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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Research Friday: Paying Volunteers A Stipend: Does It Work?

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

Most researchers agree that low-income earners volunteer less (Wilson, 2012) and Pho (2008) extended this finding to include medium-wage earners. A related research question is the impact or positive incentive of volunteer stipends among low-wage earners (McBride, Gonzales, Morrow-Howell, & McCrary, 2011). Does the incentive of monetary support influence how people allocate their altruistic desires to help others? Is there a positive result for organizations that provide stipends for volunteers?

In March of this year, The Virginia G. Piper Trust funded an expansion of the Encore Fellowships program that originated in California. Experience Matters is a nonprofit organization that capitalizes on the time and talent of older adults (age 50+), who are seeking paid or unpaid positions that apply their skills to social purposes. According to Nora Hannah, CEO of Experience Matters, the Piper Trust support will allow Experience Matters to place adult volunteers with nonprofit organizations that are typically unable to afford this level of talent.

The original Encore Fellowships program in California pairs former corporate professionals with clinics and consortia in the Central Valley and the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Through the program, clinics gain expertise in financial management, human resources, information technology, process improvement, and strategic planning. The fellows, experienced professionals who are at or near retirement, are able to use the skills gained in their former roles to make a difference, earn a stipend, and learn about transitioning to work in the nonprofit sector. Fellows receive a $25,000 stipend for a 1,000-hour (half-time), 12-month assignment.

Despite limited research on the effectiveness of stipends on volunteers, investigators (McBride, et. al., 2009) found that stipends promote inclusion, efficiency and effectiveness. This study investigated older adult volunteers serving in the Experience Corps program across 23 U.S. cities. All the volunteers were working as tutors in local elementary schools. Volunteers received stipend support from several sources, including federal AmeriCorps programs, private foundations and school districts. They typically signed up for 10 to 12 month terms; served 15 hours per week; and received monthly, taxable stipends of about $290. Stipends varied from city to city, but on average were about $2.77 an hour.

The researchers (McBride, et. al., 2009) found that stipended older adult volunteers served for longer periods of time than non-stipended volunteers, and that their motivations for serving were as altruistic as non-stipended volunteers. Additionally, stipended volunteers reported higher perceived benefits of participation than non-stipended volunteers. There is also evidence that stipends do not necessarily attract people who are less altruistic, but do attract people who might otherwise remain uninvolved, opening up a pool of new volunteers for organizations.

In contrast, Tschirhart, Mesch, Perry, Miller, and Lee (2001) found that stipended and non-stipended volunteers in their sample of AmeriCorps volunteers did not have a significant difference in satisfaction or the likelihood of future volunteering. These volunteers were mostly adults that were under the age of 30, (79%) which could account for the non-significant impact of stipends.

More research on adult volunteer stipends is needed to confirm the positive results.  Additional research on stipends for the general population of volunteers is even timelier, as the Obama administration continues to expand stipended volunteers through AmeriCorps and other federally backed programs.


1. McBride, A., Gonzales, E., Morrow-Howell, N., & McCrary, S. (2009). A case for stipends in volunteer service. Center for Social Development, George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. CDS Working Papers 09-12.

2. McBride, A., Gonzales, E., Morrow-Howell, N., & McCrary, S. (2011). Stipends in volunteer service: Inclusion, retention, and volunteer benefits, Public Administration Review, 71:6, 850-858.

3. Pho, Y. (2008). The value of volunteer labor and the factors influencing participation: Evidence for the United States from 2002 through 2005. Review of Income and Wealth, 54, 220-236.

4. Tschirhart, M., Mesch, D., Perry, J., Miller, T., & Lee, G. (2001). Stipended volunteers: Their goals, experiences, satisfaction, and likelihood of future service, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 30, 422-443.

5. Wilson, J. (2012). Volunteerism research: A review essay, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 41, 176-212.


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