March 14, 2024

Episode #101: Tap the Power of Psychological Contracts with Pam Kappelides 

In this episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast, Tobi invites Pam Kappelides onto the show to talk about the power of psychological contracts and its critical importance in understanding and managing volunteer expectations within organizations. 

Their discussion uncovers how mismatches between volunteer expectations and their actual experiences can lead to early volunteer turnover and affect volunteer retention; practical tips for organizations to address and prevent breaches in psychological contracts, as well as how organizations can approach volunteer recruitment and more! 

Psychological Contracts – Show Highlights

  • [01:34] – Pam’s Journey: From Volunteer to Pracademic 
  • [03:27] – Empowering Women and Girls in Sports Volunteering 
  • [07:42] – Inclusion and Accessibility in Volunteering 
  • [11:03] – Pam’s Personal Volunteering Journey and Impact 
  • [16:42] – Introducing Psychological Contracts in Volunteering 
  • [20:51] – Understanding and Managing Volunteer Expectations 
  • [28:26] – The Power of Asking the Right Questions 
  • [30:51] – Leadership Ladders and the Psychological Contract in Volunteer Management 
  • [35:01] – Addressing Breaches and Violations in Volunteer Expectations 
  • [42:59] – Diversity and Inclusion: Walking the Talk in Volunteer Organizations 
  • [49:43] – Strategies for Enhancing Volunteer Experiences and Retention 

Psychological Contracts – Quotes from the Episode

“We have to think about that our volunteers are very important. We need to nurture them, and we need to talk to them, and we need to explain things. We need to have conversations rather than just saying I’ve got volunteers; they’re doing the job.” 

“Your marketing needs to be on point. If you’re talking about diversity, have that in your marketing, but also provide a hero story about someone who is diverse and, and can attest to the organization doing that.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

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Episode #101 Transcript: Tap the Power of Psychological Contracts with Pam Kappelides 

Tobi: Welcome to the Volunteer Nation podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause, membership, or movement, I made this podcast just for you. Welcome everybody to another episode of the Volunteer Nation podcast. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and I am so psyched to Bring a friend on the pod. And this friend has been a friend of mine. Oh, I don’t know, Pam, how long have we been friends?  

Pam: Oh dear, at least 10 years. At least 10 years.  

Tobi: Yeah, I think, I think we met at Arnova in Indianapolis, I believe. Yeah.  

Pam: Yeah, I think so. Time flies.  

Tobi: Time flies and I’ve been trying to get Pam on. Pam’s a busy lady and I’ve been trying for a while and I’m really happy she’s been able to join us because we’re going to talk about psychological contracts. It is It’s really important to understand the expectations that volunteers have for you when they come to your organization, and I don’t think we’re doing the best job we can, and I think it’s impacting our retention, it’s causing early turnover, it’s creating situations where people don’t feel included. 

There’s lots of, lots of implications for understanding psychological contracts. So today we’re going to tap the power of psychological contracts with my friend, Pam Kappellides. And Pam is the senior lecturer in sport management at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research is focused on volunteer management sport participation and inclusion of minority groups such as females, CALD, and disability, community engagement, and the impact of sport participation and development in sport, health, and recreation.  

She specializes in qualitative research, methodology, and evaluations. And if you have ever read some of our past volunteer management progress report surveys, you’ve seen Pam’s handiwork because she’s done some of the qualitative assessment and coding of a very important question we ask every year, which is what is your biggest challenge? 

 And we are just about to release this year’s survey. report. And back in the day, Pam helped me with that research, and we worked collaboratively on some of those reports. In addition, Pam has been lead researcher on large and complex projects. She’s also been a practitioner in the sport, health, and recreation industry prior to an academic career and has a wealth of knowledge in the sector. 

So Pam is a true pracademic, practitioner, and academic. She’s the current chair of the Australian Camps Association, and people outdoors and a board member of the National Strategy for Volunteering Council. So there you go, Pam. Welcome to the Volunteer Nation. Thanks, Tobi. Great to be here. We are going to have fun today. 

Pam: We are. We are. We’re going to have some fun.  

Tobi: But before we even start talking psych contract, most of my listeners have probably not had the pleasure of meeting you. So, tell us a little bit about yourself, what you do, what are some of your key research projects? Because I know psych contract is something you were working on earlier, but you have so much going on right now. I’d love to share with the audience some of the things you’re doing.  

Pam: Yeah, so I guess one of the biggest things that I’m doing at the moment is focused on women and girls, getting them more involved in, in sport and particularly around volunteering. So just last week, uh, we released a report around female coaches and getting them more involved in the community side of volunteering. 

 So not at the elite level, but we probably need to talk about the difference of sport and recreation and how it plays out in Australia, as opposed to the U. S. So, most of our sport is run by volunteers. And so, coaches and officials, even though our participation rate for girls has increased quite a bit playing the games, we haven’t seen a lot of women progress or even be involved in coaching and officiating. 

So, referring or officiating in sport. So, we’re, you know, that’s one of the key researchers, research areas that I’m looking now. And it’s been lots of fun because obviously as a female, you know, volunteering myself in the sector, I want to see more women putting up their hand and being involved. 

Tobi: Absolutely. And it is, for folks in the US, in Australia, even and correct me if I’m wrong, Pam, but I think this is true that the even what we call quote unquote professional leagues are run mostly by volunteers, correct? 

