Challenges of volunteering

How is non-profit marketization changing the face of organizational volunteering

This research project aims to understand the challenges and consequences of non-profit marketization in volunteering for NPOs and community organizations, and more broadly for modern Western societies. Understood as an ideological shift towards market-oriented principles, non-profit marketization involves the non-profit sector’s adoption of business discourse and competitive, self-interested, and profit-motivated managerial practices. This pervasive shift has led many NPOs to privilege the most marketable outcomes at the expense of values such as solidarity, resource redistribution, fairness, and care: all values that underpin the non-profit sector’s social mission.

Scholars have voiced concerns about the dangers of non-profit marketization and have framed nonprofit organizations’ (re)action to marketization in either/or terms: either they buy into the market’s logic or they prioritize their mission. However, choosing one and neglecting the other can compromise an NPO’s identity and survival, by diluting their commitment to their values and mission if the market is prioritized or by threatening their financial stability if the NPO exclusively emphasizes mission. In both cases, volunteering practices – or what volunteers do – will change.

In addition to their social contribution, volunteers play an increasingly large role in the labour force. It is vital to explore how volunteers manage the challenges of marketization. To do so, we explore what it means to be a non-profit organization in a market economy. Our guiding question is: How do NPOs juggle the market-mission tension and how do they organize volunteering as a consequence?

How has volunteering changed over time?

From an historical perspective, volunteering has evolved and taken on many different forms:

… Volunteering has changed over time. Organized volunteering draws its roots from practices of Christian charity in the seventeenth century. Today, volunteering is carried out in virtually every type of economic sector and setting. Examples include palliative care assistance, international development projects, and corporate support for local community causes, just to name a few. Due to its broad scope, volunteering usually refers to activities carried out without paid compensation.

… Volunteers and volunteering are also changing: new volunteering profiles are emerging as Babyboomers retire. Schools are introducing service learning initiatives into their curriculum and for-profit companies are creating volunteer programmes. Volunteers still donate time and energy for others. They also reflect on how to develop themselves… in other words, volunteers increasingly want to be moved as much as to move society forward.

… All of this means that ways of organizing, managing and coordinating volunteering are changing. Volunteering can now be professionalized, skills-based, participative and/or collaborative. Consequently, strategies to recruit, retain, support and motivate volunteers are diversifying.

As volunteering takes different forms, it evolves and moves.