Differentiation of Motivational Theories: Methods Used by Nonprofits

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In an interview with the New York Times, Frances Hesselbein argues that nonprofits are better at motivating volunteers than corporations are at motivating paid-workers. In the article, “Managing; In Motivation, Nonprofits Are Ahead,” Hesselbein discusses the types of challenges that nonprofits have faced over the course of the last twenty years. These challenges have created a competitive environment in which nonprofits have sought to improve the strategies of their nonprofit performance systems by recruiting and retaining volunteers. Nonprofits now provide volunteers with “job descriptions, training, even promotion paths and performance appraisals” (Deutsch, 1991). To motivate volunteers, nonprofits help volunteers understand how their work “fits in” and plays a role in the larger picture. By recognizing what motivates volunteers, and then meeting those needs, nonprofits are becoming adept at recruiting and retaining volunteers.

This article has implications for our module on differentiating motivational theories. The nonprofits set challenging goals for their employees and gave them the resources necessary to meet those expectations. In doing so, these organizations utilized the strengths of achievement-oriented leadership. The strategies used by these nonprofits are also reflective of McClelland’s theory of human motivation, demonstrating that volunteers are uniquely motivated by their achievements (rather than affiliations or power). By providing resources for volunteers to contextualize their work and better understand their achievements, nonprofits have surpassed many corporations in motivational methods.

In reading this article, I found it fascinating that nonprofits have been so successful at motivating volunteers and setting a positive atmosphere. I was initially surprised that nonprofits could motivate unpaid volunteers to invest in their work for an extended period of time. I think the article demonstrates the importance of developing a company culture that rewards achievement and provides clear incentives for workers to excel. I agree with Robert House that organizations ought to provide a clear path for employees, removing roadblocks and increasing rewards along the way.


Deutsch, C. H. (1991, July 14). Managing; In Motivation, Nonprofits Are Ahead. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/1991/07/14/business/managing-in-motivation-nonprofits-are-ahead.html