Pam: Oh, absolutely. I think, um, just a couple of months ago, we had the Australian play do some research. We have 4. million roles undertaken by, people age, I think it was over 15. So, we start at 15 in sport. So, most of our, sport and recreation wouldn’t happen in Australia without volunteers. We just, we don’t have, you know, college sports and those professional leagues that are run the same. In the U. S., We very much rely right up on coaches, instructors, trainers, officials, as I talked about, committee members, medical support, that’s all done by volunteers in sport.  

Tobi: So, think about this gang, the NFL, let’s just say Kansas City Chiefs, they’re, all their staff would, all the people taking tickets, all the people selling popcorn, all the people doing all the things would be volunteer. 

 That’s the difference, just to give people a kind of picture. So, volunteering and volunteering in Australia is deeply embedded in the community in all kinds of ways. I mean, you’ve got your, your bush fire brigades, I mean, you’ve got your more traditional volunteering in hospitals and, you know, all kinds of volunteering and advocacy, just all kinds of ways. 

So, it’s very much and, and very well supported in some respects across the country in terms of your peak bodies. There’s like an infrastructure, you know, your volunteer centres, there’s an infrastructure for volunteerism and some of it is federally funded. Am I correct?  

Pam: Absolutely, and without that support, you know, we would have a very, well, people will still volunteer because it’s just part of our tradition and culture that you all, you know, growing up in Australia, everyone volunteers. 

It’s just part of what we do to make sure that things are done. But that was recognized probably about 30 years ago that there needed to be some infrastructure around it to make sure it became a little more supported and qualified and, um, so, hence, Tobi, you mentioned that I sit on the National Strategy for Volunteering Council. 

That’s run by Volunteering Australia, which is one of our federal agencies. peak bodies to make sure that we have administration, um, wrapped around all these volunteers and all these community groups that support volunteers. It’s fantastic. Absolutely.  

Tobi: Yeah. So, tell me also, we’ll talk about site contract later. I know you’ve also done a fair amount of work around access for people with disabilities. Tell us a little bit about that.  

Pam: Yeah. So, when we’re talking about people volunteering, often people with disabilities are not regarded as wanting to volunteer or able to volunteer. And my research found that that wasn’t the case. 

In fact, millions of people with a disability would gladly put up their hand and had the time to volunteer. And research shows that you know that I’ve done is they will stay longer and give a lot more because often they, they use volunteering as a way to get out into the community. 

Often, they don’t have full time jobs. So, volunteering helps them, you know, um, connect to the community that they’re a part of and with support, they could do amazing things in volunteering. So, the research found that yes, we need to support, you know, the support might be different, but they’re able to, to participate. 

That research supported volunteering Victoria to then develop some inclusive strategies for organizations to be more open to people with disabilities in their programs.  

Tobi: We’re seeing that a lot more. That’s fantastic. Well, I think it also. It helps people not to be isolated, but also just the mere fact of having people with disabilities working alongside people with disabilities.  

I’m sure it’s, it’s sort of breaking barriers and, and, you know, maybe biases that people might have had. And it gives people like front facing knowledge and, you know, lived experience now working alongside people with disabilities and realizing, oh, we can absolutely do this.  

Pam: And also, that they can learn from one another. Yeah. I think that’s a key thing that lived experience often is critical to, you know, an organization. So, for instance, I know some, um, we’ve got a policy now in our state government that if you were applying for some funding through various bodies, state bodies, bodies. You need to have lived experience on your committees so that they can, you know, give some advice and support and understanding around what it’s like to either have a disability or have a mental health opportunity to then understand what is it like to have those ailments and then to actually, you know, support programs around those areas. 

So, I think that’s been a really critical move where we’re seeing a lot more people with lived experience. And these are volunteers. We’re talking, when I’m talking about committee members, they’re all volunteers. 

Tobi: That’s fantastic. Fantastic. I love that. Move towards equity. The people who are helping you build equity are the people with lived experience. I mean, it’s just sort of a no brainer, but sometimes organizations don’t get that.  

Pam: No. And I think they scared. They’re scared about it. They sort of go, oh, it’s too hard. But it’s actually not that hard.  

Tobi: No, not at all. You might not be open and willing to listen to what people have to say. However, sometimes there’s some truth to power there. Just you personally, how did you get into this passion for volunteerism in all its different aspects? And what got you started on your own journey?  

Pam: Ah, Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think my parents were immigrants, and I guess when they came to Australia, they helped their community become established. So, I always was in a family where you always helped your community and gave back to your community. It wasn’t seen as, I guess, a big deal. volunteering as it is now, or what it was like. But there was always helping your neighbors, helping at the church, helping at a school. So, it became just part of what I did as part of our family. 

And then I guess it became a little more formal. My brother had a disability. Um, I guess my, I’m trying to think my first formal volunteering experience would have been at age either 12 or 13, helping with swim teaching and his program for people with disabilities. So, I guess it grew from there where I, um, it started off, as, uh, I guess a passion project to help, you know, my community. 

And then it became more formalized. As I then worked in industry, I always, in one of my roles with Kids on the Campus, I mean, there were three paid staff members and about a hundred volunteers that I managed to run programs for people with disabilities. So, yeah, it was very much entrenched in giving back to the community, but also that volunteers were there because they wanted to be there. 

