by Marie Palacios
How many of you have heard yourself saying “Our organization lives off of volunteers.” Or perhaps “Volunteers are what keep our programs afloat!”
Sound familiar? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.
One of Funding For Good’s clients recently reached out with this very important question: “How do we determine when and what we should pay volunteers?”
The first part of this question is quite simple.
You don’t ever pay “volunteers” because a volunteer is by definition a “person who performs a service willingly and without pay.”
However, for those organizations who seem to be pulling from the same volunteer pool more and more often, the question of payment is one that should be addressed before volunteers burn out or simply can’t meet the growing demand.
Funding For Good works with an organization that was using an almost all volunteer to run an educational program. Once a month, the same 6-8 volunteers happily gathered to offer programs for community youth. However, as the nonprofit began to grow so did the demand for those interactive programs. It became much harder for staff to call upon volunteers 7-8 times each month and expect them to commit 10-20 hours per month to volunteer programming. The nonprofit had to take a step back and complete an evaluation of program demands, local resources, volunteer capacity, and qualified professionals who could be brought in for programs on a contract basis.
Before replacing valuable volunteers with contract workers, the staff decided to meet one-on-one with volunteers. These conversations allowed staff to personally thank each volunteer, ask them why they were so passionate about the program, and better understand their interests and availability. The staff went on to tell volunteers that they understood that it was unfair to assume that each volunteer could continue to meet growing needs without any compensation but hiring new staff was not a viable option at that moment. Each volunteer was asked how many hours per week/month they felt they could contribute and if they would be willing to consider assisting with additional programming for a nominal “stipend.” Volunteers appreciated the honest conversation and offered a variety of responses including:
- I am retired and love helping out. I’m happy to help out as much as my schedule allows at no cost. Contact me when there is a need and I will do my best to be here.
- I have loved being involved but I am limited in resources and would appreciate a reimbursement for gas after a certain number of programs per month.
- I don’t need a lot, but a stipend of $25 for half day of programming and $50 for a full day would allow me to make ends meet while still engaging with the programs that I love.
- Heck! If you just feed me lunch I’m a happy camper!
This nonprofit is now actively working with both volunteers and contract professionals to meet program needs until service fees increase enough to support hiring additional staff. Individual conversations allowed staff to avoid a potentially uncomfortable situation with volunteers.
Now some volunteers work a pre-determined number of hours with no expectation of pay and then receive a modest stipend after initial volunteer hours are expended. Others are content to be recognized with a gift card to their favorite local restaurant, store, or gas station. (Which are quite easy to get donated by the way!)
The moral of this blog is to get to know your volunteers and have honest conversations about their expectations as well as the organization’s expectations and volunteer needs. As always, remember to consult with your CPA to make sure all payments are authorized and allocated according to current tax laws.