Factors Impacting Youth Providing Indirect Volunteering: Strengths and Challenges for Engagement

24 Jan

In my previous post about tracking outcomes of awareness raised, I alluded to my Masters research about youth engaged in indirect volunteering and the outcomes of their work. I am finally happy to share highlights of the results with my network of professionals who work with youth volunteers. A link to the presentation can be found here: http://issuu.com/andreamcarthur/docs/exploring_services_of_youth_volunteers_providing_i

The purpose of my research was to investigate issues related to indirect volunteering of youth volunteers by identifying strengths, challenges, and exploring themes that have and themes that have not yet emerged in prior literature on youth volunteers before.

The following two definitions were explored in greatest detail in the thesis:


Non-front line, volunteer does not directly work with the client.

Awareness raising and fundraising are two common examples.


Role ambiguity is defined as the extent to which volunteers are “unclear about their responsibilities and the extent to which role-related information is unclear” (Fried et al., 2008, p. 307).

Role ambiguity negatively affects the retention of volunteers, but research supporting this finding has included adult participants only (Merrel, 2000; Ross, Greenfield, & Bennet, 1999).

To investigate all relevant topics for indirect volunteering of youth volunteers, three research questions were asked:


—What motivations, barriers to engagement, and opportunities for leadership affect youth volunteers who participate in indirect forms of service?

—How does role ambiguity impact indirect forms of service?

—What strengths and challenges affect youth volunteers who provide indirect forms of service?


—Six core themes emerged from the data analysis.

—Three themes reflected common topics from the literature review:  motivations to volunteer, leadership opportunities, and barriers to engagement.

—Role ambiguity emerged as a core theme for youth who are indirect volunteers.

—Two new themes emerged that are unique to this research: empowerment and power imbalances, and the meaning that youth ascribe to their volunteer roles.

These next images represent the core themes and sub themes that emerged from the literature. (Note: all diagrams can be enlarged by clicking on the image).

main n sub themes 1

main n sub themes 2

The following diagram illustrates that the work of indirect youth volunteers often has to go through many channels to impact the intended clients. The results of this work often takes a long time to become apparent.

Fig 1

To explain, youth volunteers impact the service agencies where they volunteer. At the same time the service agency may empower them by offering clear roles and responsibilities that are supported by access to resources, teamwork, and engaged stakeholders. Alternatively, agencies may disempower their volunteers by offering vague volunteer positions with no clear outcomes. Male youth, younger youth volunteers, and youth who do not speak English can also be disempowered.  Often the volunteer’s work must be channeled through governments and other NGOs. Finally, the channeled work of the volunteers may impact the actual service communities, which are sometimes within their own municipality, but also may be far away in another country.

The next diagram is a conceptualization of the interrelatedness of all themes that emerged from the data analysis. There are two problematic paths and one successful path for engaging youth volunteers and achieving meaningful outcomes with their work.

Fig 2

If an aspiring youth volunteer is faced with barriers to engagement, they cannot volunteer. If their motivations are fulfilled, they land a public education role. They are then either empowered or disempowered. If they face additional barriers to engagement when volunteering, they fail to see the outcomes of their work and may not accomplish outcomes at all. If they do get feedback and are clear about their work, the service outcomes are met and are clear to the volunteer.

It is also important that organizations have a clear understanding of the barriers that create role ambiguity, factors that improve clarity, and the outcomes of these actions. Factors that improve clarity can be accomplished by both staff and youth volunteers as this next diagram demonstrates.

Fig 3

One of the research sub questions asked what strengths and challenges youth face that are unique to indirect volunteering.  Out of the research I came up with strengths and challenges for youth who are indirect service volunteers.

Strengths & Challenges 1

Strengths & Challenges 2

These strengths and challenges should be used as a guide of methods to pursue and actions to avoid by organizations striving to better engage youth in indirect volunteering.

More information about the outcomes with the GTA organizations can be found in the full thesis here: http://scholars.wlu.ca/etd/1030/


One Response to “Factors Impacting Youth Providing Indirect Volunteering: Strengths and Challenges for Engagement”


  1. GetInvolved.ca - Youth Volunteers and Raising Awareness: A guide to keeping young volunteers engaged when their impact isn't clear - February 14, 2013

    […] Andrea McArthur is the author of the VolunteerGuru’s blog. She completed her Masters Thesis on factors impacting youth providing indirect volunteering: strengths and challenges for engagement. […]

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