Leadership, Trust, Value-Congruence, and Volunteer Motivation within the Not-for-Profit Sector 


This study examines the role that leadership plays in influencing volunteer motivation within the not-for-profit sector. Drawing on the full range leadership model and self determination theory, this study explores the mediating roles of trust and value congruence between the full range leadership model and volunteer motivation. Based on responses from a sample of 790 volunteers reporting to 28 senior leaders across 28 different churches in Australia, our analyses reveal that extrinsic volunteer motivation is predicted by transactional leadership behaviors, whereas intrinsic volunteer motivation is predicted by transformational leadership behaviors and are mediated by both trust in the leader and value-congruence. Theoretical and practical implications, as well as future research directions are discussed. 


The value of volunteering within the not-for-profit sector cannot be underestimated (Bidee et al., 2017; Curran, Taheri, MacIntosh, & O’Gorman, 2016). In Australia alone, the contribution of the volunteer workforce was estimated to provide over AUD$17 billion of unpaid labor to not-for-profit organizations (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). However, there is evidence which points to an increasing level of difficulty for not-for-profit organizations in attracting and retaining volunteers (Alfes, Shantz, & Saksida, 2015; Nesbit, Christensen, & Brudney, 2018). As such, establishing and maintaining volunteer motivation at levels that result in sustained and productive service is critical to the effectiveness of nonprofit organizations such as churches in fulfilling their stated missions. 

Volunteers are individuals who provide unpaid help in an organized manner to parties with whom the volunteer has no obligations to (Millette & Gagné, 2008; Snyder & Omoto, 2004; Wilson & Janoski, 1995). They are eagerly sought after by nonprofit entities such as churches and charities because they add value to organizations and their endeavors (Wilson & Musick, 1997; Phillips & Phillips, 2010, 2011). However, as volunteers do not receive direct personal tangible gains such as a salary, nonprofit organizations must find other ways to motivate volunteers to work well and to continue in volunteer activity, and by doing so retain the knowledge and skill resources of the organization (Millette & Gagné, 2008). 

Volunteer motivation can be conceptualized using self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2008), which posits that people are motivated to satisfy their innate psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. The satisfaction of all three of these needs is related to levels of volunteer extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (Deci & Ryan, 2000). Extrinsic motivation refers to volunteering for an activity for instrumental reasons, such as acquiring a reward or avoiding a penalty, where the primary motivators are external to the volunteer. By 

contrast, intrinsic motivation refers to volunteering for an activity for its own sake, because one finds it enjoyable and interesting, where the primary motivators are internal to the volunteer as s/he seeks to fulfil the needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Extrinsic motivation has been demonstrated to predict lower quality task performance and shorter volunteer tenure whereas intrinsic motivation predicts higher quality task performance and longer volunteer tenure (Deci & Ryan, 2008; Millette & Gagné, 2008). 

While much is known about internal drivers of volunteer motivation such as having a helping disposition, personality traits such as agreeableness, extraversion, and prosocial value motivation among others (Carlo, Okun, Knight, & de Guzman, 2005; Starnes & Wymer Jr, 2000); more research is needed to identify external drivers of motivation and the role they play in engendering positive volunteer outcomes (Finkelstien, 2009; Ramdianee, 2014). Prior research has identified organizational-related external drivers such as perceived organizational support (McBey, Karakowsky, & Ng, 2017), brand heritage (Curran et al., 2016), job characteristics (Millette & Gagné, 2008), perceived impact of volunteering (Alfes et al., 2015), and leadership (do Nascimento, Porto, & Kwantes, 2018; Oostlander, Güntert, van Schie, & Wehner, 2014; Oostlander, Güntert, & Wehner, 2014). The question remains, what specific leadership approaches will motivate volunteers to higher levels of commitment? Although this is a question of theoretical and practical importance, relatively few studies have explored organizational leadership style and volunteer motivations within nonprofit organizations (Oostlander, Güntert, van Schie, et al., 2014), and has been identified as a gap in the literature (Gilbert, Holdsworth, & Kyle, 2017). Drawing on the full-range leadership model (Avolio, 2011) and self-determination theory (Gagné & Deci, 2005; Ryan & Deci, 2000), this study aims to examine the links between leadership behaviors and volunteer motivation. 

