Committing to refugee resettlement volunteering: Attaching, detaching and displacing organizational ties

  • Kirstie McAllum
  • Human Relations, October 2017, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/0018726717729209

Refugee resettlement volunteers: committed or compelled?

What is it about?

This study focused on how the network of people around refugee resettlement volunteers influenced their involvement: the non-profit organization that recruited and supported them; the refugees they worked with; and their own families, friends, and work colleagues. These ‘others’ made a difference in decisions about committing depending on their presence (they were there for volunteers or they expected volunteers to ‘be there’ for them) or absence (they were not there when volunteers needed them).

Why is it important?

By summer 2015, one in every 122 human beings was a refugee, internally displaced person or asylum seeker. Volunteers play an essential role in helping newly arrived refugees adapt to their new country and local community, but sometimes volunteering can be difficult or disappointing when refugees do not want to be helped or expect volunteers to deliver the help differently. When this happens, volunteers can find staying committed difficult, and they often drop out. Although the non-profit organization cannot influence the quality of the relationships that volunteers develop with refugees, the findings suggest that having professional staff to help volunteers deal with crises and manage day-to-day boundaries might stop experienced volunteers from dropping out. To do this, this non-profit organization needs to lobby decision-makers for more resources for volunteer support.


Kirstie McAllum
Universite de Montreal

Writing the article helped me to reflect on whether volunteering is always a "free" decision to dedicate time and energy. The positive and negative role that guilt can play as a motivator was fascinating!

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