Published: Feb. 17, 2021

Online volunteering platforms allow humanitarian organizations (HOs) to recruit volunteers to work remotely on projects of various urgency levels. While the removal of time and space constraints enables HOs to scale up their volunteer force, HOs must manage greater heterogeneity in volunteers’ experience. We investigate empirically how volunteers’ experience impacts two performance metrics on online volunteering platforms: project completion rate and volunteer retention. In addition, we examine the conditions under which experience becomes more relevant to project completion rate and retention. We collected a novel panel dataset from the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team Tasking Manager. Our dataset includes 5,162 online volunteering projects with 2,169,683 contributions by 96,450 volunteers. Results from a panel regression model show that a project’s completion rate improves in diminishing increments with the experience of the volunteers that contribute to the project. We further find that the effect of experience on project completion rate is contingent on the urgency of the online volunteering project. Regarding retention, results from a parametric hazard model indicate that volunteers are incentivized to return to the online volunteering platform more quickly when they are closer to attaining a new experience-based rank. However, we find that this effect weakens as volunteers gain experience. Overall, our study sheds light on volunteer management in an online context and offers operational insights related to the recruitment and allocation of volunteers for HOs as well as for online volunteering platforms.

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