The main objective of this research is to understand the challenges and consequences of non-profit marketization in volunteering for NPOs and community organizations, and more broadly for our modern Western societies. Understood as an ideological shift towards market-oriented principles, non-profit marketization manifests by the invasion, in the non-profit sector, of business discourse and competitive, self-interested, and profit-motivated managerial practices. This pervasive shift has led many NPOs to
privilege the most marketable outcomes at the expense of values such as solidarity, redistribution of resources, equity, fairness or care, that generally define the non-profit sector's social mission. Scholars have raised concerns about the dangers and drifts of non-profit marketization mostly framing this latter in binary terms: as a choice between either market or mission. Instead, we contend that both market and mission must be considered to account for non-profit marketization, because the very tension between them is constitutive of the non-profit sector. Choosing between one and the other can compromise the 'raison d'être' of NPOs by either affecting their missions or their responsibility to be financially solvent. This research proposes to develop comprehensive explanations to better understand what it means to be non-profit in a market economy and how NPOs juggle these dimensions. We do so by focusing more specifically on how the market/mission tension is manifested, experienced, understood and dealt with in volunteering practices, a key dimension of the non-profit sector that is experiencing profound transformations. While the contemporary debate on volunteering has revolved around its dramatic change towards episodic, non-committal, and self-oriented types of participation, scholars have not explicitly addressed these issues in light of non-profit marketization. Hence, the general question that guides this research is: How does the market-mission tension that characterizes the non-profit sector transform and shape volunteering practices? To address this question we develop a communicational approach that accounts for the contradictory nature of the non-profit sector and favours a relational, contextual and processual understanding of volunteering practices. Importantly, this communicational approach draws attention to how the different actors engaged in volunteering collectively enact, make sense and respond to the market/mission tension in their everyday communicative practices. The methodological approach of this research is based on a multi-sited ethnography that will be conducted at three volunteer based NPOs, namely the Canadian Cancer Society, Médecins du Monde Canada and Projects Abroad. The comparative analysis of these research sites will bring about three in depth complementary case studies that show the many ways volunteers, non-profit practitioners and beneficiaries collectively experience, understand and deal with the market/mission tension. Moreover, the results of this research will lead to a theoretical conceptualization of volunteering that critically accounts for the implications of non-profit marketization as well as a comprehensive repertoire of volunteering practices in this context. This research will benefit NPOs and community organization as it will offer them theoretical and practical explanations about the transformation and shaping of volunteering by non-profit marketization as well as insights on how to go about it. The research will also contribute to the emergent literature on volunteering and organizational communication by offering a novel theoretical and methodological framework of volunteering that accounts for the contradictory nature of the non-profit sector.

Chercheur principal

Consuelo Vasquez (UQAM)


Nicolas Bencherki; Kirstie McAllum (Université de Montréal) et Frederik Matte (University of Ottawa)

Organisme subventionnaire

CRSH (Conseil de recherches en sciences humaines du Canada)


Subvention Savoir

Secteur de recherche

Communications et culture à l'ère du numérique


2017 - 2022

Montant accordé

255 648,00 $