Monthly Archives: March 2016

Volunteers’ Internet Use Linked to Commitment to their TSO

Following on from our previous observations – that TSOs use of social media concerns more than raising funds – comes a recent article in the Non Profit and Voluntary Sector Journal[1] that considers the extent to which the ‘use of the Internet’ is related to volunteers’ social capital and commitment to the TSO.  Conducting their study within the German Red Cross (GRC), Eike Emrich and Christian Pierdzioch used an online survey to examine the relationship between amount of Internet use (in relation to their voluntary work) and outcomes like satisfaction with their role and willingness to expand their efforts within the GRC.  Although not demonstrating causality, the results do show a correlation between increased Internet use and these outcomes and the authors suggest that this is because the volunteers have more information about the GRC, voluntary work available and their specific role as a volunteer.  As a consequence they propose that using the Internet as a communication medium – for example to let groups of geographically diverse volunteers know more about how the organization functions– could bring about more volunteer commitment and more trust in the TSO, breaking down some of the differences between paid employees and volunteers.

Overall this work suggests that TSOs might do well to take a more varied and nuanced approach to using The Internet to engage volunteers than focusing on increasing donations.  However we are struck by the use of the very broad term ‘Internet use’ which does not give much insight into what form of technology-support is helpful: social media? website? databases?  While producing statistics which provide broad quantifiable evidence of the strength of relationships, surveys do lack the specificity which is required to better understand volunteers’ experience and to inform TSO’s specific strategies for exploiting digital media to engage their volunteers.

[1] Emrich, E. and Pierdzioch, C. (2016). The Internet and the commitment of volunteers: Empirical evidence for the Red Cross.  Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, April, 1–18

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Third Sector Use of Social Media More Than Raising Funds

We note and applaud Carlos Miranda’s response to Matt Collins’ suggestion that charities move away from using social media because these are less effective tools for generating donations than charities expect.  Mr Miranda’s rejoinder is that social media are good for more than just raising funds.  However when we look closely at what he is advocating, this focus is still on engaging donors, simply in more long-term and targeted ways.

However is this still not a little “short-sighted”?  TSOs FB profiles and regular tweets are also read by their volunteers as a way of keeping in touch with recent developments and events.  TSOs also therefore have to be conscious of this audience and think about how their media messages are affecting and encouraging (or discouraging!) this group.  One of the arguments Mr Miranda makes is that TSOs cannot afford to abandon social media because “future donors are all digital natives”.  Indeed volunteers are digital-savvy too and often set up their own collective FB pages to share their experiences and blog and tweet regularly from personal accounts about their voluntary work.  This is  a rich source of feedback and insight for the TSO itself and a potential way of engaging with those who donate time and effort and not just money.

So it is quite right to say that for TSOs using social media is a great deal more than just about raising donations but we probably have not yet appreciated just how much more that is.

Employee Volunteering: Time to Move Beyond Motivation?

In a review of research into employee volunteering [1],  Jessica Rodell and her colleagues have sought to bring together the diverse research in the area as well as suggesting ways forward.  There is some very useful work here, particularly in trying to provide a common definition of employee volunteering.  Rodell and colleagues propose ‘employed individuals giving time during a planned activity for an external nonprofit or charitable group or organization’ which, on the surface, seems fairly obvious but we note here the importance of ‘giving time’ (i.e. active involvement, not just money), that the volunteering is ‘planned’ (not just spur of the moment and adhoc) and the recipient is some recognised group or organization.  How you define volunteering clearly has an influence on how you then research it.

Some themes around employer-sponsored voluntary work are interesting to note, including the detrimental effects of companies’ pushing volunteering too much with their employees (which may create resistance).  Companies may benefit from having volunteering schemes, not just through reputational benefits, but also because there is evidence of a positive influence on recruitment (good recruits may favour organizations with these schemes in place) and because volunteering may increase certain work behaviours like organizational citizenship.

Inevitably the authors review much research on volunteer motivation, as this dominates the research area.  While we realise motivation is important, it does seem like other areas of volunteer research do not get as much consideration.  In our research we are keen to explore how volunteers experience the activity of volunteering, and this gets little coverage in the review, even as a possible future research focus, although the benefits of volunteering for employee volunteers is noted (e.g. allowing psychological detachment and recovery from work activities).  Additionally, the use of digital media is not considered at all, although this is clearly an important current and future concern for researchers, volunteer managers and employee volunteers themselves.

These omissions likely lead from the kind of research reviewed and the nature of the publication. Rodell and colleagues recognise the problems with the rather mono-methodological cross-sectional work they are reporting but recommend future quasi-experimental longitudinal designs rather than the qualitative in-depth phenomenological work we advocate.  So, while we welcome this review, we find it restricted in not recognising the wealth of alternative research approaches out there and some of the contemporary issues with which employee volunteers are currently grappling.

[1] Rodell, J., Breitsohl, H., Schrőder, M. and Keating, D. (2016).  Employee volunteering: a review and framework for future research.  Journal of Management, 42, 55– 84