Case Studies of Nonprofit Organizations and Volunteers

by Jennifer Mize Smith (Volume editor) Michael W. Kramer (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook XII, 210 Pages


Given the increasing presence of nonprofit organizations and their impact upon American society, colleges and universities are recognizing the need to offer courses and programs to train current and future employees, volunteers, and supporters of the nonprofit sector.
This volume, featuring empirically-based case studies, provides an opportunity to analyze communication and other organizational issues in nonprofit, volunteer, and philanthropic contexts. Each case is designed to help readers critically think about the particular nonprofit context, the organizational issues presented, the ways in which those issues could be addressed, whose interests are served, and potential consequences for the organization and its various stakeholders.
This collection offers a unique glimpse into everyday issues and challenges related to working in and with nonprofit organizations, making it a valuable resource for undergraduate and graduate courses in nonprofit management, nonprofit communication, voluntarism, philanthropic studies, and social entrepreneurship. Each case also addresses a broader conceptual or theoretical framework of organizational studies, making it appropriate in other organizational communication courses as well.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One: An Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations and Volunteers
  • Section One: Executive Director Dilemmas: Change, Collaboration, and Crisis
  • Chapter Two: Leading Change: An Examination of Communication Practices Aimed at Organizational Change
  • Chapter Three: Can This Collaboration Be Saved?
  • Chapter Four: Splitting the Baby: Collaborative Decision Making in Interpersonal and Organizational Crisis
  • Chapter Five: (Not) Fulfilling the Promise: Susan G. Komen for the Cure in Crisis
  • Section Two: Staff Challenges: Stress, Ethics, and Dissent
  • Chapter Six: “I Don’t Know Where My Job Ends”: Workplace Stress and Social Support in Domestic Violence Prevention
  • Chapter Seven: Stress and Burnout in a Small Nonprofit Organization
  • Chapter Eight: Challenges in Volunteer Management: Does It Really Have to Be This Hard?
  • Chapter Nine: The Ethics of Marketing the Marginalized: A Case Study of Heifer International
  • Chapter Ten: “True Believer’s” Blues: Betrayal, Hypocrisy, and Mission Drift in Nonprofit Work
  • Section Three: Boards of Directors: Managing Roles, Decisions, and Stakeholders
  • Chapter Eleven: Joining a New Nonprofit Board of Directors: Beginning with the Strategic Plan
  • Chapter Twelve: Hope for the Future
  • Chapter Thirteen: Meeting Madness
  • Chapter Fourteen: The Choice
  • Chapter Fifteen: To Participate or Not to Participate: Parents, Teachers, and Students in a Geographically Dispersed High School
  • Section Four: Volunteer Experiences: Motivation, Identity, and Balance
  • Chapter Sixteen: Really Helping? Understanding Volunteerism in a Tornado Relief Effort
  • Chapter Seventeen: Facing Identity Questions during Organizational Change
  • Chapter Eighteen: Communicating Commitment: Volunteer Retention at Parents First
  • Section Five: International Volunteering: Training, Acculturation, and Identity
  • Chapter Nineteen: Cross-Cultural Engagement and the Effectiveness of Overseas NPOs: Peace Corps Volunteers in Gambia
  • Chapter Twenty: Learning by Doing: Medical Volunteerism in India
  • Section Six: Fundraising as a Profession: Socialization and Loyalty
  • Chapter Twenty-One: The New Girl
  • Chapter Twenty-Two: Working Hard for Less Money?: Fundraisers, Loyalty, and Employee Retention
  • Section Seven: Corporate Partners: Employee Giving and Volunteering at Work
  • Chapter Twenty-Three: Employee Volunteerism Programs and Community Engagement: Commitment, Identification, and Impact
  • Chapter Twenty-Four: Discursive Closure in Workplace Giving: Is There a Better Way to Encourage Charitableness at Work?
  • Section Eight: Client Connections: Serving Stigmatized Out-Groups
  • Chapter Twenty-Five: Social Media and Online Gaming: Strengthening Ties between Donors and Clients
  • Chapter Twenty-Six: Volunteering with the Unemployed in the Age-Old Search for Work
  • Author Biographies
  • Author Index
  • Topic Index

| 1 →



An Introduction to Nonprofit Organizations and Volunteers


Western Kentucky University


University of Oklahoma

A couple serves meals at the local soup kitchen sponsored by their church. A father joins the Parent Teacher Association. A mother coaches her son’s soccer team as part of the local parks and recreation league. An employee participates in a “give back to the community day” at his workplace by planting trees. Every day across America and around the world, numerous individuals contribute to and benefit from the important work of nonprofit organizations (NPOs).