And I love, I still do love working with volunteers because they’re not there for the payment. They’re there because they love what they do, as most of us know who works in that sector. So, I guess that’s where my journey started. And then. I progressed into academia and, and, and into research. And one of the greatest things that I love doing is teaching a subject, which is volunteer management to, to students who then get a passion for volunteering themselves, but then often work in sport. 

And, you know, I said to them, 90 percent of the stuff that you’ll have will be volunteers. So, they learn, you know, all the volunteer management skills that they need to then manage their volunteers in the sector. I volunteer as well. I still volunteer quite heavily, but I also now do the research as well, which is a beautiful marriage for me. 

Tobi: Absolutely. It’s interesting too at La Trobe and your volunteer management program, it’s too bad that other people are not in the U. S., for example, we don’t have a lot of that curriculum. As part of many programs even, you know, let’s say you’re getting a degree in social work or you’re getting a degree in non profit management or you’re getting a volunteerism is sort of an hour one lesson out of an entire curriculum, but you people that are in your class are a full semester or full quarter, right? 

Pam: Yeah.  

Tobi: And I remember, are you still doing this where folks are doing practicum where they’re going out and working in the field as part of their coursework?  

Pam: Absolutely. More and more so, you know, they’re doing more of that in every degree that we have at La Trobe, um, that they need to go and do some sort of practicum. But even in my volunteer class, I love often, I mean, it’s forced volunteering. Let’s be honest, I’m making them go out as part of the course. But a lot of them, you know, I’ll ask, I’ll say, who’s volunteering? And some of them won’t put up their hands. And so, I’ll say, well, you know, you’ll, you’ll go out and volunteer part of this subject. 

And they only, I only encourage them to do as part of the assessment, six hours. So, it’s not a huge amount, but then in their reflective journals, they’ll I would say 99 percent of them then say, I’m going to continue volunteering because I got so much from it. So, they get a taste. And, you know, we’re talking about undergrads. 

So, they’re in their, you know, 18, 19, 20. So they’re in their early years of trying to form a career. So, volunteering to them is not something they think about because they want to be paid. But then once they do it, they go, Oh, it’s lots of fun. And you know, I’m able to work alongside people that I really like. 

Yeah. So, they continue doing it. So even though I forced them to do it to start with, they didn’t come back and say, I’m glad you forced us to do it because now I’m going to continue doing it, you know, as long as I can.   

Tobi: I think that’s fantastic. I mean, it’s great because you’re kind of sowing the seeds. Yeah. You know, I mean, you’ve taught hundreds of students. Imagine all the community engaged, folks that are engaged in the community because of your course. I mean, pat yourself on the back, lady.  

Pam: Oh, well, I don’t think it’s me on my own. I think it’s just they see the passion and they see the, you know, and I, yeah. And even sometimes, you know, I’ll go to a sport event or something and I’ll see my students volunteering and they’ll come up to me and say, oh, you know, this, I started this when I did your subject and now, I’m still here, you know, three or four years later. 

And that, that’s what makes me excited. That’s what, you know, makes me want to keep doing that subject because I think that’s so important.  

Tobi: Yeah. It’s really great. So, let’s talk about side contracts. Let’s switch gears and talk side contract. Some of our listeners may not know, if you’re a Volunteer Pro member, you have heard me talk about psychological contract. 

You have also probably seen me link to Pam’s research on this, and you know, Pam and her husband, Russell Hoy, wrote the meta study of psychological contract theory and volunteerism so they know their stuff. I’ll just say it that way. A meta study is a study of studies, right? It’s a lit review basically of all the research. 

So, before we get started though, give everybody some fundamental knowledge. What the heck is a psychological contract?  

Pam: That’s a good question and a big question. Okay. So, when you think about a psychological contract, it was defined in the employment sector. So it was, it wasn’t until much later that we started to see it in volunteering. 

But site contract basically refers to an individual. So, a person who is employed, an employee, expectations, beliefs. ambitions and obligations. So, it’s not their motivation. It’s not their formal, um, legal contract that they get being employed. It’s more about, I guess what, what you could say is that it’s that human side of the relationship that an employee has with an organization. Does that make sense? Yeah, absolutely. So, it’s that human side, it’s those things that are, that are not tangible. Um, so what are the expectations? What are the beliefs? What are your ambitions? What are the obligations that this employee thinks about when they’re working in the organization. 

Tobi: And so, when it’s applied to volunteers, what is the volunteer? It’s also two ways, right? It’s what the organization, the staff at the organization believe, expect, the ambitions and the obligations they think that that volunteer is making for the organization as well, right? 

Pam: Absolutely. And it’s a little bit different with volunteer work because you’ve got to remember when this concept was first applied in the employment sector. 

Most people had all these expectations and beliefs and ambitions based on promotion, based on being paid. So, it was a little different for volunteers because when you’re thinking about volunteers, they’re not paid. They’re there because they want to be there, and they want to provide, and they want to give back to their community. 

So, their expectations and beliefs are very different to what. a paid employee would have. And then when you think about an organization, we often think about an organization, you know, if you think about even an organization’s website, when they’re trying to attract volunteers, what are they telling volunteers? 

What are they saying? Oh, often you’ll see things like come and give back to your community, come and have fun. So, these perceptions, when a volunteer sees those, they start to drill out perceptions, their psychological contract starts to, to start to think about, okay, so this is what I’m going to get back from volunteering. 

