February 8, 2024

Episode #96: Volunteer Work or Staff Position? How to Decide!

In this episode, Tobi discusses how organizations can decide whether a role should be volunteer work, or paid position. She discusses the key differences between volunteer work and paid roles in areas such as legal definitions, pay structures, motivations, behavior, roles, expertise and identity. 

Tobi also emphasizes that the decision must be strategic and respectful to the volunteers, and how roles involving high-risk scenarios or handling of sensitive information may be better suited for paid staff, than volunteers. Tune in to find out how you can ensure you make the right decision when it comes to determining roles within your organization! 

Volunteer Work – Show Highlights

  • [01:39] – Understanding the Key Differences Between Volunteer Work and Paid Work 
  • [01:58] – Why Does It Matter? The Impact of Staff Attitudes on Volunteers 
  • [04:27] – The Principle: Respect and Burden for Volunteers 
  • [06:44] – Understanding the Legal Definitions of Volunteer Work 
  • [17:08] – The Role of Motivation and Behavior in Volunteer Work 
  • [21:21] – Roles and Expertise: How to Decide Between Volunteer and Paid Positions 
  • [31:32] – The Identity of Volunteer Workers 

Volunteer Work – Quotes from the Episode

This is my principle. Volunteers should be given twice the respect of paid staff, but half the burden of an employee’s bureaucratic hassles.” 

Volunteers can be choosy about their assignments and schedule because guess what? They don’t care. They don’t care if you fire them. They’ll go find another volunteer opportunity. They’re a dime a dozen. There are tons of places to volunteer in every community.” 

About the Show

Nonprofit leadership author, trainer, consultant, and volunteer management expert Tobi Johnson shares weekly tips to help charities build, grow, and scale exceptional volunteer teams. Discover how your nonprofit can effectively coordinate volunteers who are reliable, equipped, and ready to help you bring about BIG change for the better.

If you’re ready to ditch the stress and harness the power of people to fuel your good work, you’re in exactly the right place!

Contact Us

Have questions or suggestions for the show? Email us at wecare@volpro.net.

Rate, Review, & Follow Us on Apple Podcasts

If you love the content Tobi shares on the Volunteer Nation podcast, consider rating and reviewing the show! This helps us reach more people – and help more good causes just like yours – successfully engage enthusiastic, dedicated volunteers with less stress and more joy.

Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars. Then, select “Write a Review” and let us know what you loved most about this episode!

Also, if you haven’t done so already, follow the podcast so you don’t miss a thing. Follow now!

Subscribe to ProNews: Our Weekly Resource Roundup

If you’d like to stay up to date on all new podcasts, blogs, freebies, and deals posted on our Tobi Johnson & Associates and VolunteerPro websites, subscribe to our weekly ProNews newsletter.

Every Wednesday, we’ll send you a digest of our freshest content, plus a bonus! Once you confirm your subscription, you’ll get our [Free eBook] The New Volunteer Manager: The First 90 Days.

Episode #96 Transcript: Volunteer Work or Staff Position? How to Decide!

Well, hey there! Welcome to another episode of The Volunteer Nation. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and today I’m going to answer the perennial question, volunteer work or staff position? How do we decide? So, let’s say that you have a new project or a new program opening up, and you’re trying to figure out how to staff it, and you’re not sure if these particular roles, or which particular roles, Should be considered volunteer work and which should be employee positions employee Roles and you know, I get asked this a lot. 

What should be volunteer work and what should be staff work? What’s the difference? And the fact is, there’s no hard and fast rule. There’s no hard and fast rule, although we have a lot of guidelines. So, there’s a little bit of art and science to this. There are no hard and fast rules, although there are some laws. 

And I’ll share some of the laws in the U. S. if you live outside the U. S. Definitely check with your Department of Labor, but I’ll share a few things today that’ll give you an idea of where to look and what to look for. But I want to talk about the key differences between volunteer work and paid work in the areas of Legal definitions, pay, motivation and behavior, roles and expertise and identity. 