Leadership and Volunteer Motivation 

Transactional and transformational leadership behaviors have been identified as key components of supervisory style within nonprofit organizations (Catano et al., 2001; Rowold, 2008; Rowold & Rohmann, 2009). Transactional leadership involves a reciprocal process of exchange between leader and followers defined in terms of three inter-related behaviors: contingent reward, active management by exception, and passive management by exception (Bass, 1985; Riggio, Bass, & Orr, 2004). Contingent reward implies the provision of an adequate exchange of valued resources for follower support (Judge & Bono, 2000). Active management by exception involves monitoring performance and taking corrective action. Passive management by exception means intervening only when problems become serious. Both active and passive management by exception involve enforcing rules to avoid mistakes (Judge & Bono, 2000). We argue that contingent reward behaviors provide volunteers with a clear understanding of their tasks and the desired outcomes, create an expectation of rewards for achievement, both of which assist volunteers in improving their performance. 

Transformational leadership is built around the notion that leaders and followers are held together by “some higher-level, shared goal or mission, rather than because of some personal transaction” (Riggio et al., 2004, p. 51). It involves a reciprocal process of inspiration between leader and followers which results in both performing beyond expected levels of commitment and contribution, and which is based on the leader developing “positive, rich, emotional relationships with followers that build commitment to a common purpose or cause” (Riggio et al., 2004, p. 50). Leaders of nonprofit organizations often rely upon their ability to articulate a value-based vision and to model appropriate behaviors to motivate volunteers. Overall, 

transformational leadership encapsulates a “sense of moral good and a passionate commitment to the cause” (Riggio et al., 2004, p. 52) that may be essential for leadership in nonprofit organizations which are mission-driven and which rely on the motivation and performance of volunteers to achieve the organizational mission. Transformational leadership behaviors may augment the effect of transactional leadership behaviors by providing volunteers with vision and values to motivate them to continue in voluntary activity at high levels of volition and quality performance (Bass, 1985; Judge & Piccolo, 2004). 

As such, we argue that transactional leadership behaviors are likely to produce extrinsic motivation in volunteers as they are motivated to attain contingent rewards such as personal recognition or standing within the organization. On the other hand, transformational leadership behaviors are likely to produce intrinsic motivation as volunteers are motivated by identification with and commitment to the mission of the organization. This personal identification and commitment are internally driven and volunteers are likely to sense that they are satisfying the needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. As a result, leaders’ display of transformational behaviors will augment the impact of his or her use of transactional behaviors by stimulating volunteer intrinsic motivation and producing more sustained and higher quality task performance. 

We propose that the effective exercise of leadership is based upon leader–follower relationships that incorporate followers’ trust in and value congruence with the leader (Scandura & Pellegrini, 2008; Schaubroeck, Lam, & Peng, 2011). Trust in a leader is defined as “faith in and loyalty to the leader” (Podsakoff et al., 1990, p. 113), and value congruence with a leader is the belief that follower’s personal values are congruent with and aligned with those of the leader (Posner, 2010). Both transactional and transformational leadership behaviors can inspire trust 

and value congruence in followers. Transactional leadership behaviors may build followers’ trust by engaging in consistent behavior and by honoring agreements (Bass, 1985; Jung & Avolio, 2000; Podsakoff, et al., 1990). These behaviors stimulate followers’ value congruence by identifying mutual aspirations and acknowledging followers’ expertise, experience, and education (Jung & Avolio, 2000). Transactional leadership behaviors generate followers’ trust in and value congruence with the leader in relation to the nature of the organization, the task and outcomes required for efficient organizational operation, and the attendant contingent rewards. The trust and value congruence inspired in followers by a leader’s exercise of transactional leadership behaviors suffices to ensure a cooperative working relationship and the successful completion of the necessary tasks. Thus, we argue that both trust and value congruence are likely to mediate the relationship of the leader’s transactional leadership behaviors with volunteers’ extrinsic motivation. 

