Volunteer Reliability in Nonprofit Organizations: A Theoretical Model

  • Tim Vantilborgh
  • Stijn Van Puyvelde
Original Paper


The reliability of volunteers is a major concern for many nonprofit organizations. To address this problem in more detail, we develop a theoretical model of volunteer reliability based on psychological contract theory. By taking this perspective as a starting point, we explore how individual volunteer characteristics, organizational factors, and sociological developments shape the exchange of inducements and contributions between volunteers and nonprofit organizations. We discuss how these factors can create tensions in the psychological contract and determine the extent to which volunteers behave reliably. As such, we develop a theoretical framework for addressing the reliability problem in volunteer management.


Volunteers Reliability Psychological contract Nonprofit organizations Volunteer management 


La fiabilité des bénévoles est une des premières préoccupations de plusieurs organismes sans but lucratif. Pour traiter de ce problème plus en détail, nous créons un modèle théorique de fiabilité basé sur la théorie du contrat psychologique. En adoptant initialement ce point de vue, nous explorons la façon dont les caractéristiques individuelles des bénévoles, des facteurs organisationnels et les développements sociologiques influencent l’échange d’incitations et de contributions entre les bénévoles et les organismes sans but lucratif. Nous discutons de la façon dont ces facteurs peuvent créer des tensions dans le cadre du contrat psychologique et déterminons dans quelle mesure les bénévoles font preuve de fiabilité. Nous créons ainsi un cadre théorique permettant de traiter du problème de fiabilité dans le contexte de la gestion des bénévoles.


Die Zuverlässigkeit ehrenamtlicher Mitarbeiter ist für viele gemeinnützige Organisationen ein wichtiges Thema. Um ausführlicher auf dieses Problem einzugehen, entwickeln wir ein theoretisches Modell zur Zuverlässigkeit von Ehrenamtlichen beruhend auf der psychologischen Vertragstheorie. Ausgehend von dieser Perspektive untersuchen wir, wie individuelle Eigenschaften der Ehrenamtlichen, organisatorische Faktoren und soziologische Entwicklungen den Austausch von Anreizen und Beiträgen zwischen den Ehrenamtlichen und den gemeinnützigen Organisationen beeinflussen. Wir diskutieren, wie diese Faktoren zu Spannungen im psychologischen Vertrag führen können und ermitteln den Grad der Zuverlässigkeit der Ehrenamtlichen. Dazu entwickeln wir ein theoretisches Rahmenwerk, das das Problem der Zuverlässigkeit im Management der ehrenamtlichen Mitarbeiter angeht.


La fiabilidad de los voluntarios es una preocupación de importancia para muchas organizaciones sin ánimo de lucro. Para abordar este problema con más detalle, desarrollamos un modelo teórico de fiabilidad de los voluntarios basado en la teoría del contrato psicológico. Al tomar esta perspectiva como punto de partida, exploramos cómo las características individuales del voluntario, los factores organizativos, y los desarrollos sociológicos dan forma al intercambio de incentivos y contribuciones entre voluntarios y organizaciones sin ánimo de lucro. Tratamos cómo estos factores pueden crear tensiones en el contrato psicológico y determinar la medida en que los voluntarios se comportan de manera fiable. Como resultado, desarrollamos un marco teórico para abordar el problema de la fiabilidad en la gestión de voluntarios.






صلابة المتطوعين هي مصدر قلق كبير لكثير من المنظمات الغير ربحية. للحديث عن هذه المشكلة بمزيد من التفاصيل، نحن نضع نموذج نظري لصلابة المتطوعين على أساس نظرية العقد النفسي. من خلال أخذ هذا المنظور كنقطة إنطلاق، نستكشف كيف أن الخصائص الفردية للمتطوعين، العوامل التنظيمية، التطورات الإجتماعية تشكل تبادل الحوافز والمساهمات بين المتطوعين والمنظمات الغير ربحية. نناقش كيف يمكن لهذه العوامل أن تخلق التوترات في العقد النفسي وتحديد إلى أي مدى يتصرف المتطوعين بثقة. على هذا النحو، نضع إطار نظري للحديث عن مشكلة الجدارة في الثقة في إدارة المتطوعين.



An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 10th Workshop on the Challenges of Managing the Third Sector, European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM), Edinburgh, United Kingdom, June 11–12, 2015. We would like to thank the participants for their helpful comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Work and Organizational PsychologyFree University of BrusselsBrusselsBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Applied EconomicsFree University of BrusselsBrusselsBelgium

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