Nonprofit organizations seek to fill the gap in needs not met by either the private or governmental sectors of society. Consequently, NPOs offer an array of goods and services—from providing basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare, to enhancing education, recreation, culture, aesthetics, and the arts. By and large, nonprofit organizations improve the quality of life in our communities.

The United States has long enjoyed a thriving nonprofit sector. The American Revolution ushered in not only a new republic, but also a new face of philanthropy. With the separation of church and state, the need for new sources of social support sparked a proliferation of voluntary associations and charitable organizations (Gross, 2003). The vast and varied work of nonprofit organizations makes it difficult to construct a universal definition of NPOs. However, most would agree with Salamon and Anheier (1992) that nonprofit organizations typically share five key characteristics: (1) formal—some degree of formal organization or system of operation; (2) private—institutionally separate from government; (3) non-profit-distributing—returning any ← 1 | 2 → profits that are generated back into the organization’s mission, rather than giving profits to owners or directors; (4) self-governing—constructing their own system of governance; and (5) voluntary—involving some degree of voluntary participation.

Nonprofit organizations may consist entirely of paid employees or entirely of volunteers, but most have a combination of the two, thus stretching traditional conceptions of organizational “member.” The task of defining a volunteer is equally challenging. Most scholars agree that a volunteer is someone who generally meets these three criteria: he/she (1) performs some task of free will; (2) receives no remuneration; and (3) acts altruistically to benefit others (Handy et al., 2000; Lewis, 2013). Although this definition seems fairly straightforward, the definition is somewhat problematic. For example, the courts sometimes sentence individuals to do community service, and students are sometimes required to do service learning to meet course or graduation requirements. In these cases, they are likely to be called volunteers, and their work is indistinguishable from that performed by other volunteers. However, it is difficult to describe their participation as totally free will, although they may have a choice of what particular service they perform. Other volunteers receive free admissions to events, such as volunteer ushers (Scott & Stephens, 2009); technically, they receive remuneration for their time and service. Despite these and other exceptions, the three criteria mentioned are useful in shaping our notion of volunteer.

There are a variety of reasons why we should study and learn about nonprofit organizations and volunteers, the first of which is the sheer size of the nonprofit sector. As of 2010, nonprofit organizations numbered approximately 2.3 million in the US alone; they contributed 5.5% or $804.8 billion to the country’s gross domestic product; and public charities reported $1.51 trillion in revenue (Blackwood, Roeger, & Pettijohn, 2012).

The degree to which nonprofit organizations are financially supported also warrants some attention. Despite the sluggish economy that plagued the early part of the 21st century, Americans’ charitable giving increased a fourth consecutive year in 2013. According to the Giving USA 2014 report, the $335.17 billion donated to charity is nearing the all-time giving highs experienced just before the latest recession. Individuals continue to give the lion’s share of philanthropic dollars, collectively contributing 72% of all charitable gifts.

Individuals are not only opening their wallets to support NPOs; they are also giving their time. A 2012 report prepared by the National Center for Charitable Statistics notes that in 2011, approximately 26.8% of adults in the US gave time to a charitable organization, contributing 15.2 billion volunteer hours valued at approximately $296.2 billion. On a daily basis in 2011, 6% of the US population volunteered an average of 2.84 hours (Blackwood et al., 2012). Other studies indicate that the typical volunteer in the US contributes 4.5 hours per week to various NPOs, including community, religious, recreational, and arts organizations ← 2 | 3 → (Hooghe, 2003). These volunteers represent a wide range of demographics who volunteer at different rates. In the US, women volunteer more often than men (28.4% to 22.2%); middle-aged people are more likely to volunteer than people in their early 20s (30.6% to 18.5%); married people volunteer at a higher rate (30.7%) than those never married (20%) or of other marital statuses (20.5%); college graduates volunteer at a higher rate than those with less education; and whites volunteer at a higher rate than other ethnic groups. The largest group of volunteers participate in religious organizations (33%), followed by educational/youth services (25.6%) and social/community services (14.7%) (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). These numbers indicate that volunteering is a significant part of the lives of many individuals in the US.

Giving and volunteering are indeed staples of the American culture. And thanks to those who give their time and resources, the nonprofit sector has weathered economic boons and lows and continues to impact lives in important and meaningful ways. The increasing amount of time, effort, and dollars given to charitable endeavors suggests that we, as teachers, scholars, and practitioners, should be studying nonprofit organizations and volunteers. More important than size and magnitude, however, is the impact of NPOs and the ways in which they make numerous lives easier, healthier, more interesting, and more enjoyable. Thus philanthropic contexts deserve greater attention and examination in our effort to understand how nonprofit work unfolds every day.