If I go to this organization, I’m going to be able to give back to my community, I’m going to have fun, I’m going to develop skills. They start volunteering and maybe that doesn’t happen, or they start to see it’s a little bit different. They start to have these perceptions. The organization is creating these perceptions but sometimes they don’t mean in the middle. 

So, it’s important for organizations to have an honest conversation with their potential volunteers right from the get-go about what are their expectations beyond their motivations, what do they expect from their role? What do they expect from the volunteer, from the organization?  

Tobi: Let’s parse out for a minute the difference between motivation and expectation. 

Because I think people might be thinking, well, what’s the difference? Um, but there is a difference, right? And there’s been plenty, plenty of research around volunteer motivations. We know, we know that there are key motivations and reasons people volunteer. But what, how would you describe the difference between motivation and an expectation when it comes to volunteering? 

Pam: So, motivation is often there for someone to then look for volunteering. So, before they start thinking about which organization they’re going to go and volunteer at. So, they’re motivated to volunteer. They put their hands up and they say, you know what, I want to go and volunteer somewhere. 

So, the motivation happens prior to them volunteering. The expectations start to happen when they’re looking for an organization because it’s based on their values. So, they start to hunt around, talk to people. might look at a website. They start thinking about, oh, look, I just went down to my local sport club, and I noticed that there were some volunteers there. 

So, I might think about volunteering there. They then start to ask questions. They start to think about looking at the website and start to, okay, so if I go to this organization, this is what I’m expecting to get from volunteering. I’m going to get some training. They’re going to get something, and they believe in the values of that organization as well. 

So, it’s, some motivations happen before, and expectations happen during their starting to think about where they’re going to volunteer.  

Tobi: I see motivation too as maybe my primary motivation is to make some new friends or be social. Yeah. Or I want to get some volunteering on my resume because I’m going to be out in the work world. 

Or there’s many different motivations that have been researched. And then expectations, I feel like it’s in addition, part of the psychological contract, if I, my motivation is, I I want to volunteer because I’m going to get some stuff on my resume, then the expectation that the site that starts to formulate the psychological contract is, well, I’m going to be given work that is meaningful enough that will be included and look good on my resume, right? 

Pam: And get the training that I need and the support that I need to do that. Absolutely. Yeah.  

Tobi: And there’s some other kind of expectations. What are some common expectations? Because I think that the sticky wicked, I think with psychological contracts are a lot of times it’s unspoken. It’s implicit versus explicit. 

And that’s where the rub comes, right? Because people don’t talk about it. What are some common psychological contracts or expectations or that make up the psychological contracts of volunteers that that you think? Cause problems sometimes.  

Pam: Oh, okay. So yeah, so like the violation sort of stuff. It’s often when, so as I said earlier, when you’re talking to a volunteer or when you’re putting things on your website, if then the volunteer comes to your program and they aren’t met, so their values, the informal interactions, all those things are not. 

Entirely what you are saying on your website or during your conversation promoting that you want some volunteers, once they start in the role, if the situation arises that the expectations aren’t met and that. The volunteer is starting to say, well they said that I was going to have fun, but I’m not really having fun and I’m not engaging with likeminded people. 

And all I’m doing is sitting in the corner and doing policy work. Then their expectations are not going to be, they’re violated. We call it a violation because, or a breach, because they’re starting to say, Oh. What I was expecting to happen here is not happening. So, there’s been a breach or a violation. The interesting thing with When you think about volunteers, often they’ll continue volunteering, even though that’s happened because they want to continue, because they’re giving back to their community, or like you said earlier, because they want to get that experience on their resume, even though it might be an experience. 

Does that make, sorry, I probably shouldn’t use that, that way. That’s all right. But, you know, yeah, sorry, a horrible experience, they’re going to continue.  

Tobi: No, you’re amongst friends, Pam, you’re amongst friends.  

Pam: So, that’s when we start to see volunteers maybe withdrawing from services, or, you know, or asking lots of questions or starting to say things like, you know, when, when I spoke to you, we sort of talked about that. 

My expectations were that I would be getting this, but now I’m not getting that. So, they become less enthusiastic about volunteering or coming back, or they might not stop altogether, but they might decrease what they’re doing. So, it’s important that when we’re. Starting to see that, or before, we don’t want that to happen. 

We want to make sure that the volunteers’ expectations are being met. Having conversations on a regular basis, and not just about, let’s have a cup of coffee and discuss the weather, but actually saying, how’s the role going? Is it what you expected? Can we help do anything different? Actually, having those honest conversations, so that you’re making sure that the organization’s expectations and the volunteers’ expectations are being met.  

Tobi: Yeah. And that’s hard. Yes, and it’s so essential to the volunteer experience, right? Absolutely. Like either, I’m getting what I was promised, even though I may have not told you I wanted this thing, right? 

Yeah. So, we have to become mind readers sometimes, and we also must walk the talk of our messaging and the experience. And I think for, you know, I’ve done some psychological contract mapping with staff and volunteers who are in conflict. And I’ll ask the group, it’ll be a mixed group of staff and volunteers. 

