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Volunteering and Communication

Studies from Multiple Contexts

Michael W. Kramer, Loril M. Gossett and Laurie K. Lewis

This book won the 2014 Applied Communication Division Award for Outstanding Edited Book

There is a growing interest in studying nonprofit organizations and volunteers as an alternative to studying employees in for-profit businesses and government agencies. This is driven in part by the recognition that volunteers make important contributions to society and the economy. This book is the first edited volume written primarily by communication scholars to focus on volunteers. It explores the experience of being a volunteer and managing volunteers through a focus on empirical examination of communication in volunteering. The contributors explore volunteers broadly and are divided into five sections which cover becoming a volunteer; learning about self as a volunteer; dark sides of volunteering; organizationally supported volunteering; and voice and dissent. The final chapter suggests areas of future research and application of the book.
An important focus of the book is its data-based, empirical studies. Although each chapter includes applications, those recommendations are based on systematic studies of volunteers rather than primarily on anecdotal evidence or previous literature. Furthermore, each chapter includes a brief field experience narrative written by a volunteer, as well as addressing a broader conceptual or theoretical issue of organizational studies. In this way the book provides more than just case studies of volunteers, but also addresses general organizational issues.
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Ch 17: Breaking the Rules: The Secret of Successful Volunteering in a Caring Role


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Chapter 17


Jenny Onyx University of Technology, Sydney

One of the most difficult dilemmas of good volunteering is the ambiguous and sometimes conflicting requirements of organizational professionalism on the one hand and the volunteer/client relationship on the other hand. Sometimes, if it is to be successful, this relationship requires working beyond the professional boundary imposed by the organization, or “breaking the rules.” The dilemma is posed by two opposing imperatives. The organization must operate within existing legislative and regulatory requirements, usually designed to protect the public from unscrupulous predators, but also to protect the organization from potential litigation. From an organizational point of view, it is imperative to establish managerial control over all employee activities, involving both paid and unpaid workers. However, the mission of the organization in many cases requires a level of interpersonal care that goes far beyond the normal requirements of organizational professionalism. The best volunteering in a caring relationship is one which develops a deeper level of trust and closeness over time, thus bringing meaning and personal support to the client and enhanced well-being for the volunteer. But this can only happen in a climate outside the established organizational culture.

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