Volunteer Recruitment and Retention – Human Resource Management in Volunteer Organizations

Studies on recruitment and retention of volunteers have also evaluated practices that better recruitment and retention. One study highlights the challenges encountered in recruitment and selection of volunteers, thus suggest ways through which organizations can overcome such challenges. In this study, Lynch and Smith (2010), through a review of literature, establish the role of formalizing the recruitment and selection in volunteer organizations, and thus formulate three research questions to guide their study. Firstly, the authors seek to highlight the recruitment and selection practices for volunteers in the industry the study focuses on – the heritage sector. Secondly, the study sought to highlight differences between practices used to recruit and select volunteers from those used to recruit paid workers in the sector. Thirdly, the study sought to present implications of the findings to volunteer-reliant organizations.

The study by Lynch and Smith (2010) used empirical data drawn from interviews with managers and volunteers at 12 cultural heritage attractions (e.g. museums) in the UK, all having both paid and voluntary workforce in their service. Additionally, documented evidence such as job advertisements and descriptions also formed sources of the data used for analysis. The study findings were presented according to the prescriptive psychometric approach that was predominant.

The findings of the study indicated wide-ranging practices in respect to recruitment and selection procedures employed. For instance, job specifications ranged from non-formal descriptions (especially in small volunteering programs) to conventional descriptions that were observed in organizations with a more formalized volunteer programs (Lynch & smith, 2010, p. 86). Out of such discrepancy, the roles and expectation of a volunteer at times remained ambiguous leading to frustration of volunteers, especially those who were used to role clarity in their previous or alternative occupation. Recruitment was noted to be largely unplanned, with organizations conducting drives on an ad hoc and by-need basis. Additionally, recruitment was affected by location, with rural organizations being limited in terms of population of volunteers that could access such locations.

With regard to selection, the study’s findings also differed in various organizations, mediated by such aspects as size of organization, and nature of roles (e.g. handling children and cash) that volunteers engaged in. However, the most commonly used selection methods were written applications, references and interviews, with the application forms being rarely used (Lynch & Smith, 2010). Most programs lacked the guidelines on rejecting volunteers thus making the process of rejection ambiguous. However, some of the programs had procedures that involved assessing the availability of work for the volunteer to do and the volunteer meeting some documented guidelines. For those that lack such guidelines, the selection was based on recruiting officer’s judgment, which could be based on physical appeal rather than essential skills of the prospective volunteer (Lynch & Smith, 2010). Additionally, formal rejection was rarely used to inform unsuitable candidates with most recruiting officers preferring avoiding such potential volunteers, and were formal rejection was necessitated, unsuitability of the candidate was rarely communicated in an open and honest manner (Lynch & Smith, 2010). Such selection aspects could injure the reputation of the organization thus making it unattractive to qualified potential volunteers. Out of the study’s findings, a need for formalizing recruitment and selection processes in volunteer-dependent organizations is evident.

Another study highlights the role of knowledge management in bettering recruitment and retention in small, nonprofit organizations, relying on volunteer workforce.  In this study, Huck, Al and Rathi (2011) evaluate the knowledge requirements for volunteer organizations working within a community, and how solutions for knowledge management can be implemented in such organizations to better their recruitment and retention of volunteers. For their study the authors use a “community bicycle workshop in a major Canadian city”, which engages volunteer mechanics to offer services to clients, who are provided with workspace and tools for repair without charge (Huck et al., 2011, p. 30). The workshop also engages in related volunteer activities such as repair of donated bicycle for resale and other activities such as “operating heating system during the winter” (p. 30). The study carried out employed interviews to collect data on knowledge needs, knowledge sources most preferred, knowledge channels operating in the channel, and knowledge gaps, sinks and pools.

Evaluating knowledge needs for such a volunteer organization, Huck et al. (2011) find out that such needs involve operational (e.g. running the workshop; protocols and policies) and technical (e.g. performing basic repairs) knowledge aspects. Secondly, the authors find out that volunteers prefer internal sources (e.g. other volunteers, or members) of such knowledge as compared to external sources (e.g. experts, consultants and commercial market players). With respect to channels of knowledge transfer, the authors find that informal channels including face-to-face communication and trial-and-error approaches are more prevalent in the setting. Although participants are hesitant in identifying knowledge gaps, the authors note of various gaps such as those of impaired exchange of operational knowledge leading to conflicting and inconsistent practices in the workshop, and absence of formal training in aspects such as safety procedures. Due to breakdown in communication channels, various knowledge sinks are also identified, which represents knowledge that does not reach the intended recipient despite its sharing (Huck et al., 2011, p. 32). Although there exists alternative sources of knowledge, volunteers in this study tend to employ single sources thus creating a large pool of untapped knowledge.

