- Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 November 2012 13:48
Some lessons learned from Grassroots Leaders
By Mark Creyton, Director Education, Research and Policy for Volunteering Qld and Dr. Lisa Ehrich, Associate Professor, School of Learning and Professional Studies, Faculty of Education, QUT.
The informal and collective efforts of grassroots groups - autonomous, not-for-profit groups run entirely by volunteers - including local associations, social movements and self-help groups are central to our communities. Not surprisingly, grassroots leaders (GLs) of these groups play a critical role in promoting and coordinating a variety of initiatives and activities. Yet, little is known about these leaders and what drives them to do their voluntary work that contributes so much to their respective communities.
Over the past few years, we have undertaken research with a group of committed and passionate grassroots leaders. During 2007 and 2008, we carried out in-depth semi-structured interviews with nine GLs from a broad cross-section of sectors including social housing, animal rights, community midwifery, environmental and peace movements and children’s rights. We were keen to learn more about their motivation, their successes and the ongoing challenges they face in their work. Below we have provided a snapshot only of some of our findings.
Based on the findings of our research, we include several questions that managers of volunteers and voluntary programs might like to consider:
- How much do your recruitment processes promote the values of your organisation?
- How do you nurture demonstrations, reflections and conversations about the values inherent in the way you work and the impact of that work?
- How much focus is given to ensuring meaningful work, opportunities for learning and networking for volunteers?
- Are stories of success communicated to your volunteers?
- How do you deal with those who challenge the process?
- What mechanisms are in place to encourage actively those persons who question traditional ways of doing things?
- What approaches to empowerment and meaningful engagement are utilised in your programs?
- How do you create leadership opportunities for those volunteers who seek them?
- How do you encourage a resilient volunteer workforce?
Understanding the motivations and challenges of volunteers in Sport, Fitness and Recreation: Implications for training and support
By Leonie Bryen, Resource Development and Research Officer, Volunteering Qld and Smitha Karanchery, Data Analyst and Executive Assistant, Volunteering Qld.
This research project, which is in partnership with Skills Alliance aims to gain a greater understanding of who is volunteering in the industry, why they volunteer in sport, fitness and recreation as well as the amount of support provided in the clubs throughout Queensland.
The research data, gathered through an online survey, has a broad representation of volunteers from various sporting and recreation clubs and organisations. Focusing on who is volunteering and why they are volunteering, the study captures a picture of Queensland volunteers and provides evidence for further volunteer recruitment in the industry.
A total of 517 individuals participated in the survey during March and May 2010, with a completion rate of 58.8%. The survey participants consisted of 271 females (52.4%) and 246 males (47.6%), from a variety of locations across Queensland and Australia. Participants in the survey represented numerous sport, fitness and recreation organisations. Participant volunteer roles were diverse but predominantly included serving as a board or committee member, coach, technical official, umpire, team manager, canteen, grounds, event organiser or general helping. Over half the participants volunteered in more than one organisation. The length of time that individuals had been with the organisations varied but over one third of volunteers (36.8%) had been with their first organisation for greater than 8 years, and 31.5% of participants volunteering with their second organisation for more than 8 years.
The reasons why individuals volunteered in sport, fitness or recreation mainly consisted of fun and enjoyment, giving something back to the sport, getting involved for their children and family as well as keeping the sport going.
In addition, the research examines the training provided for volunteers in the industry as well as the existing skill levels. The findings will directly impact future training initiatives, and have a substantial impact on clubs ability to recruit and retain key volunteers across a range of services.
A total of 338 participants completed the questions 16-23 which explored the training and skills required and offered for the volunteering roles. In terms of the skills participants had before they commenced their volunteering role, many indicated that they had little or none. Some participants were offered official training including first aid, coaching courses, technical courses whilst others received on the job type assistance from other volunteers in the organisation. Many volunteers received none or very little training before commencing volunteering.
Employee and volunteer satisfaction: Drivers of performance and success
By Dr. Cameron Newton, Senior Lecturer, School of Management, QUT.
Non-profits typically exist to make the world a better place, but how do they fare when it comes to taking care of their own employees and volunteers? Windsor Recruitment and Dr. Cameron Newton from QUT’s School of Business recently conducted a survey of 30 different Queensland non-profit organisations to explore the levels of satisfaction and performance of employees and volunteers. Collectively, over 550 responses were received from organisations conducting activities in disability, community services, youth services, animal welfare, member associations, and foundations.
The research, entitled Employee and volunteer satisfaction: Drivers of performance and success, found a number of key points relating to volunteers. Favourably, the survey found a number of things were going well for volunteers in our sample of nonprofits. More specifically, volunteers reported being:
- Helpful, exhibiting high levels of behaviours that are helpful to both their colleagues and the organisation overall;
- Open to change in the workplace;
- Good performers in roles which were clearly understood; and
- Happy in their respective roles, reporting high levels of job satisfaction and psychological health, and also reporting high levels of intending to stay with their organisation.