So, I’ll give you a series of ways to think about this question of should it be paid, or should it be volunteer? And you know, why does it matter anyway? Well, you know what? Volunteers are not day laborers, although sometimes they’re treated that way. So, we want to make sure we’re really clear when we’re designing roles who it’s for So that we’re doing a purposeful job of designing for volunteer work That it’s not just find any warm body and treat volunteers like day laborers. 

It’s just not the way it should be run. Volunteers are our community and when we’re doing volunteerism, we’re doing community engagement. There are also clear labor laws that are triggered when a worker is categorized as an employee. So nonprofits need to know These differences in these laws so they stay out of trouble. 

Another reason it matters is to know the difference between paid and unpaid staff. Paid staff sometimes don’t understand unpaid workers. They just don’t understand what’s inside their mind. They end up either treating them in a patronizing way or treating them exactly like paid staff and neither is the way to go. 

We want to understand the differences so we can explain them to others. Also, shows that if paid staff don’t understand volunteer value, volunteers are more likely to leave. And this is old research from years ago. So, we know there is a connection between how Paid staff regard volunteers and the feelings volunteers have and the level of satisfaction they have and whether they stay working with an organization. 

So, staff attitudes matter. It’s really important to understand and explain the differences between paid and unpaid staff. Also, if there’s a high turnover in volunteers, there’s likely to be high turnover in staff. Also, because they end up having to do more work, because volunteers are leaving right and left, staff are left to pick up the pieces, to fill in the gaps, to work longer hours, to do more and more and more Tasks to add more to their plate, and it can lead to burnout. 

And so, when volunteers turn over, staff turnover too. And then, also, conflicts can come up when we don’t understand the motivations, needs, and identities of volunteers. And so, we want to make sure that we have clear understanding about why we would design a role for volunteers and what’s motivating volunteers to participate in that role. 

Here’s the deal, gang. This is my principle. Volunteers should be given twice the respect of paid staff, but half the burden of an employee’s bureaucratic hassles. I really believe this. I think volunteers should be given twice the respect of paid staff. Why? Because they have given freely of their time. 

Paid staff are given a paycheck and a living. They are able to make a living through their job. And I’m not saying that paid staff should not be respected. Obviously, they should. Everyone should be given respect in the workplace. Volunteers should be revered for the time and talent and the things they’re sacrificing in their own lives to work for nothing, right? 

To work for the purpose and cause and the passion behind your mission. So, I think they deserve extra credit for that. Secondly, I don’t believe, and we know in today’s world, that if there is too much bureaucracy, if there’s too much inflexibility, volunteers are less likely to stick with it. It’s just the way it is. 

People have the right to be as choosy as they want. And if they’re meeting up with huge levels of bureaucracy and paperwork to just give a handout and just help out at your nonprofit. They’re just going to turn and walk away, just the way it is nowadays. So, we’ve got to remember that. Volunteers should be given twice the respect of paid staff. 

Not to say paid staff don’t deserve respect. Maximum respect as well, but half the burden of an employee’s bureaucratic hassles. So, if you’re wondering if your staff see the value of volunteers or want to figure out ways to help them see the value, check out Volunteer Nation episode nine. This was way back at the beginning of our podcast, helping nonprofit employees see the value of volunteers. 

And we talked a little bit about how to make that happen. So, check that out. yes. Yes, determining the difference and being purposeful in how we design rules and choose between volunteer unpaid work and paid employee work is important. So, let’s talk about these different aspects of this decision process. 

One aspect is the legal definitions of volunteer work. So according to the U. S. Department of Labor. There are specific guidelines for who should be considered a volunteer worker. And they are to contribute time to benefit a civic, charitable, or humanitarian purpose. They consider volunteer work to be less than full time work provided freely without coercion or pressure, which is interesting when you think about service learning and court ordered community service. 

I think there’s some debate here, but nobody’s stepped up and advocated that that wording be changed, so it’s not going to change until the community decides it needs to be changed. Services are typically associated with volunteer work, which is also a very gray area. Because if you think of organizations like Doctors Without Borders, that’s a highly professionalized skill to be a doctor or a nurse or a medical practitioner. 

