Conference paper

Volunteerism: alive and well or dying quietly?

16 Nov 2014


Not-for-profits, community-based organisations and social enterprises have volunteerism at its roots, and for many at its heart. The 'Third Sector' is still commonly known to many as the 'Voluntary Sector'. Yet in recent years, many involved in the Third Sector have bemoaned declining volunteer numbers. Social, cultural, economic and technological changes have led to major changes in the volunteering landscape. Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is alive and well, and even flourishing in some pockets. However, volunteering has changed. What are the key success factors for the organisations that are doing well in the volunteering space? What are some common challenges? What learnings can be shared for the benefit of others in the Third Sector?

This paper will examine four case studies of organisations that are very successful with volunteers. Bellyful, the Home of Compassion Soup Kitchen, Kaibosh, and Ronald McDonald House are examples of organisations where volunteering is ‘flourishing’. There is much we can learn from these organisations. Furthermore, through interviews with over 30 organisations, experts, and social entrepreneurs in New Zealand, key themes and factors for successful volunteering have been drawn. Factors for success include leadership and culture, communication, mandate and purpose, and having skilled and well-resourced managers of volunteers

Common challenges and 'threats' to volunteering also emerged as a theme from all the interviews. Many volunteer managers perceived they were the least resourced unit in their organisation. Also there can be conflict or tension between long-term volunteers and the 'organisation'. While they will not readily admit it, some NFPs see their volunteers as a bit of a 'nuisance', as the stalwarts that hold back progress. More open discussion about conflict and tension is needed. There is also a need for greater recognition in the Third Sector of the importance and value of investment in volunteer programmes and volunteer management.

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