In fact, volunteers overall reported generally more favourable levels of their workplace than employees in the same workplace.
The data revealed that certain workplace conditions could differentially affect volunteer outcomes, providing some guidance non-profit managers and supervisors. For instance, the presence of smaller changes at work (adding variety to volunteer tasks) was a significant driver of better health, whereas the presence of larger more transformational changes was related to worse health outcomes for volunteers. Other variables that favourably predicted better volunteer outcomes (such as satisfaction, commitment, and openness to change) included a strong altruistic culture in work units and high levels of communication relating to workplace changes. On the other hand, managers and supervisors should be careful not to facilitate work unit cultures that are heavily process-driven at the work unit level as this can lead to less favourable outcomes for volunteers.
Overall, the survey represents the first of its kind in the Australian sector and will continue to be conducted each year. To access the full reports for volunteers and employees, visit Windsor Recruitment at windsor-recruitment.com/news/survey/survey.htm
Understanding the foundations of changes in volunteering
(A précis of “Collective and reflexive styles of volunteering: a sociological modernisation perspective” by Lesley Hustinx & Frans Lammertyn. In Voluntus: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organisations, Vol 14, No 2, June 2003.)
While written some eight years ago, this article was a ground-breaking and influential piece of work which provided a theoretical framework for the way in which volunteering was changing. The authors argued that there was a transition happening from a more traditional form of volunteering (collective) to one which reflected a more individual perspective (reflexive). These changes reflected much broader social and structural transformations in our community at large.
Collective volunteerism was based on a shared feeling of belonging, often motivated by a sense of duty and responsibility to a local community or embedded in religion or altruism. Reflexive volunteering represented a more individual focus with people choosing to volunteer based on personal experiences, life-style and motivated often by both assisting others and pursuing their own personal goals. The authors were quick to stress that these were not discrete categories but should be seen as continuum in which a mix of these motivations and approaches to volunteering could be found in many volunteers.
Hustinx and Lammertyn then went on to look at the impacts of these two different forms for those who manage volunteers. In summary reflexive volunteers will be more likely to volunteer episodically, demand greater flexibility and mobility, seek projects and choose voluntary groups in which they share common life experiences or are seeking new pathways. They also predicted a greater range of informal volunteering and social initiatives and a more ambiguous relationship between paid and volunteer staff.
Finally they suggested some tentative conclusions about this transition in volunteering. Firstly organisations would need to be aware that these changes had less to do with individuals being more selfish, but rather to do with changing social trends and increasing focus for organisations on professionalism and efficiency. Secondly organisations would need to focus on the greater tension between priorities of the volunteer and priorities of the organisation. Finally a dangerous implication was that certain marginalised/less privileged groups would be exclude from volunteering as organisations went for the “clever” volunteer.
Social innovation camp
By Leonie Bryen, Resource Development and Research Officer, Volunteering Qld.
Australia’s inaugural Social Innovation Camp (SI Camp) was held at the UNSW CBD Campus over the weekend of 3-5 March 2010. SI Camp, an initiative of ASIX (Australian Social Innovation Exchange), was designed to bring together a bunch of innovative, creative, enthusiastic individuals with a plethora of diverse skills to kick start eight chosen social innovation projects.
On the Friday evening, individuals determined which project they wanted to work on, introductions we made and progress started on creating functioning, innovative web-based solutions which would be shared on the Sunday afternoon. The name of the game was to combine the efforts of techies, social innovators, mentors and interested individuals to move the ideas forward to reality.
Projects to be developed over the weekend included What’s for Dinner, Refugee Buddy, Good News TV and Emergent Reality. Teams were quickly assembled, ‘date’ cards with mentors hurriedly booked, and progress began on the prototypes. During the course of the weekend the breakout rooms buzzed with activity and generated ideas. Many groups worked enthusiastically through the night developing their websites fuelled by liberal doses of caffeine, pizza and Red Bull.
After many hours of culminating ideas and website development, finally Sunday afternoon arrived when the groups presented their prototypes. Prizes were awarded to refugeebuddy.org (first) beta.twobobsworth.org.au (second) and Interlocked Social Information Systems (ISIS) (third) based on the potential of the ideas, the social impact and the website prototype. The inaugural Australian SI Camp was a culmination of Solutions, Innovations, Caffeine, Adrenalin, Momentum and Prototypes.
Collated and edited by Mark Creyton, Director Education, Research and Policy, Volunteering Qld.
We are actively seeking contributions from researchers and practitioners which provide new understandings and approaches to the field of volunteering.