volunteer management practices

Kirsch, Thomas G. 2021 Managing Unruliness: The (Anti-)Politics of Volunteer Management Practices in Faith-Based Organizations. Journal of Religion in Africa 49 (3/4): 403–427.

Based on an ethnographic analysis of volunteer management practices in faith-based organizations in Zambia, this article outlines the dilemmas that these organizations face when deploying volunteers. Due to financial constraints, most of these organizations have to rely on voluntary work from local residents in order to realize their goals. I show that when the volunteers’ work is concerned with social problems that are deemed to be controversial, faith-based organizations are at pains to demonstrate that their aims and activities should be categorized as ‘social work’ or ‘humanitarian assistance’, and not as activist (party) political engagement. Yet since volunteers are only loosely linked to these organizations in respect to their formal status, in practice they have a great deal of leeway in how issues are handled. This means that some of them use their commitment to volunteering to pursue their own political agendas. The article explores the strategies that faith-based organizations use to navigate the challenges that this kind of ‘partisan volunteering’ pose.