Oxford Brookes Business School
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Many nonprofit organisations (NPOs) deliver their services and mission through volunteers. Brand has been shown to be a powerful influence on the decision to volunteer. What was not known was the role brand plays in volunteer choice between NPOs. Understanding this enables NPOs to be more effective at attracting the volunteers they need, particularly given limited budgets. Using Framework Analysis with a large qualitative sample, this paper contributes to that gap in knowledge. The research identifies three constructs driving volunteer choice of NPOs, sources of Brand Knowledge, level of Brand Engagement, and the behavioural process of choice, labelled Brand Discovery. Through exploring the relationship between these constructs, the study points to significant implications for NPOs for volunteer recruitment, importance of brand presence, and competitive set.
Purpose – This paper explores how volunteers choose one nonprofit organisation (NPO) rather than another. It identifies the drivers of choice, and the relationship between them, to enable NPOs to strengthen their volunteer recruitment.
Design/methodology/approach - 51 service-delivery volunteers were interviewed, drawn from five leading NPOs. A laddering technique was used to understand the context in which the choice of organisation was made and the underlying personal needs and goals. The data was analysed using means-end chain methodology to uncover the relationships between, and hierarchy of, the decision drivers.
Findings - Brand, cause, and role were found to be important in meeting personal needs and goals through volunteering. The paper makes three contributions. Firstly, it presents a clearer understanding of NPO choice through adopting an integrated theoretical perspective. Secondly, it identifies the decision-making process and key relationships between the attributes of the NPO, the consequences for the volunteer, and the connection to their personal needs. Finally, the study makes an important contribution to literature through presenting a new conceptual framework of volunteer decision-making in the nonprofit context to act as a catalyst for future research.
Research limitations/implications - This research is both impactful through, and limited by, its context selection: regular service-delivery volunteers from five NPOs within two causes. The paper presents a rich research stream to extend this understanding to other nonprofit stakeholders, other causes including medical charities, and smaller NPOs.
Practical implications - In an increasingly competitive nonprofit environment with a growing need to support the vulnerable in society, NPO sustainability is dependent on their ability to recruit new volunteers. NPOs compete not only with other organisations with similar causes but also those offering similar volunteering roles, and other uses of time to meet personal needs such as sport, career, or community. Understanding how volunteers make their choice of NPO rather than other uses of their time is of vital importance to make the most effective use of scarce marketing resources. This paper contributes to that practitioner understanding.
Originality/value - The authors are the first to extend the understanding of generic motivations of volunteers to consider specific choice of NPO. Unlike previous literature, the authors bring together theory on brand, cause, and role with personal needs. The authors are also the first to apply means-end chain methodology to the nonprofit context in order to uncover the personal underlying, less salient reasons behind NPO choice and the relationship between them.
The paper critically re-examines product life-cycle (PLC) theory, developed over fifty years ago. Despite prevalence in marketing pedagogy and continued popularity within empirical research, PLC is seldom challenged. The paper identifies the organisation-centric construct underpinning the theory and highlights a disconnection between PLC theory and the recent academic insight around customer engagement. It reconceptualises the life-cycle concept based on engagement between stakeholder and non-profit organisation (NPO), structured upon both the market orientation and social exchange constructs. The revised framework maps stakeholder engagement with the NPO through the five stages of incubation, interaction, involvement, immersion, and incapacitation. The paper concludes with identifying a roadmap for future empirical research to develop and validate the re-envisaged conceptual model. The methodology used is narrative literature review supported by secondary research from specialist practitioner reports.