Not-for-profits, community-based organisations and social enterprises have volunteerism at its roots, and for many at its heart. The ‘Third Sector’ is still commonly known to many as the ‘Voluntary Sector’. Yet in recent years, many involved in the Third Sector have bemoaned declining volunteer numbers. Social, cultural, economic and technological changes have led to major changes in the volunteering landscape. Contrary to popular belief, volunteering is alive and well, and even flourishing in some pockets. However, volunteering has changed. What are the key success factors for the organisations that are doing well in the volunteering space? What are some common challenges? What learnings can be shared for the benefit of others in the Third Sector? Through interviews with over 30 organisations, experts and social entrepreneurs in New Zealand, key themes and factors for successful volunteering emerged. Factors for success include leadership and culture in a NFP organisation, communication, mandate and purpose, and having the “right people” in the “right job”. This paper will examine four case studies of organisations that are very successful with volunteers. Bellyful, the Suzanne Aubert Compassion Centre/Soup Kitchen, Kaibosh, and Ronald McDonald House provide examples of how to maximise the opportunity of volunteer involvement. Common challenges and ‘threats’ to volunteering also emerged as a theme from the interviews. Many volunteer managers perceived they were the least resourced unit in their organisation. Also there can be conflict or tension between long-term volunteers and the ‘organisation’. While they will not readily admit it, some NFPs see their volunteers as a bit of a ‘nuisance’, as the stalwarts that hold back progress. More open discussion about conflict and tension is needed. There is also a need for greater recognition in the Third Sector of the importance and value of investment in volunteer programmes and volunteer management.
This report is about learning from others. As one interviewee said: “We all need to ‘rob and duplicate’ more in the community sector. Take the good elements of what others are doing and copy/adapt it (for local conditions).” I hope this report can be a useful resource for many people in the Third Sector.