And it’s not usually associated with volunteer work, but in that organization it is. So, there’s some debates around that one. Employees are not displaced. So, it’s best to design and proactively choose volunteer roles when you’re setting up a new department, new program, new initiative, et cetera. Or if you’ve lost staff and those roles have been vacant for a while and you want to rethink, is this really a paid staff position or could this be a volunteer position? 

What you don’t want to do is say, you know what? These staff must go. We need to cut corners. We’re going to replace them with volunteers. That is going to get you in hot water with the Department of Labor. And then. The volunteer does not receive or expect benefits. So, they don’t expect any remuneration whatsoever, any perks, etc. 

Except maybe a pat on the back, free parking, Snacks on Fridays, ice cream party. I don’t know, but nothing, no real benefits that have monetary value, and we’ll talk about that in a minute. Who is not a volunteer, according to the U. S. Department of Labor? Again, if you’re in a different country, just look at your Department of Labor, who is responsible for workers, and look at these, and how do they define volunteers and non-volunteers. 

So, according to the U. S. Department of Labor, they are not a volunteer if they contribute time to benefit a for profit company. So, I have a for profit company, therefore I cannot engage volunteers. The volunteers cannot support commercial activities, which is very interesting. 

This is another gray area. There are plenty of volunteers who run gift shops. Is a gift shop in a hospital considered a commercial activity? I don’t know. It’s a gray area. You’re not a volunteer if you’re working full time or overtime work. if your volunteer work is provided under pressure or volunteering. 

Again, there’s some gray area around that one. Services are typically associated with paid employee work. Again, interesting area to debate a little bit about who should be a volunteer or what kind of work is considered volunteer versus non volunteer. Again, not, if employees are displaced, then you should be considered an employee. 

And if you’re expecting benefits, then you should be considered an employee, not a volunteer. Now, there are also employees that are sometimes asked to volunteer for their nonprofit. There are rules around this with the Department of Labor. You cannot provide services that are the same as, similar, or related to your regular job duties. 

So, you can’t put in extra hours and call them volunteer hours and do not get paid. That’s not going to work. You’re going to have to do some other job at the organization and you must be willing to do it. You can’t be told to do it. Public sector or government employees can provide similar services, but for a different jurisdiction, right? 

So, they can go to a different county or state or whatever and provide that similar type of work. Nonprofits cannot request or direct employees to perform volunteer work during the employee’s normal working hours, even if it’s different than their job, right? So, if you have a certain schedule and someone asks you to volunteer for whatever role during your schedule, that’s not kosher. 

That’s not okay. So, think about when employees are invited to volunteer. How it happens when it happens. And you can only provide nominal perks and rewards. If you’re interested in looking at what the Department of Labor says about these things, and certainly, You may have some of these practices in place and it’s only a problem when someone submits Complaint against your organization and you may end up having to pay back pay to people So you don’t want to end up having to do that If you’re wondering about whether or not a situation is the person would be considered an employee or a volunteer you can always submit an opinion letter and you can also review other past opinion letters that the Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division has created. 

And I’m going to put a. You to that in the show notes where you can search those and kind of see what’s behind their thinking. But if you want it in writing and you want to do your due diligence, you can submit a request for an opinion letter and you basically describe what’s going on and you want an answer, and they will give you one. 

Now, I don’t know how long you must wait for that answer, but if you are concerned, I highly recommend you operate ethically and not just brush it under the carpet. Figure out what, whether it’s. That’s the right thing to do according to the Department of Labor. You don’t want to be the person that gets your organization into trouble. 

All right, so that gives you a little bit about the legal definition of volunteer work. If you have things that are in gray areas, you might want to go through this list and say, you know, use it as a litmus test. Is this volunteer work or is this paid staff work? All right let’s look at another area where you can kind of help design and decide. 

Which type of worker should be responsible for these roles? So, there’s guidelines for pay for employees versus volunteer work. So, here’s some things to know about pay. So first of all, employees need to be paid a minimum wage. So, if you decide that at least a minimum wage, if you decide that a role is an employee role, then it needs to be paid at least a minimum wage. 

An independent contractor is paid at least minimum hourly wage or a lump sum agreement that that contractor decides regardless of the number of hours they work. A volunteer may receive a stipend, but it shouldn’t be tied to the number of hours worked and they can get reimbursement for expenses up to certain levels. 

Now for stipends, I would speak with your CPA or your accountant and figure out what are the tax ramifications for volunteers for the stipend level that you want to offer because it’s, there are rules around this and I’m not a CPA or an attorney, so you want to make sure there, there are levels for stipends, but they must be pretty low and you’ve got to talk to an expert to get that figured out. 

So, and then National Service Members, your VISTAs. Your AmeriCorps members, they’re paid a living allowance or stipend. Now, this is in the U. S., of course. They can be given an education allowance, but they’re not considered an employee under statute. So, there’s a law that’s specific to National Service members that says that they are not to be considered an employee. 

Now, a couple of other things to know. Now, why do you care if someone’s considered an employee or volunteer? Well, different rules. Apply to each group, including taxation and a few things to note appreciation gifts for employees and volunteers that are cash or a cash equivalent, like a gift card is always taxable in the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service. 

And it has to be reported, and that’s why we don’t want to give gift cards or things that have monetary value now. If you wanted to give your volunteers each a holiday ham, that has no monetary value per se, you can do that without reporting. They don’t have to report that. So, whether paid staff or volunteer worker, they’re all supposed to be reporting those kinds of things. 

So, you need to make this easy for your volunteers when you’re giving any type of recognition gifts. Do not give them anything that has monetary value like that. So, if you want to learn more about what a volunteer is, these definitions are in much more detail and with links to sources. Check out Tobi Johnson and Associates blog. 

I wrote a blog post a while ago called, “What is a Volunteer? The difference between supporters and employees. And you can get links to sources and go to town if you want to get some of the, some more detail on that. So, the legal ramifications, that’s a way to think about whether or not someone should be categorized as a volunteer worker or be treated as a paid employee. 

After the break I want to talk about a few other ways to think about these differences and parse them out. So, let’s take a pause for a quick break from our chat about how volunteer work differs from paid work. So don’t go anywhere. I’ll be right back. 

If you enjoyed this week’s episode of Volunteer Nation, we invite you to check out the Volunteer Pro Premium Membership. This community is the most comprehensive resource for attracting, engaging, and supporting dedicated, high impact volunteer talent for your good cause. Volunteer Pro Premium Membership helps you build or renovate an effective volunteer program with less stress and more joy so that you can ditch the overwhelm and confidently carry your vision forward. It is the only implementation of its kind that helps your organization build maturity across five phases of our proprietary system, the volunteer strategy success path. If you’re interested in learning more, visit volpro.net/join  

Okay, we’re back with our chat about how volunteer work differs from paid work and why it matters. And I want to talk about motivation and behavior. There are some differences between paid employees and volunteer workers. There are differences in their attitudes and what motivates them. Now there are some similarities as well. 

We’re all human and we all have human needs of safety, belonging, meaning in our lives. But I want to talk a little bit specifically about each group because I think often Folks who work in nonprofits think volunteers and employees are very much the same and treat them very much the same. And I just don’t think that’s the best course of action in my mind because they’re different. 

So, employees are motivated mostly by pay, promotion, and privileges. They’re most likely to stay with the company or the organization, even if they’re unhappy. They must accept assignments from their supervisor. Now, we have people who are quiet quitting. And you may know somebody who’s doing that right now. 

But you know, theoretically, they’re supposed to accept their assignments. And if they don’t, they get fired. But, you know, sometimes that goes on for a while before that happens. They’re more likely to follow your organization’s rules because they’re there day in, day out. They’re more often full-time workers, and because of that, they’re more informed about policies, procedures, standards, etc. 

They’re just more informed overall. They know when change is afoot, whereas volunteers don’t always. Volunteers, on the other hand, are more motivated by meaning, flexibility, and connection. Now, I will say that these motivations are not mutually exclusive, that some people are motivated by all kinds of things. 

But in general, there are different motivations for volunteers than there are for paid staff. Volunteers and their behavior are different. For example, volunteers can leave an organization with minimal effort. I mean, they just vote with their feet. They’re like, you know what, I’m not down with this, I’m out. 

