Retention of Volunteers in the Context of Motivation Theory

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Volunteer Retention in the Context of Motivation Theory
Margaret Naylor, RN, MRCNA, AMPA, M Ed, M Internet Comm, B A, B Nurs. St John Ambulance Australia [ACT]
May 2012

Abstract
This paper examines the literature addressing the underlying factors in long term commitment of volunteers to community service organisations. It places the reasons given by volunteers for both joining and staying, into the context of motivation theory. It is motivation theory that provides a foundation for understanding what attracts volunteers to community service, what factors encourage them to stay long term and what causes them to leave. The paper concludes that when those factors are interpreted from the perspective of motivation theory, managers of volunteers will be able to establish practices that will have a positive effect on retention while avoiding negative practices, to the benefit of both the organisation and its volunteer workforce. Introduction

There is a considerable body of research that examines the underlying factors in long term commitment of volunteers to community service organisations. In general, these studies identify reasons that volunteers stay or leave, with remarkably consistent outcomes. The studies then recommend that management should provide members with what they say they want [such as opportunities for training, acquisition of new skills, helping the community]. With the exception of Rick Lynch [Lynch 2000], who related volunteering to motivation to some extent, the authors stop there. They do not take the next step of exploring further the lists generated by the research, in order to interpret the meaning and discover what specific management practices are beneficial. This paper takes that next step by placing those lists of reasons into a context of motivation theory, Volunteer Characteristics

The ABS (2001:44) definition of a volunteer is: “someone who willingly gives unpaid help in the form of time, service or skills, through an organisation or group”. From the literature, recruiting short term volunteers for special occasions and events for which their commitment will be time limited, for example the Olympic Games or World Cup Soccer, is not difficult and the recruiters are likely to attract more applicants than they need. Similarly, when disaster strikes volunteers are numerous – news reports of the floods in Queensland provide examples, with hundreds of people who were not members of any organisation arriving of their own volition in the affected areas to help, even before any calls for assistance were made. This event-related volunteering is often referred to as “episodic volunteering”. Attracting long term volunteers who will keep on giving their time and energy to an organisation for years is a very different task, and is a perennial issue for volunteer organisations that provide a community service. There are several Australian studies that have addressed volunteering in Rural Fire Services and State Emergency Services as well as a small body of more generic studies. Most of these have attempted to identify and categorise, through surveys and interviews, the reasons volunteers give for joining and for leaving. A 2010 focus group study by Ranse and Carter elicited a similar list, providing supporting evidence within St John Ambulance Australia for these reasons although, as the authors acknowledged, their study had limitations due to the small sample size and consequent inability to control for factors such as variations in age, gender and geographic residence. International literature also tends to focus on reasons given by existing, potential and departed volunteers, classifying their responses to propose multiple “types” of volunteers, and identifying the management practices implemented by the organisations on the premise that the quality of management of the organisation affects both recruitment and retention. The aim of many of the studies is to develop “best practice” management...
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