I remember doing this with one of my consulting clients, because they, you know, it was a little he said, she said going on, and there was some conflict. And I said, okay, for, for everybody, what do you think volunteers expect of staff, of paid staff? Okay, let’s write down some stuff on this, this chart. Okay, so, what do you think paid staff want from volunteers or expect from volunteers. 

And interestingly enough, the lists were pretty similar. Like, it was like, I want to be respected. I want to be kept in the loop. I want to be, uh, appreciated for the work I do. And it was like, and I said to the group, do you notice anything about these lists? And they said, wow, they’re similar. I go, oh, you guys are more alike than different. 

And it was like a huge light bulb moment went off in the group. And I think it really helped them kind of come together.  

Pam: Absolutely. And, and often we don’t ask the question. That’s exactly right. They pay someone else to come in and do that work. But volunteer managers can do that themselves by just talking to their volunteers and on a regular basis. 

Like, and as I said, don’t just say, oh, we’re just going to catch up and talk about the weather or have a cup of coffee. Actually, ask them honestly, just say on a scale of one to 10, you know, how happy are you? Um, have we met what you need? Is there something we can change to make you make the role different? 

And also, I think it’s important that We often put volunteers into a role, and they might be there a year, but you’ve got to remember their expectations will also change over time. So it is difficult. And as you said, you must be a mind reader, but also you have to be in tune with your volunteers and have those conversations. 

Because, for instance, if I’m a volunteer today and I started being a coach for the under-fives or under tens or whatever it might be, but my expectation now might’ve changed because I want to coach the seniors. But has anyone actually come and asked me that question? Or I then don’t come back because I go, well, No one’s giving me the opportunity to progress, but my expectation is that I’m going to progress. 

So, we haven’t met in the middle, we haven’t had that conversation, but then volunteer managers will say, we lost those volunteers, but did you ask them why they left? Or before that case, have you asked them where they want to go now? What, what progression do they want? We do that with staff. You’ve got to remember that we have opportunities for promotion for staff, but we don’t do that with our volunteers. 

And our volunteers’ expectations will change over time as well. So, it’s important to have those conversations regularly, ongoingly. And openly to get to them, to what are the expectations and where, where we could meet to make sure that those volunteers stay.  

Tobi: Yeah. I mean, and talking about leadership ladders and pipelines this year in the volunteer management progress report survey, I asked about how, what percentage of the volunteers are in leadership roles. 

Tiny percent, tiny percent. And I thought, wow. And people will say, you know, my volunteers aren’t, aren’t, answering my emails or my texts, or they’re not signing up for shifts anymore, or they’re missing more shifts. I’m like, hmm, wonder which psychological contract was broken, you know, because I have a feeling it’s something like that, you know. 

It’s so central, I think psych contract is so central to volunteer experience and volunteer retention and satisfaction. It’s just so key. It is the thing, I feel like.  

Pam: Absolutely. And I, Tobi, come on, let’s be honest. Do we get out of bed to go to work if we’re unhappy? Probably not. We take a sick day, you know? 

So, think about our volunteers. Will they get out of bed, come to your organization if they’re constantly going to have a hard time? their expectations broken, they’re going to go somewhere else where they’re going to be supported, encouraged, and their expectations met. So, I think we must think about that. 

We must think that our volunteers are very important. Absolutely. So, we need to nurture them, and we need to talk to them, and we need to explain things. We need to have conversations rather than just saying I’ve got volunteers; they’re doing the job. Yeah.  

Tobi: And I feel like, you know, because we don’t pay, or in most cases don’t pay volunteers. I’m not talking about reimbursing people for expenses. I’m talking about stipends or pay or anything. We’re Our, the only currency we have with volunteers is, because they’re unpaid, is their experience. And it’s almost like you give volunteers a raise when they get a better experience. It’s like, what are you paying for them? 

You’re paying them with all the expectations. You know, quote, unquote, paying them with all the expectations being met. So it’s like the currency, like people get a raise when they have a wow experience, you know, quote, unquote, raise as a volunteer. It’s the only currency we have, you know. And so pay your people well, quote, unquote, you know, pay them with great experiences. 

Pam: And then remember, those volunteers will tell others. Yeah. And that’s important as well, because when you’re looking at site contracts, often volunteers who have really met their expectations and are really connected and supported will tell other people, which will then bring more volunteers to your organization. 

But if your volunteers have a breach, generally, apparently the researchers, they will tell 10 to 20 other people. That they had a really bad experience with this organization because their expectations were not met. So that means that you’re not only losing one volunteer, but you’re potentially losing up to 20 other volunteers because that volunteer is saying, don’t go to that organization because of my expectations, and this is what they say on their website. This is what they told me when I went for the interview, but it didn’t happen when I was there.  

Tobi: Yeah.  

Pam: So, I think about that, that when you nurture and support and meet those expectations of volunteers, it will come back to you threefold rather than losing a volunteer, you’re gaining more volunteers because they’re going to tell others. 

And researchers found that, whereas, you know, with breach, it goes the opposite where you have one volunteer that. has had a violation or a breach, they might still be engaged a little bit with the organization until they find something different that meets their expectations, and they leave, but they’ll tell others about the negative experience that they’re having. 

Tobi: Let’s take a quick break and after the break, let’s talk a little bit more about breaches and violations that difference and what organizations should look for. So we’re going to be right back with my conversation with Pam Kappellides about how we tap the power of psychological contracts so don’t go anywhere. 

