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Volunteering in Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector

3 April 2018 at 5:44 pm
Luke Michael
There is potential for greater volunteer input in Australia’s social enterprise sector, but effective volunteer management is needed to manage these opportunities, a leading researcher believes.

Luke Michael | 3 April 2018 at 5:44 pm


Volunteering in Australia’s Social Enterprise Sector
3 April 2018 at 5:44 pm

There is potential for greater volunteer input in Australia’s social enterprise sector, but effective volunteer management is needed to manage these opportunities, a leading researcher believes.

Professor Jo Barraket is the director of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne (CSI Swinburne), and has extensively researched Australia’s social enterprise sector.

She told Pro Bono News that there was a gap in research evidence about the nature of volunteering in the social enterprise sector.

“There has been very little granular analysis of the nature and types of volunteering activity and volunteers within social enterprises in Australia and indeed worldwide,” Barraket said.

“Some research that we’ve done in the past has indicated… that not all but many social enterprises mobilise relationships with corporate and philanthropic partners. [But] it’s sometimes a little bit challenging in this area to determine where skills volunteering ends and where in-kind contribution begins.

“So for example, in areas such as mentoring around business development, there would be a lot of relationships between corporate organisations and social enterprises and often the contributions are entirely pro bono.

“However it’s not always clear whether that’s volunteer activity based on the interests of the individual staff member or whether it’s a corporate commitment.”

Her comments follow a recent information paper on volunteering data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which noted that social enterprises were “an area of global growth”, and raised numerous “pertinent research questions on the topic”.                                                                                                                    

“For example, do social enterprises attract a different type of volunteer? Are they more skilled or from a particular demographic?” the paper said.

“How do their motivations differ from those who volunteer for organisations? How valuable are volunteers in this type of organisational model?

Barraket led The Victorian Social Enterprise Mapping Project 2017, which said that 42,000 people per year participated as volunteers in the work of Victorian social enterprises.

The report also noted other ways Victorian social enterprises mobilised community support.

“Each year, the average social enterprise attracts 251 person hours of in-kind support from the community,” the report said.

“This is comprised of 878,500 hours of support across the sector from professional services… corporate volunteering programs and academic and commercial research organisations.

“In addition, the average Victorian social enterprise receives support from 12 volunteers per year, with a range of zero to 243 volunteers per organisation and a median of three volunteers per year.”

Barraket said there was “always going to be scope” for increased voluntary and in-kind contributions to support social enterprises, but warned that effective volunteer management was needed.

“In terms of helping social enterprises, I think just as with any not for profit or government agency that mobilises volunteers, we know that effective volunteer management requires work,” she said.

“[For] social enterprises that create employment and pathways to employment for people who are disadvantaged… there can sometimes be challenges in appropriately managing both the staff from the targeted beneficiary groups and volunteers, as well as other staff in the organisation.

“So there needs to be some sophistication in human resources management, to effectively manage the opportunities for volunteers.”

Marketing and communications has been identified as an area in which social enterprises could use more voluntary assistance.

“We get consistent reporting back from social enterprises that they don’t have enough capacity in and around marketing and communications,” Barraket said.

“And so that’s definitely an area where there’s potential I think for greater volunteer input.”

Barraket also said that CommBank’s Not-for-Profit Insights Report, which found that NFPs were turning to social enterprise to overcome funding challenges, presented a number of challenges around volunteering.

“I think if we’re looking at the transition from traditional non-trading non-profits to social enterprise, there is going to need to be attention paid to what effective volunteer management looks like in that transition, and not just assuming it’s simply going to be the same forms of voluntary management that we’ve seen in the past,” she said.

“There’s definitely going to need to be some different thinking about what sorts of skills social volunteers can bring to social enterprise but also what kinds of opportunities a live business context might provide for volunteers.

“And then also the types of work which is not appropriate for volunteers to do within a social enterprise.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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