© 2019 The Ethnography Atelier

Samantha Ortiz Casillas

PhD student

emlyon business school

Believing in the Cause is Not Enough: Managing Commitment and Participation in a Voluntary Organization

Abstract

Voluntary organizations depend on the strong and unwavering commitment of members to organize, carry out their work, and achieve their goals. These organizations tend to attract like-minded individuals who support the cause and believe in the work and goals of the organization. However, without the ability to enforce participation through contracts or financial incentives, these organizations can often struggle to maintain member’s commitment and transform shared beliefs into effective and efficient participation.

Based on the ethnographic study of a campaign organization, composed entirely of volunteers, this paper analyzes the way in which work was managed in order to sustain commitment and enforce responsibilities. In this organization, the ambition of the goals, lack of resources, and serious time constraints, demanded volunteers to give as much time and effort as possible and to submit to the structure and strategies of the campaign. By analyzing the ways in which the organization responded to concerns over commitment, I identify a system that simultaneously reinforced volunteers’ feelings of responsibility for the work, pressured them to keep giving or give more, and sustained their participation by providing care and support. I identify and describe the practices, routines, and relationships involved in each of these operations and discuss their limitations and implications for the study of commitment and participation in voluntary work.