Organizing processes in the voluntary social sector: a study of institutionalization and organizing in: Bedre Psykiatri Ungdom, Headspace, Sind & Livslinien

Jane Elkjær Simonsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis is the result of an empirical study on the organizing processes related to the volunteer organizations of Bedre Psykiatri Ungdom, Headspace, Sind and Livslinien. These organizations operate within the voluntary social sector and provide services for the psychologically vulnerable and their relatives. The purpose is to investigate organizing practices and their nature, in order to gain a better understanding of the voluntary social world. This understanding shall contribute to improvement in the co-creation efforts of the public sector and civil society. The empirical study takes root in the philosophy of social constructivism by generating interpretations from the collected data. The research strategy is based on principles of ethnographic research where the researcher has conducted self-ethnography because the researcher has been a member of one of the case organizations. Furthermore principles of triangulations have been used in the remaining case organizations where the empirical data is collected through semi-structured interviews, observations and collection of documents. These findings are interpreted into a theoretical framework using 8 dimensions to explain how the case organizations adopts bureaucratic and collectivist practices in their organizing efforts. There is a tendency that shows that the volunteer organizations are becoming more professional. This visible in those organizations that have employed management who provides clearly defined frames in which the volunteers can navigate in. These frames are formalized through written volunteer policies and volunteer handbooks, and serve the purpose of avoiding misdirected activities, which can result in ineffective organizational performance. Findings indicate that the volunteer organizations are also based on collectivist principles of social control based on personalistic and moral appeals, informal social relations and non-monetary solidarity incentives, and these characteristics explains the motivations of the volunteers. Furthermore the study explains the consequences of depending on too many collectivist practices and how the engagement of the volunteers may wane in a response to this. It highlights the need for blending bureaucratic and collectivist practices in the organizing efforts. Additionally the study clarifies how the institutional environment influences these organizing practices, because the social structures in the organizational field creates isomorphic change. This points to the fact that the case organizations conform to the formalized structures of the foundations, upon which they are dependent on for financials aids. Moreover, it is argued the organizational field will create a rational institutional myth, stating that ‘frames’, ‘structures’ and ‘formalization’ is needed in order to receive funding and to secure the quality of the service. This explains why certain practices from the findings on the organizing practices are based on bureaucratic principles. However, it is identified that the case organizations can also decouple from these formalized structures which enables them provide the best service for the psychologically vulnerable users. By being responsive, flexible and different, the volunteer organizations separate the voluntary offer from that of the public and professional offer.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages89