Social exchange: an assessment of its role in successful volunteer/salaried staff partnerships

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


Managers of nonprofit voluntary associations are seeking volunteers to work with salaried staff in the delivery of human services as government agencies reduce or eliminate support for programs. Competition among organizations to attract and retain talented volunteers is increasingly a problem. One of the ways organizations are increasing the effectiveness of their programs is to recruit management volunteers to work at all levels of program development and delivery.

The specific purpose of this study was to analyze factors affecting the motivation of individuals to accept and remain in a management-level, volunteer job similar to that being performed by a salaried manager. This was done by conducting ten in-depth case studies of pairs of salaried and volunteer managers working together as a management team at the top administrative level of a national nonprofit human service organization.

Data collection for the study was done through the ethnographic interview process. A structured method for carrying out analytic induction was used to perform the data analysis. One major cultural theme and patterns of related minor themes emerged from the dimensions of similarity and contrast across the ten cases and the three different management sites at which data were collected.

Key motivational factors identified in each of the case studies corroborate the importance of certain theoretical variables identified in Blau's theory of social exchange for attracting and retaining volunteers to management-level jobs. However, these theories did not fully explain the interaction of certain variables to create a pattern of high satisfaction for both partners in certain cases.

Other factors that contributed to the level of expressed satisfaction in the partnerships were related to certain aspects of the management style of the salaried manager, self-esteem of the volunteer manager, organizational climate of the management site and the cultural traditions of volunteerism within each of the three geographic regions in which the sites were located. These factors that created satisfaction with the salaried and volunteer managers are important because of the relationship indicated in the research literature between motivation, job satisfaction and organizational productivity.