That might sound like an odd question. After all, a Volunteer is someone who works without expecting to be paid, right? Maybe it isn’t always quite that simple.

We tend to think of Volunteers as generous people who give up their time to work for charities and community organisations, their only reward being the satisfaction of knowing that they’re helping. While many of them certainly do fit that description I think we could expand the definition.

The true spirit of Volunteering is a selfless commitment to the organisation’s cause or mission. Here at Volunteering Bay of Plenty we call them superheroes. Our communities couldn’t function properly without them. They don’t receive a wage or a salary, but does that necessarily mean Volunteers should never receive any form of tangible reward?

Look at it this way. They don’t just give up their time; it often actually costs them money to show up and perform their Volunteer duties. I realise that most of them do this gladly and see it as part of their Volunteer contribution but I think there are some questions to think through to make sure they get both the intrinsic and tangible benefits they deserve.

Some simple things we may overlook can make it much harder for a Volunteer to commit if we can’t address them. What if they need to find or pay for parking? They’re not being paid, so is it fair to expect them to provide their own lunch? If they have children is there anything we can do to help them with childcare to free up their time?

  • Do we actually know what our Volunteers’ needs are?
  • Are they incurring costs in the course of their Volunteer duties, especially if they’re Volunteering “between jobs” and have no income at the time?
  • Are there tax-appropriate ways we could provide some tangible way of expressing our gratitude for their contribution?

There are also countless situations every day where paid employees are also acting as Volunteers.

Here’s just one example:

Imagine there’s a non-profit organisation about to run a major community event and they have a paid team tasked with running the event. However, that team needs extra help, so they call on their internal colleagues to step in and take on tasks that are outside their normal function, without being paid overtime.

That “overtime” is effectively the paid workers’ Volunteer contribution.

What if that happened in a commercial business? Would we still see this as Volunteer work if the paid worker carried out tasks beyond the normal scope and hours of their role, simply because they’re passionately committed to the company’s mission? Is that also Volunteering or would it just be expected if they want to stay in management’s good books?

Some companies give paid employees paid time off to Volunteer in the traditional sense. That’s great and I’d love to see more of it. Technically that’s an example where people are in fact being paid to Volunteer.

This is just my opinion though, and I am sure there are others.

Should we always ask Volunteers to give their time completely free or should we find ways to compensate them? If so, what forms of tangible reward do you think are appropriate for Volunteers?

Please take the Survey…

At Volunteering Bay of Plenty we do everything we can to stay tuned in to the needs of the community and the Volunteers who serve us all. What we’re hearing more and more from Volunteers is that they want to continue to Volunteer but many of them also urgently need to find paid work.

If you’re a registered Volbop Volunteer then you would’ve received an invitation to participate in a survey to let us know if you are currently working, looking for work or just interested in Volunteer roles.

To help us get a true indication of your needs, please take a few minutes to complete the survey.