware of the importance of a supportive environment. Also, two organizations stated that

Volunteers spend two weeks, in the field and then in the third week, they come in the office so that proper counselling can be done. With support and guidance, the most difficult tasks are achieved (respondents 2 and 6).

In addition to it, volunteer managers can provide feedback to volunteers with specific examples that how they can contribute more effectively towards helping the underprivileged.

Volunteers show competence and confidence in carrying out their tasks when they are offered to participate in the implementation of different organizational programs along with help in gaining clarity (respondent 16).

Volunteers enjoy the connection with the management team and with other volunteers. They value the help when needed. Even supportive comments build their morale and help the NPO to create an environment in which the volunteers continue with the services happily (respondent 13).

Task characteristics

The impact of job characteristics on the continuation of volunteering, first examined by Dailey (1986), revealed that autonomy and feedback were significantly relevant in volunteers’ commitment and continuation of volunteering. Schroer and Hertel (2009) found that autonomy, task significance and skill variety play a vital role for volunteers to continue their volunteering activities. Volunteers having enriched role become more satisfied that retain them in volunteering (Millette and Gagne, 2008). In the same vein, Schroer and Hertel (2009) found that autonomy, task significance and skill variety played a vital role for volunteers to continue their volunteering activities.

Volunteers who come for a shorter while, episodic volunteers, are mostly concerned with high task identity and skill variety. As this groom their professional skills. Moreover, variety in tasks enable them to use their existing knowledge and expertise that becomes a source of motivation for them (respondent 9).

Autonomy and feedback influence volunteer's commitment. They feel valued and empowered which positively influences their behaviour (respondent 14).

The interviews revealed that for volunteers’ motivation level to be sustained, NPOs need to add variety in skills and enrichment in tasks. If volunteers are given autonomy while working and provided with proper and timely feedback, their productivity will increase.


The literature revealed that volunteers need flexibility in their assigned tasks to schedule through employer-supported volunteering (Booth et al., 2009). Flexibility positively affects and influences volunteers’ work behaviour and allows them to continue volunteering (Barnes and Sharpe, 2009). Our findings also supported this notion:

Our NPO provide open ground to volunteers so that they can perform with ease. This enables them to get a balance in their volunteering activities and other responsibilities (respondent 11).

We do not and we cannot bound the volunteers. Sometimes maintaining discipline becomes difficult, but we never want to pressurize volunteers according to our routine. Although from time to time, it requires patience. Yet we chalk out tasks according to their availability (respondent 3).

… . .we cannot be very strict to volunteers. We are quite flexible; we do not burden them. This is how we encourage and retain them (respondent 5).

Training and development

One of the HR practices mentioned by NPOs is to value volunteers and help them develop the necessary skills for the performance of volunteering activities (Alfes et al., 2017). Training helps to retain volunteers. Newton et al. (2014) revealed that volunteers having the understanding motive performed much better when they were provided with the opportunities of learning and development. However, volunteers with career motive are hard to retain even provided with training and development as they move to paid jobs once they acquire the required skills (Newton et al., 2014). Costa et al. (2006) found that sharing of experiences, expectations and opinions during training arouses a sense of community amongst volunteers. Our findings reveal the same notion:

Training and development are among the ways of encouraging volunteers to continue volunteering. These benefits balance their needs and wants with the value of their contribution (respondent 15).

One of the responded described that

Volunteers motivated by career reasons place a higher value to training and development activities. They need such HR practices that value their growth motives (respondent 9).


With management's encouragement either through formal HR practices or through informal policies, volunteering continues in NPOs (Pajo and Lee, 2011). Wilson (2012) examined that for the continuation of voluntary service, there exist several factors of individual and situational nature. Beyond having the right motivational drive, encouragement and appreciation of volunteers is one of the factors.

It is not only appreciation from the public but from the organization itself that can work to form a team and accept the challenges while taking everyone in the loop (respondent 4).