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Tobi: Okay, we’re back with our discussion with Pam Kappellides about how to tap the power of psychological contracts. We’re going to talk about some of the challenging parts of psych contracts. There’s so much positive, if you can start to have conversation, if you can learn what folks’ expectations and needs are, both again of volunteers as well as paid staff, because sometimes, you know, you’re trying place volunteers in different departments with throughout your organization. 

If you’re working in a volunteer services department and you have staff who are resistant to volunteers, and sometimes I think that that resistance comes from a potential past psychological contract breach or a violation. And so, Pam, you talked a little bit about before the break about these, what’s the difference between a violation and a breach and how do they play out? 

Pam: Yes, often a violation is not as intense as a breach. Often it starts off as a violation and then leads to a breach. So, a violation starts off with just a tiny thing that doesn’t meet the satisfaction or the expectations of the volunteer. And it might be the You know, they, they were promised that they were going to be able to go and work on a project, but then, um, someone else got that role over them. 

But then the manager didn’t explain why that happens. So the violation starts to occur. And then little other things sort of amount to that as well, where perhaps they missed out on that, change all that role. And then. Some other things start to niggle and so it becomes a breach because it starts off as a violation. 

When you’re unhappy, things become worse than they are sometimes. And so the volunteer will start to see everything really in the negative. And so, it’s really important at that, if you start to notice that they are unhappy, you want to intervene at that violation stage rather than letting it get to the breach because, as I said earlier, at that violation stage, you can actually start to maybe turn it around. 

And start to say, okay, you didn’t get that role, but there will be another opportunity in three months’ time. And I think it would be great if you and I worked together to get your skills up or to support you to get that role. So, you’re starting to say, I know you’re disappointed you didn’t get there. 

And the violation has started for that volunteer. But as a volunteer manager, if you can actually sit there and, and start working with that volunteer rather than leaving it, not supporting them, not talking to them, not finding out what their future expectations are, and one of them might be that they will leave because it’s going to get to breach. 

If you can work with them at the violation stage, and remember these are unspoken, so they’re not, you can’t see them, you have to sort of be a little bit in tune with your volunteers and see that they may be withdrawing, not coming to meetings, not coming to the opportunity, not participating as much. You must be really in tune with your volunteer’s behavior to then start to change it and bring it around before it becomes a breach. Because once we get to a breach, as I said earlier, they will tell others and you will lose more than one volunteer. Yeah. So, you really need to, at that violation stage, start to think about, what can I do to make sure that I don’t make it worse for this volunteer? 

Tobi: I also think some of the other interesting areas, it’s not only about the volunteers wants and desires. Sometimes it’s also about values. A volunteer sees an organization’s website and they have their commitment to diversity statement up and inclusivity, or they have, they’re talking about the, they’re so, they’re client centric and they’re community based and, you know, all these promises. 

And the volunteer gets involved and sees, and in their perception, right or wrong, believes that the organization is not walking its talk. For example, sometimes, like, conflicts of interest. Like, I remember there was a large charity in the U.S., and I believe it was around cancer. And they had a partnership with a fast-food chain and the advocates know that if you eat a lot of fast food, it’s a very, you know, it’s very inflammatory for your body. 

It’s not good for people. And when people eat too much, it’s fast food, it can lead to inflammatory diseases like cancer, like diabetes, like, you name it, heart disease. And so the supporters were up in arms, like, what are you talking about? Like, that’s not what we do here. This isn’t who we are. And our volunteers really do identify when they believe very strongly about our cause, they very much identify with the values. 

And when they see the organization not walking the talk, not living the values, not following through on their promises to the community, that can also create a psychological contract breach or a violation. Would you agree?  

Pam: Oh, absolutely. And I think that values based dimension of site contract, it’s a new, it’s a sort of has presented a new potential, but also on the reverse side. 

 As you said, Tobi, an adverse effect as well, because it’s a new potential because we’re saying, as you pointed out, we’re inclusive, we’re supportive, we’re, you know, doing all these things as part of our mission. But if we’re not, I guess, giving clear limits to how far the value-based aspects will be compensated or unfulfilled or supported, then it’s called a volunteer drift, they start to drift away from the organization because the value base that they thought the organization they were going to volunteer for is not happening. 

So, they drift from the organization because there’s insufficient commitment to that cause to say that’s not what I signed up for. So, the organization and the volunteers need to have clear limits on what the value-based aspect of the PC is. I hope that totally does. It’s a difficult one to understand.  

Tobi: Yeah. And you know, it means there needs to be specificity, right? The more over communication in my mind, because if your, if your organization is claiming, let’s say, let’s say your, your organization is claiming or putting a stake in the ground about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let’s just talk about that because it’s a very common thing right now. 

And organizations want to do this, but then nothing happens. It’s not like it’s an easy thing to do for an entire organization to change its culture if it’s not been inclusive for 20, 30, 40 years, right? So, it’s not an overnight success, even if the impetus and the, the meaningfulness and the, the want and desire to do it is there. 

So, it’s almost like you want to over communicate, okay, this is our value, these are the ways we’re trying to live this value. This isn’t easy. These are the initiatives we’re trying. We want your input, we want you to be partners in this with us, with this struggle that we need to overcome. It’s almost like if you know, you want to talk about the messy middle a little bit more, I think when you’re talking about your values, rather than painting the picture that it’s all rosy, and that, you know, everybody’s going to walk their talk, I think also by the same token, over communicating any time where that value is successfully being lived through. 

