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Co-coordinated Volunteer Programs at U.S. National Parks: A Multi-Case Study of Volunteer Partnerships Open Access

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This multi-case study examined interorganizational relations of co-coordinated volunteer program partnerships between select U.S. National Park Service (NPS) sites and their nonprofit partners. National parks face ongoing funding challenges, resulting in staff reductions and the inability to address many park and visitor needs. Cutbacks and more park visitors translate to greater need for volunteers. Many national parks have nonprofit partners that traditionally focused on fundraising. In 14 cases, these nonprofits expanded their activity to include co-coordination of volunteer programming with NPS partners.Six partnerships were selected for in-depth study based on a quantitative survey. The study's research questions focus on how the partners collaborate, structures of their co-managed volunteer programs, the programs' adherence to research-based tenets of volunteer program management and interorganizational collaboration, and similarities and differences among the cases. In each case, the partnerships resulted in substantial growth of volunteer programming.As predicted by Interorganizational Relations and New Institutionalism theories as well as research on volunteer programs managed by a single organization, the volunteer program partnerships have many similar structures, face comparable challenges, and employ many of the same strategies to address challenges. However, the partnerships developed additional practices related to their volunteer programs being co-managed, including staff co-location, daily partner communication, creating a shared volunteer program mission, use of technology for communication, longevity of key staff, and innovative ways to multiply the number of their volunteer coordination positions. The partnerships employ a combination of ad hoc, decentralized, and centralized structures for their volunteer programs as well as a combination of universal, contingent, and configurational practices for volunteer program management. The largest volunteer partnerships also use more agreements, structures, and strategies.Despite partially adhering to New Institutional theories that suggest structures within organizational fields become more similar over time, these volunteer programs also remain distinctive based on the partners' responses to unique features, challenges, and opportunities at their parks as well as due to different management practices. The most impactful programs take greater advantage of features of their locations, surrounding populations, and available staff. Finally, `love' for certain parks emerged as a factor that both helps ameliorate conflict among partners and serves as the primary motivator for many volunteers. Overall, these partnerships resulted in expanded volunteer programs, enhanced partner relationships, and greater ability to adapt to changing conditions and opportunities.

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