Nurturing Volunteers: A Critical Analysis of Volunteerism in the Nonprofit Social Service Sector
Bryn Mawr College. Department of Sociology
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This study examines volunteerism and volunteer management at HIAS Pennsylvania (HIAS PA), a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia that provides legal and social supportive services to immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. In both scholarly literature and HIAS PA’s infrastructure, volunteer management and coordination emerge as a neglected topic, but also a potential source of alternate support and innovation to offset social work’s entropic tendency towards stress, burnout, and turnover. Based on an ethnographic, qualitative research model that prioritized in-depth interviews and was situated by extensive participant observations, this thesis poses questions of group membership, forms of adequate gratitude, approaches to sufficient training, and information sharing. Ultimately, it addresses broader questions of sustainable social work by offering a metaphor of torque to demonstrate that although volunteerism itself cannot dismantle structural obstacles facing social service sectors, volunteers offer a unique capacity to offload and complement an agency’s work while also igniting creative change beyond the confines of their volunteer roles. Yet in order to serve as an effective external arm of the agency, staff and volunteers must collaboratively build and continually nurture connective tissue between their individual groups and the shared issue, such as refugee resettlement.