Monthly Archives: October 2015

News update: pilot project starting soon!

We are delighted to have been awarded a small amount of funding from The Open University which will enable us to undertake pilot project at this early stage of our research.

More information will be posted on our new blog page about the pilot, or contact for more information.


Exploring use of social media in nonprofit organisations

A recent book “Cases on Strategic Social Media Utilization in the Nonprofit Sector” (edited by Hugo Asencio and Rui Sun, California State University) brings together a wide range of case studies covering use of different social media by nonprofit organisations.  Although largely looking at organisations in the US the book includes chapters on organisations in other countries too.

It is written largely from the perspective that the practitioner within the voluntary sector is likely to be well acquainted with the challenges of the sector but less familiar with the issues associated with social media.  Due to access restrictions we have only been able to read the introduction so far.  This offers a useful definition and history of the internet and social media.  The introduction then reviews the use of social media in nonprofit organisations, highlighting significant differences dependent on the size of the organisation.  Three trends are considered here: the to date limited use of social media tools, changes in donor attitudes and the way in which social media use is staffed and managed by these organisations.  The introduction also provides an efficient summary of key advantages and challenges for nonprofit organisations in using social media.  An interesting issue relevant to our own research is the heavy reliance on volunteers to develop and manage these organisations social media presence.  Interestingly the use of social media by volunteers is not discussed in this introduction though the chapter titles suggest it features in subsequent sections.

The book is then organised into sections with a specific focus:

  • social media and fundraising
  • social media and advocacy
  • social media and marketing
  • social media and organizational learning
  • social media utilization and organizational capacity.

As the book’s title suggests, each section includes the discussion of case examples, so that practical considerations are covered alongside a more conceptual discussion of the issues.  This makes it a particularly useful account for practitioners working in this area.

It is evident from the introduction that some of the chapters highlight the issues facing volunteers, particularly the extent to which their experiences might become ‘owned’ by the organisations and used via social media for other purposes (such as fundraising).  This touches on some of the issues that we hope to be exploring in our own research on volunteer experience in the digital age.

A new twist on employer volunteering schemes?

In the USA the press are widely reporting a new twist in employer-led volunteering.  Urban Outfitters is ‘offering’ its own salaried staff the opportunity of weekend volunteering in one of their own warehouses!  The memo asking for volunteers is reported on which shows how this was pitched as fun team building activity.  There was much condemnation across the media as to how a successful and large organisation could offer this sort of ‘volunteering’ rather than paying their staff.

Looking at this story from the perspective of volunteering prompts further questions.  It is clear in the memo that this ‘volunteering’ is pitched as entertaining and fun rather than real work.  Yet the focus of the activity was to be (I assume) the usual fulfillment tasks which staff are paid to perform during the week.  Thus volunteering is presented very differently from ‘real’ work even though the work that is done might be the same.  The opportunity was to work ‘side by side’ with the paid staff but there was no recognition that this might be problematic for either party.  Both would potentially have the good reason to be concerned and it doesn’t seem that any attention was given to how they might work together.  Yet the issue of divisions and tensions between paid and volunteer work in the voluntary sector is one that is much discussed.

Perhaps since employer volunteering is seen as a good news story, the firm here thought this example might be seen in a similar positive light.  It does how show that some employer discussion of volunteering might need more scrutiny to see who is really benefiting.  Certainly in this case stories across the internet and via social media ensured that scrutiny was made visible for us to see.

The Open University launches Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership

We are pleased to pass on the good news about this great initiative at The Open University.  We are looking forward to working with the team at the centre where our areas of research interest and practitioner concern coincide.  Further updates will no doubt follow!

Centre for Voluntary Sector Leadership

The Open University Business School (OUBS) is launching a new Centre of Excellence for Voluntary Sector Leadership (CVSL). The philanthropically funded centre, made possible through a generous gift from an OU Alumnus,
will provide voluntary sector organisations with access to free leadership development modules and research-led insight to help strengthen the core of the sector at a time of unprecedented uncertainty and challenge. Over the last decade, the sector has been increasingly challenged by austerity measures and the shifting expectations of what support the voluntary sector can, could and should provide. Smaller organisations, which form the majority of the sector, have been particularly impacted by this increasingly unstable environment. Leaders and senior managers of organisations, whether paid or unpaid, are required to operate in a highly competitive, increasingly commercialised context. The centre will build on existing specialist research expertise and capability in the voluntary sector, public leadership and social enterprise to:
-Undertake new areas of research where there are significant leadership
knowledge and solutions-based gaps.
-Provide free and flexible leadership development opportunities that meet the
priority needs of the sector.
-Seek to disseminate new insight and thinking as effectively as possible.
The centre will seek to work collaboratively with stakeholder groups across academic, practitioner and policy communities with the view to advance understanding of the complexity of the problems organisations are facing, the ambiguities pertaining to stakeholders’ responsibilities and accountabilities, and the dynamics caused by ever changing public policies on matters that affect the work of voluntary organisations. More information about the work of the centre will be available later in the year. If you are interested in learning more about the centre or how to get involved, please email who will add you to our mailing list. If you have any specific questions at this stage, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Please contact Siv Vangen ( or Carol Jacklin-Jarvis

Did a facebook post prompt a ‘battle’ on Bondi Beach?

This morning press across the world have picked up on a story from Australia about tensions between professional and volunteer lifeguards on Bondi Beach.

The Daily Mail suggested that the professional lifeguards had ‘lashed out’ at the volunteers via social media while News.Com.Au reported that ‘battlelines were drawn’.  This stems from a Facebook post which highlighted that the volunteer patrols finished at 4pm when the beach was at its busiest.  Both these news reports include screenshots and transcripts of Facebook posts. Many news agencies and websites repeated the story, meaning it quickly circulated to a wide audience even though the original posts were, according to these reports, quickly deleted.  Interestingly, the news reporting focused firmly on divides between the professional and volunteer lifeguards, portraying them in opposition from the start.

As well as news agencies individuals shared and commented on the story on websites, facebook and across twitter.

Unsurprisingly, there was a quick explanation on the Bondi lifeguard Facebook page that the aim of the post had been to highlight the issue with the timing of the volunteer patrols and how these are organized and regulated rather than criticize the volunteers themselves but from some of the posts I read it appears that this explanation came too late.

This example shows not only how quickly a story can spread but also a worrying tendency to see conflict between volunteers and paid employees in a particular organization as a natural state of affairs. We suspect that all involved will be reviewing their use of social media in the very near future.