So how do we motivate workers in nonprofit organizations?

Current and future nonprofit leaders face significant challenges in raising financial resources and attracting human capital for their cause. This is in addition to competing for professional workers in the same labor market as for-profits (Dolnicar, Irvine, & Lazarevski, 2008) but with financial incentives constraints (Emanuele & Higgins, 2000). Another challenge involves employing and retaining highly motivated workers who are likely to elevate the organization’s operational levels and deliver measurable results to meet the growing demands of this postmodern philanthropic era (Kottasz, 2004; Wagner, 2003).

Now more than ever, leaders of nonprofit organizations are seeking qualified workers who excel in their performance and are motivated by nonmonetary and humane goals (Brandl & Güttel, 2007). Whereas workers in the labor market are generally motivated based on the fulfillment of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in which the emergence of each level of needs rests upon the satisfaction and fulfillment of the previous level (Maslow, 1948); for many nonprofit workers, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may be inverted or un-sequential; esteem and self-actualization needs may be of same significance as lower needs – physiological and safety needs.

The affirmation of Hackman and Oldham’s job characteristics model in nonprofit settings is dominant, in which the workers’ internal motivation is higher if the job includes responsibility for the outcome of the work, job meaningfulness, and awareness (Gagné & Deci, 2005; Hackman & Oldham, 1980; Ramlall, 2004). Research suggests that job meaningfulness is the main intrinsic motivational factor among nonprofit workers and should be assessed periodically.

Furthermore, McGregor’s motivation Theory Y is an effective motivation theory in which leadership influences workers through proper motivational tools, such as autonomy, confidence, and achievement (McGregor, 1960). Theory Y builds on the strong association between leadership and work commitment. Nonprofit managers should integrate these motivational tools into the organizational structure without consideration to McGregor’s Theory X, which emphasizes rewards and punishments as deemed necessary to instigate motivational behaviors.

The stewardship theory is based on unquantifiable intrinsic motivation (Davis, Schoorman, & Donaldson, 1997), indicating that workers excel in their performance because of internal stimulation rather than external rewards. The significance of the stewardship theory of motivation for nonprofit organizations’ workers is obvious because it best describes the motivational patterns of workers in nonprofit organizations. According to Landes (2006), the impact of leadership style and organizational culture as extrinsic elements for creating and maintaining a motivated work environment is prevalent.

Research suggests new knowledge pertaining to the motivation patterns of nonprofit employees. The new knowledge from this study includes the following inferences:

  1. External rewards do not necessarily result in higher performance and work satisfaction; nor would the individual worker work harder for more money.
  2. The role of organizational mission, vision, and values in influencing the level of motivation among workers in nonprofit organizations, mainly mission as incentive, is prevalent.
  3. The research contributes to the construction of organizational cultures as a concept of empathy and association, a relationship of morale, loyalty, integrity, and aspirations.
  4. The analysis provides useful proposals on how leaders might implement effective leadership styles that influence motivational levels positively.
  5. Additional in-depth understanding of the intrinsic motivation that is rooted in altruistic attitudes and high social commitment, stemming from a value-based perspective, is presented.

Implications for leadership

The analysis provides insights to leaders on how to implement extrinsic motivators that enhance intrinsic motivation. The relationship of leadership style with workers’ motivation levels provides better understanding of the impact of the leader on the individual worker, and provides opportunities for the leader to re-examine his or her style. The study provides insights for leaders to support the intrinsically motivated nonprofit worker and develop a motivational basis for the work.

Implications for global leadership

Because of the international facet of the data collected, implications of the current research may be of significance for global leadership dealing with a diversity of workforce. According to Alexis (2005), various leadership theories are integrating the diversity of the workforce into their models. The effects of globalization on organizational systems are increasing (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004). Global leadership requires motivational tools and mechanisms that are effective to use with a diverse workforce.

A leadership-motivation model

The study provides supplementary knowledge that supports the formation of a leadership-motivation model© of global perspectives based on the following premise:

  1. Results revealed that nonprofit workers were not motivated by transactional style.
  2. The findings indicated consistent association with the elements of transformational leadership style.
  3. Association with supportive behavior of situational leadership, supporting and delegating, was evident in the study.

These leadership implications were emphasized by Herzberg’s concept of job enrichment factors: achievement, recognition, growth, responsibility, delegation, and the work itself (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 2007; Thiedke, 2004).

The following figure presents the leadership-motivation model©. The horizontal axis indicates the level of leadership supportive behavior from low to high; the vertical axis presents the level of transactional-to-transformational leadership styles. The four quadrants provide the leadership style, motivation theory, and outcome of each combination, and the implications for leadership.

Figure I

Leadership-Motivation Model©: Supportive and transformational behaviors

Quadrant I presents a combination of low supportive leader behavior and transactional leadership. The prevalent leadership style is based on transactional reward-and-punishment behavioral schools, such as B.F. Skinner and McGregor’s Theory X – a carrot and stick approach for motivating workers (Jaskyte, 2004; Mary, 2005; McGregor, 1960; Strickler, 2006; Walumbwa, Avolio, & Zhu, 2008). The probable motivation outcome is situational motivation, a short-term motivation experience, a “here-and-now” motivation (Guay, Vallerand, & Blanchard, 2000). In nonprofit organizations, this quadrant is ineffective.

Quadrant II provides a combination of high supportive leader behavior and transactional leadership practices. The prevailing style of transactional leadership and high supportive behavior results in pay-for-performance leader-worker relationship (Tepp & Poomann, 2006). The motivation outcome is extrinsic motivation attributed to reward systems with high support, based on Vroom’s (1964) expectancy theory. Some nonprofit organizations are adopting these systems as a means of enhancing efficiency, particularly among fundraisers (Mesch & Rooney, 2005; Theuvsen, 2004).

Quadrant III presents a combination of high supportive behavior and transformational leadership. Transformational elements of leadership, mainly idealized influence, inspirational motivation, and individualized consideration (Walumbwa et al., 2008), coupled with supportive behavior yields a supporting leadership style. The motivation outcome is intrinsic value, satisfaction, commitment, and engagement (Jaskyte, 2004; Masi & Cooke, 2000). Because many nonprofit organizational leaders have founded and led their organizations they may enhance their workers’ motivation levels in this quadrant.

Quadrant IV provides a combination of low supportive behavior and transformational leadership. The leadership style is mainly a delegating role and an intellectually stimulating role. Workers are likely to commit to and identify with the leader’s vision and values (Jaskyte, 2004). Value-based leaders seek to actualize workers based on vast interestedness in their moral being. The motivation outcome is self-motivation that guides workers’ actions, thoughts, self-concepts, self-improvements, information acquisition, cognitive activities, and belief systems (Borgida & Mobilio, 2000).

Conclusion: A new leadership approach

Quadrant IV may lead workers to develop self-leadership – the concept of believing in one’s work that goes beyond the structured reward system and into the organization’s vision – including higher standards of self-influence, intrinsic work motivation in self-regulation, and self-control (Manz, 1986). Global leadership may benefit from the knowledge and implementations of the model based on varying circumstances. Leadership-motivation styles may have to vary according to the cultural parameters and background conditions where the organizations are operating. Global leadership faces the task of motivating workers from diverse cultures, backgrounds, and personalities (Chang, 2007). This model may provide a better understanding of the dynamic relationship between leadership and worker motivation in nonprofit global settings.


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