Meanings of Organizational Volunteering

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    • 00:01

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM: Hello.My name's Kirstie McAllum, and I work as an assistant professorat the University of Montreal, L'Universite de Montreal,in Montreal, Canada.I'd like to talk to you about my article, "Meaningsof Organizational Volunteering: Diverse VolunteerPathways," that was published in Management CommunicationQuarterly in early 2014.

    • 00:22

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: I'll comment on the research process as wellsome of the back stories, such as my motivationsto do the research, surprises in the data,next steps, and questions that warrant further research.I'll start with motivations.What motivated me to do this research thatwas the basis of the article was a desire

    • 00:44

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: to know how volunteers who workedwith diverse, nonprofit organizationsin the social services sector-- that is volunteers whowork with people, rather than an environmental project, artand culture, or in politics-- madesense of their involvement.I was interested in the meanings of volunteering

    • 01:04

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: because I started volunteering for a whole rangeof different organizations, while I was in high school.Once I started university, I begancoordinating projects myself for high school and universitystudents during their holidays.Many emails offering free help by 20intelligent, hardworking students, wanting

    • 01:25

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: to make a positive difference in the worldwere ignored or treated with suspicionby organizational representatives.I was shocked.This made me wonder if organizational volunteering,as I had known it, had changed beyond recognition.When I did a literature search, Isaw that the great majority of researchers

    • 01:45

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: assumed, we all know what volunteering is, sowhy bother defining it?The assumptions that I had when I startedthinking about what made volunteering meaningfulfor me were the relationships that I build up,for example, the conversations that I'vehad while I did mosaics with adultswith intellectual disabilities, or being

    • 02:06

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: able to look at the wedding photoson the wall of a 90-year-old ladyin a nursing home that showed her whenshe was young and glamorous.And I helped her relive those moments of her lifethrough that conversation.I assumed that the relational aspects of volunteeringhad simply been ignored in the few definitions on volunteeringavailable, which primarily emphasized free will.

    • 02:29

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: I thought the communication scholarship was particularlywell positioned to examine the role of relationshipsas a key facet of volunteering.It turned out I was partly right.So the data collection-- how did I collect the datafor the project?I started collecting data for this projectwhile I was at the University of Waikato in New Zealand.

    • 02:50

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: I'm a Kiwi.I'm from New Zealand.I thoroughly enjoy traveling around the countrysideto meet my participants.I collected three types of data for the research projectfrom volunteers engaged with one of threedifferent nonprofit organizations.First, an organization that recruits volunteersto provide emergency ambulance services overnight

    • 03:13

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: and in rural areas.Second, an organization focused on the health and well-beingof babies and children whose volunteersconduct fund-raising projects to finance parent educationcourses.And thirdly, an organization thatuses volunteers to assist with refugee resettlement.Some settings are very hard to observe, such as interactions

    • 03:35

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: with refugee families.So I chose to do interviews with participantsto address my research question about the meaningsthat participants gave to their organizational volunteering.However, I did do some participant observationon ambulances and at the ambulancestation for the first organization

    • 03:55

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: and planning meetings and trainingsessions for the second and at the resettlement centerfor the third.I also analyzed organizational documents,such as recruitment materials, training manuals, and policies.And I conducted interviews with organizational representatives.This data will inform other future publications.

    • 04:17

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: To analyze the data-- so the data analysis--I started by identifying the segment of the data whereparticipants had described volunteering-- so "volunteeringis" statements-- and also the descriptionsof moments that had been particularlypositive or negative.Sometimes, it had been negative because an incident

    • 04:39

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: had challenged what they thought volunteering should be like.I coded this data for meaning units,where significant shifts in meaning occurred.I then clustered these meaning units togetherinto overarching themes and returning to the dataconstantly to make sure that the overarching theme made sensein the context of each participant's transcript.

    • 05:01

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: The findings were diverse.Participants understood the organizational volunteeringin four ways, which I summed up in four keywords-- freedom,giving, reciprocity, and obligation.Firstly, volunteering as an expression of freedom--I want to do this because it's fun and interesting.

    • 05:21

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: Second, volunteering involves giving.I share my material, financial, educational,and social resources with others who have received less.Third, volunteering is a form of social engagementthat requires reciprocity, give and take.I benefit from volunteering through personal developmentand interesting relationships.

