The Limits and Possibilities of Volunteering: A Framework for Explaining the Scope of Volunteer Involvement in Public and Non-profit Organizations (2018)


Authors: Rebecca Nesbit, Robert K. Christensen, and Jeffrey L. Brudney

Published by: Public Administration Review, 78(4), 502-513.

Previous research documents the positive effect of volunteers regarding cost-efficiency, service quality, and impact in both public and non-profit organisations. However, not all organisations use volunteers in delivering their services. 

The purpose of this study was to bring together the major factors relating to volunteer involvement based on a review of the literature. 

The authors identified four dimensions involving organisational decisions: the decision to use volunteers; the magnitude of volunteer use (e.g., how many volunteers relative to staff), volunteer contributions (e.g., tasks or roles), and the status of volunteers (e.g., their integration within organisations).  The authors also identified four dimensions involving volunteer involvement: volunteers’ entry into and exit from organisations (e.g., turnover); volunteers’ characteristics and diversity (e.g., gender; skill sets); the intensity and duration of volunteers’ commitment; and volunteers’ work quality. 

These dimensions were incorporated into a framework for understanding volunteering: (a) organisational characteristics (“nature” e.g., resources vs “nurture” e.g., leadership); (b) volunteer management (e.g., manager characteristics); and (c) environmental factors (e.g., community characteristics). 

The above dimensions strongly affect the scope of volunteers’ involvement in public and non-profit organisations. The authors note that these dimensions are not static but will change over time. This framework can help organisations who are planning to increase volunteer participation to develop a strong programme. It can also help to assess organisational weaknesses and environmental threats that can lead to negative outcomes.

For more information contact Volunteering WA on 9482 4333.