And usually that’s through storytelling, right? Storytelling of the client, storytelling of the volunteers, the hero’s journey. And I think organizations are just like, head down, we have got to get work done. And they don’t realize that this is part of psych contract as well. 

Pam: Absolutely. And I think what we also need to think about in that diversity space is if volunteers don’t see it in your organization and they’re diverse themselves. 

So if for instance, they have a disability or they’re from a ethnic background, if they don’t see that in your organisation when they’re starting to look at wanting to volunteer for your organisation, even though you’ve stated that on your website or on your recruitment campaign, if they are not seeing that when they come to visit or they start to enquire, they’re not going to put their hand up to volunteer. 

So, we know that a lot of our volunteers, when they’re developing this value based and starting to look at the mission of organizations and starting to form expectations around their site contracts, they’re also looking from the outside in the organization saying, well, is there someone there, who is Asian? 

Is there someone on the committee who has a disability? So they’re looking at that and if they’re seeing that that is not there, they’re saying, well, this is another organization that’s just stating it, but not doing it. They’re not walking the talk. Right. It’s performative. If they’re not seeing it, they’re not believing it. 

So I guess organizations have an opportunity to start thinking about how are we going to diversify our volunteers? And that’s going to bring more volunteers, more diversity in their organization if they’re starting to do that. Yeah. You know, and, and, and I think it goes back to if you’re going to put a statement like we’re going to be more diverse in your mission or on your recruitment or, you know, in your annual reports, all that sort of stuff, then you’ve got to walk the walk talk. 

You can’t just say we’re going to do it. And I think Tobi, you and I have done the, uh, The report, the Volunteer Pro report for a number of years, and we’ve seen that even volunteer managers are very much of the same cohort. Yes. We haven’t seen diversity. Yes. In even the volunteer managers, they’re generally women, from a white background, and quite well educated, generally. 

So, if we’re talking about volunteers and their expectations who might be newly arrived refugee or immigrant to a country and, and they want to give back to a community that’s helped them. And to establish themselves. If they’re not seeing that diversity in the organization where they are hoping to volunteer, they’re probably not going to volunteer because it’s not meeting their expectations. 

They’re saying, I can’t see someone like me in that organization. So I don’t think I’ll be treated well. And that could be, you know, that, that isn’t always the truth, but that’s the perception.  

Tobi: Yeah. And psych contract is perception. It’s people’s perception, which is why, you know, two way communication. We are molding perceptions. We are sometimes addressing misperceptions, like, oh, if I volunteer here, I’ll get to do whatever I want. And I can change all the policies and I can do it my own way. Well, maybe that’s true in some organizations. In many organizations, it’s not true. So, we must have that two-way conversation. 

I also think with folks who don’t have diverse volunteer teams are probably thinking, well, how could I get started at that if nobody’s going Join us if everybody looks the same. And I always say like, you know, one person being uncomfortable going, okay, one of these things is not like the other. And it’s me, you know, like that, that’s not an experience you want to give anybody.  

So I always just recommend then then work with a group, work with partners. Work with stakeholders, work with gatekeepers, people that have, have communities that need your services, or want to access some of the resources you have, and then start the, how can we give your community something, and in return your, your community can supply some volunteers, and, and that’s how you get it started, you know. 

Pam: Absolutely. And I think also, um, having those honest conversations. Yeah. You know, going to an organization that perhaps, uh, is LBTQ, um, plus and saying, how can our organization make it more engaging or meet the expectations to get more people volunteering from your community? Yeah. into volunteering. So having those honest conversations sometimes is really important. 

Hey, you know, it’s going to be uncomfortable. Absolutely. And you can admit, you could say, we’re not good at this area. How can you help us get better at it?  

Tobi: And we’re willing to do the work. We’re not asking you to do the work for us but give us some ideas. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well, you know, this has been a really great conversation. 

I want to just. And with a few more questions, and one really is some tips, real concrete tips for organizations that, you know, want to number one, diagnose whether site contract, psychological, you know, breaches and violations are happening and they need to address them, but number two, and you’ve talked a little bit about this throughout our talk, but what’s You know, structurally, could they put in place, aside from just having one on one and I think that’s absolutely, you know, job one is to have real, meaningful conversations with the people who are supporting you, but what else structurally could people put in place? 

And again, I’m not, I’m also not looking for, you know, we don’t need to build in more and more and more complex systems, but, What can people put in place strategically, first of all, how can they diagnose, and second of all, what can they do to proactively, um, understand and address psych contract?  

Pam: That’s a really hard question, because as I said earlier, they’re not, It’s not often clear, but I think one of the things that we’ve talked about today is not knowing what the values site contract is, is really important. 

So finding out what the expectations of the volunteers are right at the beginning, Finding out, you know, if you’re having a conversation on the phone, if they’re sending in a resume, and then you catch up with them, actually find out what are the expectations? What do they really want from the role? I think also, you know, if you’re thinking about diversity, for instance, and we talked about this, actually, maybe me, Storytelling, putting photos up on your website, storytelling about, uh, a volunteer and meet what their expectations were and how they were met on your promotion is really important. 