    • 05:42

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: And fourth and finally, volunteeringcreates obligation.I make a moral commitment to continueserving needy others with whom I've alreadyestablished a relationship.What fascinated me was the ways in whichparticipants integrated these multiple meanings.One group showed a continual, synchronic flip-flop

    • 06:03

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: between freedom and reciprocity--so statements such as, I'll volunteer,but if my efforts are not reciprocatedin a way that is meaningful for me, I'll move onand I'll try something else.I'm completely free, after all.The other group moved diachronicallyfrom giving to obligation, that is therewas a development through time.

    • 06:25

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: Once the participants had started giving,the increasing awareness that theyhad of the extent of others' needscreated a sense of obligation that intensified and solidifiedtheir initial decision to give.There were a lot of surprises for me.I was surprised by the fact that volunteersseemed to travel the pathway between agency

    • 06:46

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: and relationality in two quite distinctive ways.None of the 50 participants that I interviewedjumped from one pathway to another.It was also interesting to consider how volunteersmanage negative experiences.Much of the time, we associate volunteeringwith warm, fuzzy experiences.But it's not all happiness and light.

    • 07:06

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: Volunteers are working with people.And people can be rude, aggressive and ungrateful,despite your best efforts.The refugee family that fired the volunteer teamassisting them in the resettlement processbecause they did not provide them with a PlayStationsprings to mind.The parent education volunteers whowere reprimanded for not CCing paid staff members who

    • 07:28

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: had been organizing a fund-raising eventprovides another example cited in the article.For me, the impact of the articlestems from several contributions.A, the data set is really rich.I had amazing participants.B, the practical implications for organizational members

    • 07:48

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: who manage volunteers, I think that is very significant.C, phenomenology is a complex, philosophical position,and here, I offer a view of phenomenologyfor social scientists.There as many forms of phenomenologyas phenomenologists.And this paper lays out how I used itin a specific research context.

    • 08:11

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: And D, the link between the meaningsof organizational volunteering and the meaningful workliterature is useful.This is an area where organizational communicationscholarship has a lot to contribute.It's also, for me, stimulated many future research ideas,in particular, the following projects.

    • 08:34

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: I'd like to examine the impact of professionalismon how volunteers make sense of what they do,also, the interaction between these moreorganizationally-based meanings and broader societalmessages about volunteering.If you're tasked with critically analyzing, examining,

    • 08:55

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: this particular article, I have several questionsthat I think you should ask.Good research stimulates as many, if not more,questions than it answers.Here are five questions that I, personally,would like to pursue further.The first question-- what is the influenceof organizational context on the pathway that volunteers take?

    • 09:16

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: So training materials, recruitment strategies,the expectations of other volunteers,or the expectations of paid staff.That is, how are volunteers socialized to treadone pathway or another?Secondly, which type of communication partnersmight be more important in the socialization processes?

    • 09:39

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: Organizational representatives?Other volunteers?Recipients?For instance, in the case of the volunteers whoworked with refugees, organizational messageshighlighted the need for volunteers to be very detachedand privilege refugee families' independence.At the same time, several participants

    • 09:60

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: mentioned that family members from refugee familiestold them that if they didn't come around more oftenand be more involved, they'd walk past them in the streetand pretend they had never met them.The third question that I would ask is based on the factthat this research was carried out in New Zealand.

    • 10:20

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: Are there cultural factors at play here?And how could we use intercultural communicationscholarship to enrich the volunteering literature?There's a lot of potential intersections here.Question four-- based on your readingof the volunteering literature, whatother pathways are possible?I've only identified two.

    • 10:41

      KIRSTIE MCALLUM [continued]: And the final question-- these pathwaysare linked to organizational volunteering.How might you use these findings to investigateother types of volunteering or other contexts,such as informal volunteering or family-based volunteering,for example?Enjoy the article.

Meanings of Organizational Volunteering

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Kirstie McAllum describes her research into organizational volunteering, the reasons people volunteer, the different pathways volunteers follow, and where this research could go next.

Meanings of Organizational Volunteering

Kirstie McAllum describes her research into organizational volunteering, the reasons people volunteer, the different pathways volunteers follow, and where this research could go next.

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