Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Urban Studies and Public Affairs


Maxine Goodman levin College of Urban Affairs

First Advisor

Zingate, Nicholas

Subject Headings

Behavioral Sciences, Sociology


One facet of being a volunteer is the freedom to choose one’s work and schedule. When this ability to choose conflicts with the organization’s need to ensure that volunteers’ work activities fulfill its mission, it creates tension between staff members and volunteers and presents a challenge to the organization’s ability to exercise authority over its volunteers.

Existing research on volunteerism studies volunteer engagement, motivations, and best practices for managing volunteers, as well as how volunteers can be considered a sustainable resource. The volunteer management literature pays little attention, however, to authority’s role in the relationship between organizations and their volunteers. This study sought to fill the gap in the literature by asking what the authority relationship between organizations and volunteers looks like, what kind of tools and practices are used by organizations to exercise authority, and the impact of the difference between staff members and volunteers within the authority relationship on volunteer management.

I conducted semi-structured interviews with volunteers and paid staff members of nonprofit organizations which provide specialized community services. Questions were designed to elicit answers relating to one or more of the research questions. I also obtained documentation in the form of volunteer handbooks (or the equivalent) from each participating organization. The analysis was a multi-step process. Interview responses were coded and sorted out according to the applicable research question. The responses to each research question were then examined for patterns relevant to the study. The handbooks were then compared to the interview transcripts.

The responses from the interviews revealed that the authority relationship can be described in terms of a model of volunteer authority made up of three components and six categories of tools or practices used by organizations in exercising authority over volunteers. The results also provided a means for nonprofit leaders to identify those instances of tension in the relationship and more effectively manage volunteers.