Aug 29

Understanding volunteer relationships

Every area of study has its founding fathers (or mothers, of course. Just going with alliteration there!) Classical Physics has Newton, nursing has Florence Nightingale (see?). Procurement has Peter Kraljic.

In 1983, the Harvard Business Review published an article by Kraljic entitled “Purchasing must become supply management” and it became the focus of a new era of understanding procurement. Central to its theme was analysing the strategic relationships to your suppliers, measuring supply risk against the profit impact of each supplier.

Procurement analysis

The Kraljic Matrix

As you can see, it results in a classification of suppliers into four categories;

  • Non-critical items
  • Bottleneck items
  • Leverage items
  • Strategic items.

It’s the starting point of any procurement review, and in turn provides the relationships you should seek with the suppliers in order to guarantee supply and best costs. Best costs doesn’t not necessarily mean cheapest. Strategic items, for example, are more dependent on successful relationships than simple costs.

So I got to wondering – is there a similar way of analysing an organisations relationships with volunteers?

Volunteers are crucial to the running of many charities, and as such the supply of volunteers could be thought of in similar terms.

The first thing we considered was time-spend. This is simple enough – some volunteers are able to spend more time than others.  This would be the equivalent of profit impact in the traditional model, as their supply of time and expertise is central to the running of volunteer tasks.

For the other axis, we chose motivation. This was based on a specific assumption, that the higher the motivation of a volunteer the stronger role they will be able to play. Clearly, this does not take into account individual ability, and the degree of contribution they can make. But it does reflect the degree of commitment that volunteers are likely to be able to make, and the increase in commitment will lead to greater understanding of the processes required to successfully contribute to your organisation. In many ways, ability and motivation can play a similar role in this model, so we can overlay the two, but for the sake of simplicity we will stick with motivation.

So what measurements, or classification, of motivation to use? We settled on internal vs. external motivation.

Internal motivation comes from a direct, personal link to the cause of the charity

External motivation is, in this model, is the desire to participate and become involved with volunteering for social and private reasons, such as growth, giving something back, getting involved.

So now our matrix looks like this:


Volunteer Analysis

The CharityLabs Matrix


Next is to use Kraljic’s model as a framework to work out the relationships each category requires to maximize the benefit of each type of volunteer.


CharityLabs Matrix

Volunteer types


Volunteers with low time-spend and external motivation.

This could be the student looking to spend a week volunteering for his CV, or a mum with some time to spare. You can probably expect high turnover with this type of volunteer, so what role’s best suit them?

In this analysis, routine volunteers are just that. They would be best suited to routine tasks, with discrete protocols that take little time to familiarise themselves with.


High time-spend, external motivation.

This type of volunteer would allow you to be reasonably picky, choosing the best skill set that they bring to the most suitable tasks available. You should be able to use a significant amount of their collated time to accomplish longstanding tasks that require significant man-hours.


Internal motivation, low time-spend.

The trickiest category. It would be easy to over-emphasise their importance due to their dedication. We would suggest simple tasks, with a degree of autonomy, that are not time critical.


Internal motivation, high-time spend.

This type of volunteer requires an emphasis on the relationship with them. It will be important to understand what they want and expect from their time, and how they can progress. Communication is central to making the most of this type of volunteer.

This provides another level of analysis. How to increase motivation and time spend? Again this depends on the starting point, and provides three stratagems.

Volunteer analysis III

Matrix movement

Type A

Increasing the time spend of Discrete volunteers.

In some cases, this may simply not be possible for the volunteer. The starting point of increasing volunteer time in this case will be a clear understanding of what they want from their volunteering experience, and being shown that there are areas in which they can progress should they have more time available, and matching these projects to their skill set.

Type B

Increasing the time spend of Routine volunteers.

Routine volunteers may be looking for social engagement. Suitable projects should tempt them. High profile events, with lots of other volunteers should match their motivation and increase their time spend.

Type C

Increasing motivation of Leverage volunteers. It’s not realistic to suggest that you can change the motivation of volunteers, but it should be possible to increase the strength of their relationship with your organisation. Acknowledgement, reward and ‘promotion’ will increase the strength of the volunteer relationship. It will be important that your organisation has suitable roles available, as well as the ability to identify people who are capable of offering more.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin.

It is easy to alienate volunteers, by mismatching them to roles, ignoring their motivation and failing to communicate both your appreciation and goals.

By analysing your volunteers using this model, we are confident that you can find the right roles, and develop the right relationships with your volunteers to guarantee a rewarding experience for all involved.