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Why Do Volunteer Resource Managers Leave and What Can be Done?

Why Do Volunteer Resource Managers Leave and What Can be Done?


Article: Ertas, Nevbahar (2018). Turnover intentions of volunteer resource managers: The roles of motivations, person-organization fit, and emotional labor. International Journal of Public Administration, DOI: 10.1080/01900692.2018.1506935


Board members of nonprofits with significant levels of volunteer labor must consider the turnover of volunteer resource managers as part their risk management assessment. “Since they supply fundamental knowledge, skills, and experience, and since human capital, i.e., the staff and the volunteers, is without question the greatest asset of many nonprofits, turnover by volunteer managers may be quite costly for the organization.” (Ertas, 2018, 1).

In the spring and summer of 2014, volunteer resource managers in service organizations across North America were invited to participate in a study focused on turnover. Did you participate?  About 465 volunteer resource managers did, providing information about their intention to stay or leave the organization, factors that motivated them at work, the degree to which they ‘fit’ with the organization, and the degree to which they had to manage their emotions in the workplace.

Turnover intention

Over one-third of the volunteer resource managers in this group reported that they were considering leaving their organization in the next year based on the question, “Are you considering leaving your organization within the next year?” (5). Five answer choices were given: (a) No; (b) Yes, to retire; (c) Yes, to take another job; (d) Yes, to take another job managing volunteers; and (e) Yes, other. Those who indicated they were going to retire were not included in the analysis. Of the remaining, 36 percent indicated they were going to leave their jobs: 28 percent for another volunteer manager position, and 8 percent leaving volunteer management altogether.

These figures correspond with subsequent studies of volunteer resource managers which found that 67 percent anticipated that they would be still be working in volunteer administration in the next three years (VolunteerPro, 2019). It is difficult to get a definitive answer on how this turnover rate compares to other nonprofit positions, or to other nonprofit subsectors, but we do know that employee retention and turnover in general is the top concern of HR professionals across the world (SHRM/Globoforce, 2018).

It is also useful to know that other studies show that intention and actual behavior are highly correlated, “in other words, a similar set of factors are associated with quit intentions and actual turnover behavior” (3). With this in mind, we can look at particular factors that might be related to turnover.

Workplace factors that motivate volunteer resource managers to stay or to leave

To analyze work motivation factors that might predict volunteer resource manager turnover, a literature review was conducted and four conditions emerged. Respondents were asked to rate their satisfaction with these four work motivation factors on a scale of (1) strongly disagree to (5) strongly agree:

  1. Advancement opportunities: “I am satisfied with my advancement opportunities;”
  2. Meaningfulness of work: “I am satisfied with the meaningfulness of my job;”
  3. Individual discretion: “I am satisfied with my level of responsibility in my job;”
  4. Pay satisfaction: “I am satisfied with my pay.”

After controlling for age, education, and race, the results showed that only one of these conditions increased the likelihood that volunteer resource managers were intending to quit: a lack of satisfaction with advancement opportunities.

The importance of person-organization fit

The degree to which the respondent felt they ‘fit’ with their organization was also measured. Four questions related to fit were used to create an index of organization fit:

  1. “My values and goals are very similar to the values and goals of my organization;”
  2. “I am not very comfortable within the culture of my organization” (reversed);
  3. “I feel a strong sense of ‘belonging’ to my organization;” and
  4. “What this organization stands for is important to me.” (5).

The results showed that the higher the organization 'fit,' the lower the turnover rate. In other words, if the individual and the organization shared the same needs and values, there was a lower likelihood of turnover.

Emotional labor plays a role

Emotional labor is a term that refers to the necessity to manage emotions in the workplace. This could be negative or positive. Suppressing or ‘faking’ emotions, known as ‘surface acting,’ leads to an incongruity between what individuals feel and what they express, which could lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction. An index of surface acting was determined by the responses to these questions:

  1. “I wear a ‘mask’ in order to deal with clients/customers/volunteers in an appropriate way;”
  2. “I pretend to feel the emotions I need to display for my job;”
  3. “I show feelings to clients/customers/ volunteers that are different from what I feel inside;”
  4. “I fake the emotions I show when dealing with clients/ customers/volunteers;” and
  5. “I put on a ‘show’ or ‘performance’ when interacting with clients/customers/volunteers.” (6)

Managing actual emotions is known as ‘deep acting.’ To measure deep acting, four questions were included in this index:

  1. “I try to actually experience the emotions that I must show to clients/customers/volunteers;”
  2. “I make an effort to actually feel the emotions that I need to display toward others;”
  3. “I work hard to actually feel the emotions that I need to show to clients/customers/volunteers;” and
  4. “I work at developing the feelings inside of me that I need to show to clients/customers/volunteers.” (6)

Although no association was found between surface acting and the intention to quit, a higher score on the deep acting index was associated with a lower turnover intention. (6) In other words, those volunteer resource managers who could regulate their emotions in authentic ways were less likely to leave.

What does this mean for policy?

The author of this study proposes three policy recommendation as a result of her findings.

First: Address the issue of the lack of advancement opportunities for volunteer resource managers:

The first policy recommendation is to professionalize volunteer resource management careers and VRM positions in public service organizations, especially if the organization is relying heavily on volunteers to accomplish its mission. Lack of advancement opportunities is an acute problem for volunteer managers, because volunteer management is often overlooked as an aspect of public human resources management. . . volunteer managers who see little or no advancement opportunities in their careers were much more likely to consider quitting (7).

Second: Focus on the degree of person-organization fit:

This suggests that service organizations should consider using measures of P-O fit in their staffing decisions, in particular when turnover is a significant problem. This might imply taking the time to articulate the values held by the organization and then communicating these values in the recruitment process (7).

Third: Explicitly address the emotional labor component of the position:

This suggests that training to enhance emotional self-regulation would lead to positive workplace outcomes such as increased satisfaction and performance and reduced turnover. Another possibility would be to address emotional labor from a selection and work-role requirement perspective. . . Job descriptions that contain accurate information on the necessary emotional skills would enable both prospective applicants and hiring authorities to make better-informed decisions (7).

Limitations and further discussion

This survey was administered in a non-random manner to human service organizations in North America only, and the results are not necessarily representative of other settings. However, the findings provide important insights for discussion. Do these findings resonate with you? In terms of moving forward regarding advancement opportunities, how is your organization addressing this issue?


Ertas, Nevbahar (2018). Turnover intentions of volunteer resource managers: The roles of motivations, person-organization fit, and emotional labor. International Journal of Public Administration, DOI: 10.1080/01900692.2018.1506935

SHRM/Globoforce (2018). Designing work cultures for the human era. Available at:

VolunteerPro (2019). 2019 Volunteer Management Progress Report. Available at:

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