A new perspective on volunteers' motivation: Work orientation in project-based voluntary organizations

Louise Julskjær

Student thesis: Master thesis


Volunteers are thought to be altruistic individuals, intrinsically motivated by the mission and goal of the organization. Thus, leadership in voluntary organizations is aimed at motivating volunteers through the goal and mission of the organization. In the 21st century, business leaders are faced with employees whose commitment to the organization can be equaled with volunteers', and these leaders are looking at leaders of voluntary organizations for advice on how to handle this. But business leaders will be misguided if a process-relational perspective on work motivation is not applied to volunteer work. Work orientation is a concept found in the process-relational perspective to organizational studies. It contrasts the systems-control perspective on motivation as a needs and wants fulfillment for rational actors that are capable of prioritizing their motivational factors. The process-relational perspective sees people's motivation affected by their constant interaction with their surroundings. It is thus prone to change through the constant re-enactment of your situation in life and work environment. I argue that by applying the concept of work orientation to voluntary workers, leaders will understand that volunteers work for a variety of different reasons, including, but not limited to, the goal and mission, that are linked to their ongoing strategic exchange. I take a holistic view of volunteers' motivation through the structure and culture of the voluntary organization and the volunteers' work orientation to show that the volunteer's motivation exists as an interplay between the volunteer and the voluntary organization. By using the Copenhagen Business School Exchange Crew and Roskilde Festival, two Danish project-based voluntary organizations that present a unique point of view on volunteerism, I demonstrate my point. I argue that volunteers' motivation is tied to the structure and type of organization they are working for, as well as their situation in life. By choosing two project based organizations I use this special feature to underline how the structure of the organization matters, as well as it presents a little studied niche in voluntary research. The object is not to create a theory by generalizing the facts, but by using only students as interviewees, their backgrounds are comparable and any differences in work orientation is thus brought into the light with one less variable to explain. Through ethnographic studies I found that volunteers in the Exchange Crew and Roskilde Festival are motivated by personal and social gain in the form of getting project planning and management experience, and developing a network and international contacts. Moreover, the project structure of the organizations in terms of time and scope limitation was important as a motivational factor for most of the volunteers. The final event being held, i.e. the project's outcome, was not directly quoted as a motivational factor even though it was an important part of the volunteer experience. The hierarchy and leadership structure, the intended audience and the type of volunteers, which are all elements unique to the organizations, played a part in the motivation as well as part of the organizational environment. In conclusion, understanding work orientation, leadership becomes the process of constant negotiation of volunteers' implicit contract as motivation that changes over time. It has implications for how volunteers and voluntary organizations are perceived and ultimately how leaders should approach leadership. In conclusion, I argue that leaders should use the manipulation of volunteers' implicit contract to get them to work the way the leader wants, which is connected to the volunteers' constant strategic exchange.

EducationsMSc in Business, Language and Culture, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2009
Number of pages188