Despite the limitations of size and nature of organization used, the study by Huck et al. (2011) provides insight into areas where nonprofit organizations may improve on to better volunteer motivation, hence their retention. For instance, the knowledge gaps noted may be a characteristic in many volunteer based nonprofit organizations where formalized systems are absent. By evaluating such needs, organizations could set up systems such as socializing for knowledge sharing, which could boost the volunteer skills to assume a greater level of responsibility, thus serve as a motivation.

Cuskelly, Taylor, Hoye and Dacy (2006) offer a more compelling study, linking efficacy of volunteer management practices to retention in sports-oriented, volunteer-reliant organization. The study comprised of two parts; firstly, the study carried out focus groups comprised of administrators (n=98; e.g. presidents, secretaries and registrars) in community rugby clubs aimed to identify practices that were used to manage volunteers in these clubs. Secondly, the study used data collected from 375 rugby clubs (the response rate from 775 clubs to whom survey questionnaires had been mailed), to test if an hypothesized model of HRM practices was fitted for highlighting impact of volunteer management practices on retention under the current study settings – rugby clubs in Australia. In this second part, the study evaluated the extent of usage of identified volunteer-management practices in sampled clubs, “details of volunteer numbers, roles and characteristics, and perceptions of the extent to which volunteer retention was a problem” (Cuskelly et al., 2006, p. 149). The analysis included statistical analyses such as chiquare tests for goodness of fit and multiple regressions to test associations. The findings from the study were wide-ranging and insightful.

Firstly, from the administrators’ interviews conducted in the first part of the study, a substantial number of clubs indicated problems with filling leadership positions such as coaching and team manager positions on a volunteer basis. Although 44% of the clubs indicated that they had no problems filling up volunteer positions (Cuskelly et al., 2006, p. 156), such may have been influenced by the positions that the respondents considered voluntary in nature. Secondly, the study’s findings were especially detailed on how practices instituted influenced perception of retention.  For instance, out of the seven constructs that were used to take inventory of volunteer management practices, planning was significantly associated with perception of retention. Other constructs for the inventory were recruitment practices, screening practices, orientation practices, training and support practices, performance management practices, and recognition practices (Cuskelly et al., 2006. pp. 153-155). In the planning-practices construct, factors considered included identifying prospective volunteers before the start of the season, targeting individuals for volunteering in accordance with such individual’s skills, active planning for succession to replace volunteers and availing the job or role description for individual volunteers (p. 153). Based on the results of the study, increasing use of planning practices to manage volunteering processes was associated with lower reporting of retention problems. Further analyses however revealed that the other constructs also impacted on volunteer retention for various categories.

Among the categories where impact of management practices was evident was in in leadership positions such as board membership. In such volunteering position, training and support practices had a significant positive association with retention of such volunteers (Cuskelly et al., 2006). With respect to coaching volunteers, planning and orientation practices were core determinants of perceived retention. Planning practices also has a significant effect on other formal volunteer positions except those for team managers. Accordingly, the study findings suggested that HRM strategies could affect recruitment and retention of volunteers in different ways. The study’s limitation however regarded the use of perceptions to record retention aspects, which could be subject to bias arising from self-reporting. In this respect, using data of volunteer turnover in the clubs under investigations could reinforce the findings noted in the study.

Shin and Kleiner (2003) also provide useful insights into recruitment and retention of voluntary workforce by discussing “the necessary tools for effectively managing unpaid volunteers”, focusing their discussion of the aspect of motivation (p. 63). Firstly, the authors argue out the importance of establishing credible planning and development process in the organization as antecedents to effective management of volunteer work force. In the planning process, the authors contend that the “development of organisational goals and objectives provides a strong foundation on which to structure volunteer programmes” (p. 64). This is the case since such goals avail the individual managing the volunteers with tools that are important in rallying volunteers towards the organization’s mission and keeping them motivated to such a course. To achieve these goals the authors advise that the volunteer manager must base ones actions on research-findings resulting from analysis of aspects core to the realization of the goals. Such aspects would involve the description of volunteer-related aspects as well as recruitment and termination process.

With respect to the volunteer, the manager needs to demarcate the responsibilities of individual volunteers and capture these in the job description, the type of volunteer that the engagement requires (e.g. short-term, long-term, or intern), the benefit the organization would receive from engaging the volunteer, and the department where the volunteer would be engaged. Following such delineations, the manager would be informed on the characteristics (e.g. gender, race, skills, and personality) of the volunteer required. With regard to recruitment and termination procedures, the manager would assess the interviewing and screening processes required, behavior that would lead to termination of a volunteer’s service, training requirements and performance evaluation. Shin and Kleiner (2003) discuss the practices that would enhance the management of volunteers in respect to such aspects, offering case scenarios where appropriate. Through their study, the authors for instance highlight the importance of formal recruitment practices, training, information management, time management and recognizing volunteers efforts, in fostering management practices in a voluntary-reliant organization. Go to conclusion here.

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