On the other hand, transformational leadership behaviors may increase followers’ trust levels by developing their skills and confidence to perform tasks and assume responsibility, by providing support and encouragement when necessary in the face of obstacles, difficulties, and fatigue, and through role modelling of desirable behavior in order to achieve the organizational vision (Bass & Avolio, 1990). Jung and Avolio (2000) point out that “value congruence achieved through a value internalization process and demonstrated trust in the leader,” are core mediating aspects of transformational leadership (p. 950). Transformational leadership behaviors by nonprofit leaders are likely to increase volunteers’ trust in the character and competence of the leader and to and to increase volunteer’s value congruence with the leader. Hence, we argue that increased trust and value congruence are likely to mediate the impact of the leader’s transformational behaviors on volunteer intrinsic motivation. 

As such, we hypothesize the following: 

H1: Leaders’ transactional leadership behaviors will be a stronger predictor of volunteer extrinsic motivation than transformational leadership behaviors, and this relationship will be mediated by volunteers’ trust in, and value congruence with leaders. 

H2: Leaders’ transformational behaviors of will be a stronger predictor to volunteer intrinsic motivation than transactional leadership behaviors, and this relationship will be mediated by volunteers’ trust in, and value congruence with leaders. 


Context, sample, and procedure 

The sample was drawn from volunteers attending and participating in 28 different Australian Christian Churches (ACC) congregations in Australia, comprising of 790 individuals who served in a voluntary capacity within their congregation and who rated the leadership behaviors of their senior leader. The sample comprised of 365 males (46.2%) and 425 females (53.8%). The mean age of volunteers was 37. Sixty percent had served as volunteers in their congregation for more than 5 years. An initial approach was made to the senior leaders of selected congregations explaining the study and inviting their participation. As affirmative responses were received, the first author or research assistants attended a service to obtain responses from volunteers. Congregational members who served as volunteers in the church were invited to meet after the service to participate in the study. Volunteers were provided on-site assistance as needed to complete and submit the surveys. 


Volunteer motivation. Volunteers rated their own motivation to engage in voluntary activity using the 12-item Volunteer Motivation Scale (Millette and Gagné, 2008), measuring extrinsic 

motivation and intrinsic motivation. The reliabilities were α = .76 for extrinsic motivation and α = .74 for intrinsic motivation. 

Transactional and transformational leadership behaviors. Volunteers assessed the senior leader’s leadership behaviors using the 32-item MLQ-5X Rater Form (Avolio & Bass, 2004) utilizing a 5-point Likert scale: 0 (not at all), 1 (once in a while), 2 (sometimes), 3 (fairly often), 4 (frequently, if not always). The reliabilities were α = .68 for transactional leadership and α = .84 for transformational leadership. 

Trust. Trust in the senior leader was measured using the six-item Trust in the Leader Scale (Podsakoff et al.,1990). The reliability was α = .76. 

Value Congruence. Volunteers rated their value congruence with the senior leader using the six-item Values Congruency Index (Posner, 1992). The reliability was α = .78. 

Controls. Consistent with prior research on volunteers, we controlled for age, gender, and length of tenure of the volunteer participant, length of tenure of the senior leader, and congregational sizes as these could impact volunteer motivation. 


The mean scores and standard deviations of the independent, dependent, mediating, and control variables and correlations among the variables are shown in Table 1. Through hierarchical linear modelling, we found partial support for H1 and full support for H2. 

