ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Friday, May 11, 2012 - 8:15am
posted by
 Carlton Yoshioka, Ph.D.,
Professor and Director
of Academic Programs
ASU Lodestar Center


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.

Like this article? Get another!

Click here to read "Research Friday: The Trouble with Pay Raises" by Stephanie La Loggia.


Research aside, I think giving volunteers a stipend is a slippery slope. It changes and to some extent takes away the spirit of volunteerism. It also divides the volunteer corps between those that do and those that do not receive a stipend. Once this gets out, it can often cause dissension among the ranks.

Having administered a very large volunteer program at a major medical center in NYC, I can attest to the fact that you can recruit many older volunteers, with wonderful skills, to volunteer without a stipend. That is true for volunteers from all socio-economic levels. The Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is a perfect example of a pool of senior volunteers who volunteered throughout NYC without a stipend. However, they were provided with car- fare if they needed it.

With that said, the Welfare to Work Program in New York City, required that all able bodied welfare recipients volunteer in order to receive their welfare checks. The volunteer experience often resulted in learning new skills and in some cases in employment by the medical center.

If you choose to take on volunteers who receive a stipend, I would be very cautious that you do not set up a two-tiered program, where some receive "benefits" and others do not.

I am an AmeriCorps alum in the under 30 demographic that Tschirhart, Mesch, Perry, Miller, and Lee studied and am curious to read more about their results. From what I can assume is that there wasn't a significance difference in that demographic because the motives for volunteering might differ from that of the older population that was surveyed in the other studies mentioned in the article. Being that the survey on the under 30 group was done 11 years ago, I wonder if the results would be different now considering we are in a very different economic climate with more young people unemployed and looking for meaningful jobs in social services. From the updates I've read in the AmeriCorps Alumni newsletters, there has been increases of AmeriCorps applicants in the past few years in the wake of the recession and more and more new graduates unable to find work. Despite a pledge from the Obama administration to expand the AmeriCorps program, it has consistently been on the funding chopping block.

I personally think programs like AmeriCorps and ExperienceCorps are effective stipend-based volunteer programs because they do require a commitment, but I'm not sure how a stipend volunteer program would work in another structure such as a individual nonprofit giving out stipends, or where that organization would get funding to do that on their own. But like the comment that "CTumolo" made above, it could be a slippery slope on determining which volunteers get paid. Programs like AmeriCorps have that solid pay structure and commitment requirement in place so there's no chance of that slippery slope effect happening. I would assume that if nonprofits wanted to do stipends on their own they would need to implement a similar structure.

Also, it struck me that the large difference in stipend amount of the Encore Fellow as opposed to that an ExperienceCorps member, makes the Encore Fellow seem more like a job than an volunteer position. $25,000 for a half-time, 1000 hour commitment as opposed to the roughly $3500 Experience Corps are making for almost (but no quite) the same amount of time commitment is a pretty big differnce if one could argue that the work the Experience Corps members are doing is just as difficult and time-consuming as the work of the Encore Fellows. I guess it just comes down to funding and what organizations can afford stipends and those that can't.

As the volunteer coordinator for the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair I think that paying volunteers has many benefits, as long as funds are available. In my experience volunteers help out for one of two reasons, they really enjoy the work, or they have to. When it comes to those who have to work I find they are not as engaged; if they were getting paid for the work they might work a little harder. The problem however, is many places that need volunteers the most are non-profits and might not have the funds in their budget to pay volunteers.
I believe there is another benefit to stipends for volunteers that this article does not mention. The benefit of helping the unemployed population develop skills at a small financial gain. In hard times such as these, there are many unemployed around us. If they were able to spend all their free time volunteering not only would they learn valuable work skills, such as carpentry, working with Habitat for Humanity, or social skills; but they would also be taking home a small amount of money to help them get back on their feet. All in all, I do believe that stipends for volunteers would not only increase the amount of volunteers, but would also increase their work ethic.

To be a volunteer you must be freely be offering to give up your time for someone else. When you are giving these "volunteers" money to help out your cause, can you even call them volunteers anymore? What is the difference between these stipend volunteers and a paid worker? Obviously the level of income is way lower with these stipends but I still do not think that you can define yourself as a volunteer if you aren't doing it for this right reasons.

I understand the benefits of the article from what Dr. Yoshioka has said and researched. But if you think about it, most non-profits do not have the money to give out stipends for volunteers. I work for a Career and Technical Student Organization called the Future Business Leaders of America. FBLA is a nonprofit organization, and we would simply not be here today without the FREELY given help from our community. We need around 50 judges at every event to judge our competitive events, who we would have no way to pay for their services and volunteerism.

To sum this up, I think if you need to pay people money to help volunteer you need to stop and revaluate what your organization is doing and how it is running.

Blog Archive