Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Exploring Performance Management of Volunteers in Non-Profit Organisations in New Zealand’s Human Service Sector

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posted on 2021-11-23, 00:22 authored by Weber, Magdalena

Many non-profit organisations (NPOs) are highly dependent on volunteers to achieve their mission, and while volunteers tend to be motivated by altruistic reasons, performance management (PM) likely plays a key role in facilitating their commitment and directing their efforts to achieving their goals and the organisation’s mission. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to investigate the PM process as applied to volunteers in an NPO in New Zealand. Moreover, the similarities and differences between PM practices used for employees and volunteers are examined.   Extant non-profit research has focused on individual management practices, but largely ignored the holistic PM process, whereas existing for-profit literature has concentrated on performance appraisals and evaluations, rather than PM. This study contributes to the limited research on PM processes by drawing together research from both sectors to develop an updated PM process model which is based on current PM trends and includes the steps goal-setting, feedback, training/development, and rewards/recognition. Due to the dearth in research on volunteer PM, a qualitative approach was deemed appropriate for this study to gain a deeper understanding of contextual factors and the research problem. A single case study was chosen to collect rich and in-depth data about the perceptions and experiences of managers and volunteers regarding PM. The New Zealand Cancer Society’s Otago Southland Division (OSD) was selected as case study organisation and 19 semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten managers and nine volunteers. The interviews were held in late 2016 in four locations, the Cancer Society’s national office in Wellington and the OSD’s three main offices, Dunedin, Invercargill, and Queenstown.    The findings show that managers and volunteers struggle with the concept of PM in relation to volunteers because of its poor reputation and perceived unsuitability due to the special characteristics of volunteering. The individual practices, however, generated interest among participants as most practices are already used for volunteers in the OSD, albeit in an informal, ad-hoc manner and under the designation ‘volunteer management’. The interviews revealed a pattern of accepted (rewards/recognition), unaccepted (goal-setting) practices and a “grey area” of practices which allow for further development (feedback, training/development). Volunteers’ motivation and the frequency of use of the practices in the OSD influence if participants perceived them as accepted, unaccepted or as practices with potential (grey area). Based on the outcomes of this study, the updated PM process model was adapted to reflect the OSD’s PM practices for volunteers.    Some inconsistencies in the participants’ perceptions and experiences of PM and a lack of clear volunteer PM procedures were detected. The findings revealed that managers are reluctant to formalise the management practices for volunteers out of fear of losing them and, thus, hide certain practices behind social events which blurs the boundaries between the practices. The findings, therefore, suggest that PM is a valuable concept for the management of volunteers in NPOs, but that a semantic problem exists which prevents the further engagement with PM. Resulting implications are proposed which include a terminology change of PM in NPOs to conceal the managerial character of this concept.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Commerce

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Business School (Faculty of Commerce)


Smith, Karen