For many scholars, a useful starting point is to take traditional organizational concepts, often generated from studies in the for-profit sector, and “try them on” in a nonprofit context. We can then better understand the dynamics of nonprofit organizing and the ways in which they may inform and be informed by organizational communication theories. For example, it appears that the experiences of volunteers are in many ways similar to those of employees in for-profit businesses. Further examination of volunteers and NPOs can provide insights into the similarities and uniqueness of these two primary ways individuals participate in organizations.

To illustrate this, consider the process of joining an organization as a new employee or as a new volunteer. New employees must seek information to learn what to do and how to do it, to develop relationships with others, and to learn the organization’s norms and culture (Miller & Jablin, 1991; Morrison, 1995). Similarly, new volunteers must develop communication channels to gain information, learn their job/tasks, create relationships with other organizational members, and make sense of the organization’s culture (McComb, 1995). Yet, despite these similarities, there are some significant differences. Employees generally go through a process of anticipatory socialization before joining, become newcomers, perhaps full members and then eventually exit the organization (Jablin, 2001). By contrast, it is very common for volunteers to fluctuate between membership and ← 3 | 4 → nonmembership as a volunteer, take temporary leaves to manage other work-life issues, and perhaps return at a later date (Kramer, 2011).

The case studies that follow explore socialization and many other topics covered in a typical organizational communication, management, or human resource course; however, they focus on volunteers or employees of NPOs instead of employees of businesses and government agencies. By studying volunteers and NPO employees and comparing their experiences to those in government and for-profit businesses, we can learn more about participation in organizations in general and further our understanding of both employment and volunteering.


The book is divided into eight sections. Each section focuses on a particular nonprofit stakeholder and illuminates issues and concepts that are salient to that group. Following an introduction to nonprofit organizations and volunteers (Chapter One), Section One denotes the difficult job of leading a nonprofit organization. Executive directors are often faced with important choices about organizational governance, policies (Williams, Chapter Two), and partnerships (Kindred and Petrescu, Chapter Three). Their decisions and actions may have long-term effects on those they serve (Huffman, Chapter Four), as well as their organization’s identity and future support (Drumheller, Kinsky, and Gerlich, Chapter Five). As these cases clearly illustrate, executive directors have the difficult job of pursuing the NPO’s best interests while simultaneously considering, negotiating, and serving the interests of multiple others, such as board members, clients, staff, volunteers, other NPOs, and funders.

In addition to executive directors, other staff members may also experience a number of challenges, as discussed in Section Two. While nonprofit work is rewarding in many ways, it can also be overwhelming. Staff members often work long hours with few resources (D’Enbeau and Kunkel, Chapter Six; Ginossar and Oetzel, Chapter Seven), which can lead to stress and burnout. The ongoing task of recruiting and retaining volunteers is never done (Peterson and McNamee, Chapter Eight). They may also face difficult ethical choices, such as how to stay true to clients, the organization’s mission, and self (Anderson and Clair, Chapter Nine; Shuler, Chapter Ten). For many, a career in nonprofit work is much more than a job; it is a calling (Mize Smith et al., 2006), which likely intensifies both the highs and lows of their everyday work.

The cases in Section Three turn our attention to other nonprofit leaders—the Board of Directors. Most nonprofit boards are composed of volunteers who lend their time, expertise, and resources to provide leadership and governance to nonprofit organizations. Committing to join a nonprofit board can be a big decision ← 4 | 5 → (Milburn and Hansen, Chapter Eleven), but after years of service, stepping down from a board can be equally difficult (Tye-Williams and Marshall, Chapter Twelve). Although meetings may not always go as planned (Jameson, Chapter Thirteen), Boards of Directors are charged with important tasks, such as hiring the executive director (Kramer, Chapter Fourteen), as well as garnering support and charting the overall direction of the organization (Violanti, Chapter Fifteen). The strength and effectiveness of board decisions are instrumental to the success of NPOs.


XII, 210
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (August)
nonprofit nonprofit organisation social support volunteer heifer fundraiser charity peace corp
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XII, 210 pp.

Biographical notes

Jennifer Mize Smith (Volume editor) Michael W. Kramer (Volume editor)

Jennifer Mize Smith (PhD, Purdue University) is Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Western Kentucky University. Michael W. Kramer (PhD, University of Texas) is Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Oklahoma. He is the lead editor of Volunteering and Communication: Studies from Multiple Contexts (2013) and Volunteering and Communication Volume 2: Studies in International and Intercultural Contexts (2015), both published by Peter Lang.


Title: Case Studies of Nonprofit Organizations and Volunteers