Reinvigorating St Vincent de Paul’s Valuable Volunteer Network through Research

A 2013 research project conducted by Dr Jodie Conduit, Senior Marketing Lecturer at Adelaide Business School (ABS), has set a revolution in motion: radically changing the way the St. Vincent de Paul Society’s (Vinnies) valuable volunteer network in South Australia is managed and rewarded. With astounding success and positive results.

Since the 1880s Vinnies has been working in communities across Australia to shape a more just and compassionate society by offering a hand up to people in need. There are not many living in Australia who haven’t heard of its incredible support. Whether they are one of the more than 1.8 million people living in poverty and experiencing disadvantage directly benefitting from its services, one of the many donating much needed funds, or one of the more than 40,000 volunteers and members delivering support every year.

As a not for profit organisation, volunteers are Vinnies’ linchpin. In South Australia alone, Vinnies relies on 2500 volunteers (and only 75 full time staff) to provide practical support, advocacy and friendship to 105,000 vulnerable people within the community. They do this through local groups, its Fred’s Van mobile food service, 34 Vinnies shops and by providing support across programs for migrants and refugees, crisis accommodation and housing, learning and education pathways, and people and communities in developing countries.

In 2013, recognising the valuable asset that is their volunteers, and the critical support, assistance and service they provide to the local community, Mr. David Wark, CEO of St Vincent de Paul South Australia, asked Dr. Jodie Conduit to be part of a working party and partner with them to conduct Vinnies Values Volunteers – a research project examining the nature of volunteer engagement and management, and the value placed on volunteer input.

After interviewing 500 volunteers, results showed that volunteers have a strong emotional connection with Vinnies and highly value their volunteering experiences. However, rewards, communication and management support were highlighted as key areas for improvement.

Mr Wark and his managers were able to use these perceptive and valuable research results to shape its five-year strategic direction. Now, one of its key strategic themes is to “Support its dedicated members and volunteers so they can best serve the people in our community requiring assistance.” And, in the three years since, the strategies they have implemented have revolutionised the way volunteers are managed. Altering volunteer inductions, changing job descriptions, more clearly defining expectations and dramatically increasing its focus on the day-to-day volunteer management are proving vital in helping Vinnies to more effectively deliver its services to the local community.

The hard work of Vinnies’ management and staff in implementing these new strategies has most definitely reaped rewards, reinvigorating the already strong volunteer network. And David Wark couldn’t be happier, recently commenting that, “As a result of the research, today we have a record number of volunteers, just short of 3000, with waiting lists in some of our shops and Fred’s Van, which is almost unheard of in the not for profit environment.” The positive impact of the volunteer research is something that both Dr. Conduit’s team at the ABS, and St Vincent de Paul South Australia can be incredibly proud.

Dr Conduit’s work with this remarkable organisation continues today, having been invited by Mr Brian Spencer, Vinnies State President in South Australia, to become a member of its Business Development Advisory Panel.

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