Table 1: Mean Scores, Standard Deviations, and Correlations among Study Variables (N = 790) 


Hypothesis 1 was partially supported. We found that transactional leadership and transformational leadership explained an incremental 6.4% of the variance in volunteer extrinsic motivation. In the final model, transactional leadership had a significant positive relationship with 

volunteer extrinsic motivation (β = .26, p < .01). Transformational leadership was not significantly related to extrinsic motivation. However, subsequent mediation analysis revealed that transactional leadership was not significantly related with either variable, thus failing the first step of the mediation test (Baron & Kenny, 1986). 

Table 2: Regression Model Predicting Volunteer Extrinsic Motivation


On the other hand, we found that Hypothesis 2 was fully supported. After entering the control variables, transformational leadership and transactional leadership explained an additional 10.3% of the variance of volunteer intrinsic motivation. In the final model, transformational leadership had a significant positive relationship with intrinsic volunteer motivation (β = .32, p < .01). The relationship of transactional leadership with intrinsic motivation was not statistically significant. Mediation analyses revealed that trust and value congruence partially mediated the relationship between transformational leadership and intrinsic volunteer motivation. 

Table 3: Regression Coefficients for H3 – Transformational Leadership and Transactional Leadership Predicting Intrinsic Motivation


Discussion, Limitations, and Future Research Directions 

The current study responds to a call for research to investigate the links between leadership and volunteer motivation within the not-for-profit sector (Oostlander, et al., 2014; Gilbert, et al., 2017). While only identifying two mediators (trust and value-congruence) to explain the relationship between leadership and volunteer motivation is somewhat over optimistic (Judd and Kenny, 1981), we confirm the critical links between transactional leadership and extrinsic 

volunteer motivation as well as transformational leadership and intrinsic volunteer motivation. This is consistent with prior research which links transformational leadership and follower performance by means of personal example and vision-casting (Jung and Avolio, 2000; Podsakoff et al. (1990) Shamir et al., 1993). 

The current study contributes to the current literature by examining the mechanisms through which leadership impacts volunteer motivation within a not-for-profit sample. While previous studies have identified leadership as an external driver for volunteer motivation, (do Nascimento et al., 2018; Nesbit et al., 2018; Oostlander, Güntert, van Schie, et al., 2014; Oostlander, Güntert, & Wehner, 2014), this study further unpacks the mechanisms of trust and value congruence on the positive relationship between transformational leadership and intrinsic volunteer motivation. 

Further, this study also reveals that there is a need to engage with the full range leadership model, as neither transactional nor transformational leadership behaviors alone are enough in engendering positive outcomes. While often the focus of the literature has been on the benefits of transformational leadership (Anderson & Sun, 2017; Antonakis & House, 2014; Banks, McCauley, Gardner, & Guler, 2016), this study shows that transformational leadership augments the impact of transactional leadership on volunteer motivation. Such an augmentation effect had previously been demonstrated in relation to follower performance (Bass, 1985; Judge & Piccolo, 2004), but not to volunteer motivation. 

In a climate characterized by diminished volunteer attraction and retention, our study shows the practical importance of engaging in both transactional and transformational leadership behaviors by senior not-for-profit leaders in engendering volunteer motivation. Training in both 

transactional and transformational leadership behaviors should be provided to intending and incumbent organizational leaders. 

Like any study, our study has several limitations. The cross-sectional nature of the did not allow for changes in the key variables and observation of relationships over time. The study sample (28 congregations) may hinder the generalizability of the findings. While this research has given an insight into how volunteers in ACC churches motivated, future research should draw from a wider sample – for example, by engaging with congregations from different denominations in Australia. Future research should also test whether the duration of the dyadic linkage between senior leader and volunteers may strengthen the positive relationship as a longer and more stable exchange relationship maximizes leader’s overall influence on employees’ behavioral and attitudinal outcomes (Mossholder et al., 1990). 


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Bel Litchfield