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Abstract

Irelandhas a longstanding history of diverse volunteer action (Volunteering Ireland, 2010a). Ireland’s current economic recession has impacted on the community and voluntary sector, with frequent contraction in staff numbers and incomes, and increasing reliance on volunteer participation (Harvey, 2012). This study utilised social capital theory to garner a phenomenological understanding of the contribution of volunteering to perceived social capital amongst Irish volunteers and host organisation representatives. A convenience sample of 28 participants (17 volunteers and 11 organisation representatives) was interviewed. A shift in personal and social definitions of volunteering were described, with informal volunteering increasingly replaced by structured, formalized and regulated volunteer placements. Volunteers described their experiences as contributing to increased personal well being and sense of purpose, development of friendships and meeting new people. The volunteer participants identified volunteering activity as a specified community need, providing work related experiences, fulfillment in free time and opportunity for up-skilling. Integration of volunteers into the organisation’s workforce was described as dependent on duration, intensity of interaction and scope of volunteer contributions. Power differentials and a lack of trust between volunteers and staff, was described, as was a lack of volunteer recognition staff. Subsequently, some volunteers identified and aligned themselves within the wider social volunteer network rather than their host organisation. The research reflected an emergent consumerist approach to volunteering and underscores the need to preserve informal social networks of community volunteers, alongside the development of more formalized work specific routes for volunteering inIreland.

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