Adding the Organizational Perspective: How Organizations Shape Service Work Abroad


International voluntary service, Interorganizational relationships, Organizations, Development, India


International volunteering is an increasingly popular form of service work, but the scholarship on international volunteering has done little to unpack the assertion that organizations shape the international volunteering experience. We demonstrate the utility of taking an organizational perspective by reporting on an ethnographic investigation of an international voluntary service episode in Southern India. In doing so, we attend to all of the parties common to international volunteering—the coordinating international volunteer service organization, the host NGOs, and the volunteers—and pay particular attention to the organizational dynamics that influence the service rendered. We find that the different actors in the service relationship understood successful international development efforts in different ways, which frustrated the productivity of the relationships in question. These mismatched goals were partly the legacy of a partnership-formation process that followed a cultural–historical logic rather than an instrumental one. The consequences were dissatisfaction on the part of volunteers and mixed benefits for the organizations with which they were matched. We suggest that these findings have relevance to other international volunteering sites.

Original Publication Citation

Nelson, Kyle and Curtis Child. 2016. “Adding the Organizational Perspective: How Organizations Shape Service Work Abroad.” Voluntas 27(2):525-548

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor