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More Similarities or More Differences? Comparing Public and Nonprofit Managers’ Job Motivations


Young-joo Lee is an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas. Her teaching and research interests include human resource management in public and nonprofi t organizations, volunteering, and intersectoral collaboration.

Vicky M. Wilkins is an associate professor and the director of the MPA program in the Department of Public Administration and Policy at the University of Georgia. Her teaching and research interests include public administration, public personnel management, and representative bureaucracy. Her research has appeared in the American Political Science Review, Public Administration Review, Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, Administration & Society, Governance, Review of Public Personnel Administration, and Legislative Studies Quarterly.


Existing research on career motivations tends to focus either on the difference between private and public organizations or on the difference between nonprofit and for-profit firms. Although commonalities exist, the literature suggests that there also are many differences in what motivates public and nonprofit employees. Employing data from the National Administrative Studies Project III, this research examines how seven motivational aspects correlate with the choice between public and nonprofit employment. The authors find that managers who value advancement opportunities, a pension and retirement plan, and the ability to serve the public in their jobs are more likely to accept a job in the public sector, whereas managers who value family-friendly policies and increased responsibility are more likely to accept a position in the nonprofit sector. Participation in volunteering is positively associated with nonprofit employment. The authors suggest a possible link between volunteering and the unique nonprofit motivation that is differentiated from public service motivation.