Work in voluntary welfare organizations : A sociological study of voluntary welfare organizations in Sweden

Abstract: Since Sweden has one of the most comprehensive welfare states, the role of voluntary organizations active in the field of welfare is often neglected. The unique Swedish nonprofit sector is characterized by 1) the tradition of popular mass movements in which members are central and the real owners of the organization, 2) large membership and volunteering, but low employment levels, 3) dominance in the fields of culture and recreation, but the relative marginalization in welfare. This Ph.D. dissertation empirically studies work and the perception of work in voluntary welfare organizations (VWOs) in Sweden. I completed a series of 38 interviews of employees and volunteers in four VWOs: 1) a children’s rights organization; 2) a women’s center; 3) a volunteer bureau; and 4) a humanitarian organization. A quantitative survey of some 200 VWOs supplements the qualitative data. Looking at the internal work setting and interactions between workers one realizes that work in VWOs is influenced not only by the popular mass movements (folkrörelser), which are the foundation model of all Swedish voluntary organizations, but also by paradigms emerging out of the public and for-profit sectors: 1) the public paradigm permanently shapes voluntary welfare organizations through the action of paid workers who often have public sector work experience; and 2) work in voluntary organizations is partly integrated into the regular labor market, and interfaces emerge between volunteering and professional life (for-profit paradigm). The private sphere also interferes with volunteering. Finally, this sheds a new light on the claims of VWOs that they are autonomous, “free” entities, and their contribution to social integration and strengthening of social ties.