Voluntary Work in Latin American Civil Society Organizations

As we previously pointed out, following Madrid’s (2001) opinion as well as the recommendations proposed by the Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work (2011) and the Handbook on Non-Profit Institutions in the System of National Accounts (2003), we place the issue of volunteering within a wider scope, the composition of human resources that work in CSO. It does not imply denying the importance that informal volunteering may have, but it merely gives a greater and special meaning to voluntary action carried out by or for Non-Profit Institutions (NPI).[1] This means that voluntary action could be performed for an NPI that promotes volunteering either to help another NPI or a public organization such as a school or hospital, or in the institutional framework of an organization as part of its human resources without the mediation of a third-party entity.

The proportion between the two forms of work (paid or voluntary) in a CSO/NPI depends on many factors. To this end, the Handbook highlights that in the nonprofit sector at an international level, many different forms of work (paid/unpaid and typi- cal/atypical) can be found. The form of work depends on many factors including not only the type of economy (developed, transition, and developing), industry (health and social services, culture, education, and political advocacy), and geographical situation (urban, suburban, and rural), but also the size and the age of the nonprofit organization in question. For example, nonprofit organizations may exclusively rely on volunteer work at the beginning of their organizational life cycle, and at some point begin to add paid staff positions as the organization grows (Handbook, 2003, p. 240).

In Latin America, the universe of CSO is usually built up by entities that count with very different levels of formalization that can be expressed, among other aspects, with a certain degree of dualism. This dualism in a simplified manner establishes a division between those that have permanent and specialized structures and those that do not count with such resources and operate based on voluntary effort and a poor division of work. The institutions with a higher degree of formalization and professionalism predominate not only in education and health nonprofit subsectors serving the middle class, but also in environment and advocacy as well. Certainly, this is not the only dimension to take into account since there are other issues that can contribute to define its features and, upon occasions, the proportion between remunerated work and voluntary work. Consequently, it has an influence not only on their location but also indicates the type of population they work with (middle class and low-income sectors) .

In social services and in the urban areas where the poorer population is established, we find a greater degree of amateurism as well as a limited scale of services delivered and a greater proportion of volunteers within the human resources structure (Gonzalez Bombal & Roitter, 2002; Mitchell, 2014). It is also well worth taking into account the increasing existence of many organizations that have been created mainly during the last 10 years, which have, as a rule, been promoted, financed, and even to some extent controlled by the State in cooperation with social movements. The largest part of these organizations is generally small with blurred limits between paid and unpaid work. One of its main characteristics is the combination of multipurpose objectives, such as lending assistance and building social infrastructure for the poor, and at the same time providing sources of income for its members that originate in public subsidies.

The bone of contention in this context is the criteria used to define “voluntary” and the fulfillment of the sole notion of volunteering depicting people involved in these kinds of organizations (Roitter, 2009, p. 287).

This dualistic depiction, although it brings forth a simplified image of civil society organizations in the region, is useful to establish two extremes in the combination of remunerated work and nonremunerated work. In general, the organizations with a certain degree of seniority and those that have to fulfill the requirement of certain professional attributes for carrying out their work (such as health and education) have a large quantity of remunerated work and only rely on volunteers for complementary tasks.

  • [1] Civil Society Organizations (CSO) or Nonprofit Organizations (NPO) or Non-GovernmentalOrganizations (NGO) are most the common denomination. Nonprofit Institutions (NPI) is the termadopted by the Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work (2011) and the Handbook onNonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts (2003). In this chapter, we use all thisterms as a synonym.
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