Increasing volunteer engagement for the St Vincent de Paul Society
With volunteer participation rates declining, Adelaide Business School researchers were engaged by the St Vincent de Paul Society to increase volunteer engagement.
The St Vincent de Paul Society is a charitable organisation that assists people living in poverty and seeks to shape more compassionate communities. Professor Jodie Conduit, from the Adelaide Business School, was asked to examine the Society’s volunteer engagement during a period of declining participation and reduced morale. The organisation wanted to understand how to increase engagement with its volunteer base, how to improve the volunteering experience, and how to increase volunteer retention.
Professor Conduit first conducted interviews and focus groups with a sample of volunteers, following which, surveys were rolled out to over 500 members across the organisation. This included store volunteers, volunteers involved with conferences, and members of the Fred’s Van service, who provide meals for people experiencing homelessness.
Analysis of the data indicated areas to address, such as revisions to volunteer placements and roles. Although volunteers were not dissatisfied with the organisation, the major avenue to improve engagement was through recognition and rewards, such as a feature in communication materials, or social events like a Christmas party.
“We have seen an increase of more than 50% in their volunteer base. That increase meant that they were able to service more than 100,000 South Australians in need each year.” – Professor Jodie Conduit
After addressing the recommendations of this research, the St Vincent de Paul Society increased their volunteer base from 1000 to 3500 over an 18-month period. The increase in volunteers meant that the organisation could provide more community support through its various initiatives to service more than 100,000 South Australians each year.
The research facilitated two key impacts:
Spiritual Engagement. Recommendations were made for the Society to rethink religious inclusivity as there were barriers for individuals not strongly associated with the Catholic Church. Recommendations were made to develop a more welcoming culture for people from other faiths or non-religious groups, which helped to expand the volunteer base.
Flying Squad. At the time of this research, there was an increased need for support for individuals within the Northern suburbs of Adelaide, and the St Vincent de Paul Society was struggling to meet the needs of these individuals. As a result of the research recommendations, the Society launched the ‘flying squad’ team, where non-regular volunteers from other geographic locations moved to provide extra support in areas where there was greater community need.