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Towards a new understanding of organizational culture in the UK voluntary sector: a case-study of faith-based organisations in Scotland

Carpenter, Matthew Iain


Matthew Iain Carpenter


The researcher holds 13 years employment experience within a major UK voluntary organisation (The Salvation Army) and seeks to explore voluntary sector cultural characteristics from the viewpoint of a cultural insider (an ‘emic’ perspective).
Drawing upon voluntary sector practitioner experiences from within three case organisations, this study focuses upon organisational culture within faith-based UK voluntary organisations as an emergent research ‘gap’ in culture studies. The purpose of the
research is to critically examine the organisational culture literature within the context of the voluntary sector and identify issues and developments influencing organisational culture in voluntary organisations. Data gathering/analysis also aims to critically explore
characteristics of culture within a range of faith-based voluntary organisations and develop an indicative strategy for managerial response to ongoing cultural shifts within voluntary organisations.
The study commences with a critical literature review examining a number of key themes and conceptual issues to enable recognition of voluntary sector-specific distinctiveness in the light of academic and practitioner research published to date.
The research design thereafter utilises three case organisations operating in Scotland (The Salvation Army, Bethany Christian Trust and New Beginnings Clydesdale) reflecting deliberate choice of a large, medium and small-sized voluntary organisation to allow
identification of differing cultural indicators and so explore the ‘rich’ and ‘deep’ perspectives of multiple social actors. Documentary analysis, elite interviews of CEOs and differentiated stakeholder focus groups (employees, volunteers, service users) are all
utilised to elicit understanding and meaning of a number of cultural indicators from the perspective(s) of research participants and, in doing so, it becomes possible to explore potential sub-cultural individual and group norms and sense-making frameworks.
Results reveal seven core cultural themes centring on: leadership, knowledge transfer, partnerships, faith-based values, sub-cultural differentiation, stakeholder conflict and service user focus. Findings also evidence specific contextual issues within The Salvation
Army relating to risk averse and procedure-bound leadership, formalised knowledge transfer mechanisms, pressure for consultation and employee/volunteer stakeholder conflict. Bethany Christian Trust evidences issues relating to increasing "professionalism’, drive for ‘quality’, operational/functional silos and secularisation threats to faith-based principles while New Beginnings Clydesdale exhibits issues relating to resource scarcity,
role of external ‘influencing agents’, localism, leader/follower stakeholder conflict and embryonic organisational development.
Drawing together these key findings permits a sector-specific adaptation of the cultural web model with subsequent cross-case synthesis resulting in a sector-specific adaptation of the
cultural iceberg model relating to employee/volunteer stakeholder conflict and outline of a new ‘engagement ground’ model relating to partnership working between faith-based voluntary organisations and secular public sector agencies.
Having identified a range of visible and hidden cultural indicators within the case organisations, the study highlights fourteen specific recommendations to professional practice (representing potential management responses to identified key cultural tensions)
including targeting non-statutory revenue streams, defining non-negotiable faith-based values/success factors and formalising volunteer recruitment/supervision. The study concludes with discussion of how research could be utilised/modified in subsequent studies to explore emergent research areas surrounding; organisational impact of faith-based belief systems, size-related cultural tensions and sectoral differences.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Oct 7, 2013
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords Voluntary sector; culture; organizational management; faith-based organisations
Public URL
Contract Date Oct 7, 2013
Award Date 2013-09


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