Because then, as we said earlier, seeing it. Is believing it. Yeah. So, if you’re doing that storytelling, if you’re putting up a great photo of someone who has diversity and has been in your organization, that’s a good step to get people involved. You, because as we said, you want to prevent any breaches happening because changing it is, is difficult. 

So your marketing needs to be on point. So if you’re talking about diversity. have that in your marketing, but also provide a hero story about someone who is diverse and, and can attest to the organisation doing that. If you’re just starting out to do that, go and speak to an organisation about what are some things that will help you meet the expectations of someone who might want to put their hands up and volunteer.  

Tobi: And I think too, when you’re collecting stories, the questions you ask can spark this kind of self reflection. So you can ask volunteers, what surprised you about volunteering? How is volunteering different than you thought it would be? 

And that starts to get to, or what were your expectations? And how have they changed over time with your volunteering? I mean, that you’re getting, it’s like contract there through some pretty simple questions, self-reflective questions, and inevitably, you know, people say, oh, volunteering, I, I’ve heard this a million times from volunteers. 

Oh, volunteering gives me way more than I give it. I get so much back from my volunteering. It’s just way more than I ever thought I would, you know, get. For the, the really hardcore, solid supporters who are just so enthusiastic, they will tell you that over and over again.  

Pam: Absolutely. And I think also maybe going to organizations or communities that you never thought of approaching and having a conversation about. You might even be sharing the same building, but you’ve never had a conversation with an organization that might be, you know, three doors down and saying, oh, so you work with people with disabilities. How can we work together to get them more involved in volunteering? 

And then go and speak to them about what their expectations are, and then making sure that you marry the two together to get them involved. So you need to also look at different areas. Don’t just think volunteers are just going to come to you. You could also branch out. to other sectors to find out why aren’t they volunteering, one, but two, how can they volunteer and what are their expectations to come to your workplace or your organization to volunteer? 

Tobi: Yeah, I mean, I think even in your orientations, both in your, obviously in your collaborative, you know, your discussions and preliminary conversations about potential, with potential partners about collaborating, what makes a great partner for you and your organization? What? experiences have you had with partnerships that haven’t worked for you? 

You know, similarly with new volunteers, you could do like in an orientation training as an icebreaker for a perfect, if I were able to have a perfect volunteer experience, this would happen dot, dot, dot. my perfect day volunteering would include dot, dot, dot. And people kind of think, they reflect, they write down, and then they introduce themselves and share. 


All of a sudden you as a volunteer manager are collecting data on psych contract, like, and it’s, and everybody’s having fun sharing, right? It’s not part, it sounds, you know, psychological contract, it sounds very geeky and wonky and scary, but it’s not. You know, it’s not.  

Pam: It’s not. And I think we need to move away from thinking it’s scary and thinking that we can actually get some really great volunteering going because we’re meeting the expectations of those volunteers and we’re retaining them for a long time. 

Because that’s what we want. We don’t want them to leave. Or if they do leave, that they’re going to another organization and volunteering because you’ve helped them get better at a skill or get better at what they wanted to do. So, their expectations were to start off with your organization and you supported them to progress or to be promoted to somewhere else.  

Tobi: Absolutely. This has been such a fantastic conversation. I hope for those of you who haven’t really heard of psychological contract theory in the past, that you learn more about it, lean into it a little bit. There’s actually, you know, we, we did a very 101 basic level. 

There’s much more to it. There’s lots of research going on around it. I’m going to give you some links in the show notes of this episode, but before we. leave. Pam, this has been so fun to catch up. It’s been way too long, and I really appreciate you taking some time out today. And one, one more question before we wrap up. 

What are you most excited about in the year ahead?  

Pam: Oh, wow. That’s a big question, Tobi. 

Tobi: I only ask big questions. 

Pam: All right. I’ve sent it to the volunteer space because if I was going to say, what am I excited about? My God, it’ll be traveling. Of course it would be. You’re an awesome traveler, girl. But I think I’m excited to see where getting more females to be involved in areas of volunteering that they haven’t traditionally been seen in. 

I challenge everyone to think about, we often see women in those traditional volunteering roles, but why can’t women be volunteering in other roles such as, I mean, in Australia, you know, firefighting for instance, you know, we don’t see a lot of women in there, coaching, officiating. So that’s what I’m excited about, to get more women and girls involved more so in areas of volunteering that they, we haven’t traditionally seen them. 

So, watch this space. And I think for me personally, continuing to volunteer on, on the boards, but also continuing to volunteer and seeing where I could take writing for the disabled in, in the organization that I’m part of. That’s fantastic.  

Tobi: So how can people learn more about your work, get in touch with you? I’ll be putting links in the show notes. But anything you want, any last pieces of information or how people can get in touch with you?   

Pam: If you want to email me, I’m happy for you, Tobi, to share my email or my LinkedIn page and people can get in touch. That’s not a problem at all. I’m always happy to chat about volunteering. 

Tobi: Fantastic. Well, Pam, it’s been fun. You got to get over here or I got to get over there somehow. We got to get on the same continent at some point. At some point. So, thanks so much for joining us today. I hope you as listeners enjoyed this as much as I did. If you liked it, make sure you give us a five-star rating, comment, review, share us with others. 

That’s how we expand the message of volunteering and the power of volunteerism. So join us next time, same time, same place on The Volunteer Nation. Take care everybody.