We encourage volunteers by distributing certificates of ‘volunteer of the month. We put the pictures of volunteers of the month from every department on the notice board. They are also given small cash rewards (respondent 2).

One of the interviewees responded that

We have certain volunteers with different expectations. Some do not want to be highlighted, others demand recognition. To retain them, we have to cope with their expectations (respondent 1).

Discussion and conclusion

According to expectancy theory, individuals remain motivated if they feel that their increased effort will bring better performance that will attract rewards and these rewards are valued by them (Vroom, 1964). Therefore, for an NPO, both volunteers’ motivational drive and organizational practices are equally important to retain volunteers. NPOs’ HR practices without volunteers’ motivation cannot serve any purpose. In the same vein, volunteers’ motivation cannot sustain for a longer period if it is not properly linked with organizational HR practices.

In the current study, the thematic areas and categories that emerged from the interviews are in general quite similar. The study has identified subjective meanings attributed by volunteer managers to various motivational drives of volunteers. By properly tapping these motives with specific tasks and events at the workplace become a source of satisfaction for the volunteers and plays a vital role in their decisions to continue volunteering. Organizations that consider different motivational drives while making their policies and take steps to create links between motivational drives and organizational practices add commitment and satisfaction to the volunteering experience of their volunteers.

The interviews also revealed that the matching and linking of motives with HR practices can be done at two levels: at individual and organizational levels. At the individual level, latitude needs to be given to volunteers after recruitment so that volunteers may perform tasks that match their primary drives resulting in a positive experience that is beneficial to all who are involved (Houle et al., 2005). While at the organizational level, fostering of such an environment that caters the expectations of the volunteers may create a positive association between volunteers and NPOs. NPOs need to have a systematic procedure for matching task responsibility with the volunteer's capability or the field of interest. Without the proper linkage of motives with HR practices, most of the motives will eventually fade away (Newton et al., 2014).

The comparison of different motives also revealed that the motive of “Belief” has the strongest drive that is less affected by organizational practices. However, it is greatly influenced by the organizational leader who possesses a strong role and can persuade and change the thinking style of volunteers. All other motivational drives not only need to be properly tapped rather these should be nurtured through organizational policies and practices to effectively retain the spirit of volunteering.

Theoretical implications

Our research makes two important theoretical contributions. First, this study integrates volunteers’ motivation and NPOs’ HR policies and practices with expectancy theory by demonstrating that rewards are valued differently by different individuals. Organizations need to identify that for a sustainable motivational level, which type of reward is valued by respective individuals. Second, we found that a positive individual factor (i.e. motivation) and a positive context (i.e. NPOs’ environment) both are needed for volunteers’ favourable outcomes (i.e. retention). In line with expectancy theory, motivation needs to be identified and understood while taking into account the dispositional factors, i.e. individual factors as well as the situational factors such as support, supervision, workgroup properties or job content. Our study takes into account both the factors, thus providing a better understanding of motivational drives of volunteers and their linkage with HR practices.

Practical implications

The results have direct implications for NPOs. The current study establishes that classification of tasks according to motives they serve is possible through efficient policies and practices. Matching personal motives with tasks while recruitment and afterwards enable an NPO to have volunteers’ services for a longer period. More latitude and flexibility need to be provided to volunteers for the selection of tasks. Volunteers prefer tasks that they feel will satisfy their motives. Furthermore, NPOs need to understand that motivational drives may change over time. A well-prepared NPO with modified assignments can cater to the emerging needs of the volunteers. Hence, attaining a favourable outcome for all those who are involved.

Limitations and future directions

This study is based on the perspectives of volunteer managers. Respondents were allowed to elaborate the way they assessed volunteers’ motives and how they practically implemented their assessment to create a link between motivation and organizational HR practices. Nevertheless, the 17 participants had fairly consistent conceptions; however, future studies may account for multisource interviews to confirm or deny the findings of this study.


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Corresponding author

Fouzia Ashfaq can be contacted at: fouziams@hotmail.com

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