I’m not even showing up tomorrow. I’m not even going to say I’m not showing up. And they ghost you forever. And it’s that easy. You know, because there’s not really any consequence. Now for paid staff, if they decide to do that, suddenly, they’re not making a living. It’s a completely different calculation. 

Volunteers can be choosy about their assignments and schedule because guess what? They don’t care. They don’t care if you fire them. They’ll go find another volunteer opportunity. They’re a dime a dozen. There are tons of places to volunteer in every community. So, they can be choosy. They’re less likely to follow the rules because they’re more often part time workers. 

So, they’re, they’re not always aware all the time and they’re not always reminded about all of your rules and guidelines. Now, I’m not saying they purposely do so. Sometimes they do. But for the most part, it’s just, you know, ignorance. People don’t know. And they’re less informed about policies and procedures because they’re not up to the constant change that’s going on in your organization. 

They don’t have their finger on the pulse. I was reading a complaint once recently from A staffer who was complaining, you know, when volunteers leave our organization, they don’t even think about us. And I’m like, well, yeah, that’s right. Because they’re not paid to, you know, they’re not going to worry about your organization. 

They’re doing something else with their life when they’re not volunteering. And that’s okay. It’s fair. When people volunteer for you, you’re not, your volunteer description, you’re not listing as a bullet point. Hey, one of the things that we require from our volunteers is that you fret endlessly about whether our mission is accomplished or not. 

That’s part of, outside of your volunteer role. Throughout the day, 24 7, 7 days a week, we’d like you to fret endlessly about whether or not our mission is accomplished. Absolutely not. That’s not, that’s not cool. That’s not what you’re asking people to do. Ask people to commit fully for the time that they’re committing. 

Have it be, have a beginning, middle, and end. All right. So, this is a little bit about motives and behavior. You know, they’re a little bit different. They don’t play by the same rules. And don’t expect them to. Because they’re two completely different types of roles. So, it is important to think about when you’re thinking about roles and whether or not it should be a paid role or an unpaid role. 

If you need A role to have a lot of reliability, a lot of consistency, not saying volunteers aren’t reliable, but if you have something that is just absolutely must have people in that seat every day during this time of period, metaphorically in that seat, some, some roles you’re not sitting in a seat. If that’s the case, then maybe that’s best for a paid role. 

Right? All right let’s talk about roles and expertise. This is interesting. I like this type, this aspect or facet of looking at designing and choosing whether or not a role should be volunteer work or employee work. So, roles and expertise. Let’s talk about our volunteers’ special skills, knowledge, perspectives, and connections. 

It is really interesting, and I think very important to design roles specifically for volunteer work that tap the talents of the volunteers. And let me give you some examples. Special skills. If a volunteer has special skills or you’re hoping to tap special skills like a pro bono professional skills. Maybe it’s a pro bono attorney. 

Maybe it’s an HR professional. Maybe it’s an IT person. Maybe it’s a marketing person. That is a great role if you can find a volunteer to fill that role. So special skills can absolutely be knowledge. Knowledge is an aspect of volunteer talent that volunteers bring to your organization. 

Knowledge can be of a particular community or context that you have little experience around. Let’s say you have a community that you’d like to reach into and collaborate with, but you don’t know anybody in that community, but you want to invite. and collaborate with volunteers who live and work and breathe in that community, then they have knowledge that you don’t have, and that’s a special talent that they can bring. 

Perspectives is another. So, they lived experience of a personal challenge that they have overcome, that they can share with others. Whether it’s, well, I had a child with that disease that I helped nurse through recovery from that specific disease. That might be a particular experience or lived experience. 

So, that perspective has value. So, you might figure out volunteer roles that could use that perspective, where volunteers could bring that perspective to the fore. The final area is connections. So sometimes volunteers have connections to people of influence or needed supporters who have a passion for what you do. 

So, they may know people. who either have a passion for what you do or have connections to influencers that can help what you do. So those community connections are also an aspect of the talent. So, if you think about special skills, knowledge, perspectives, and connections, you start to think about, okay, what volunteer roles could we develop? 

Or what are the special skills, knowledge, perspectives, and connections that we’re looking for, and what volunteer roles can we develop that would be appropriate to tapping these talents? Do you see what I’m saying? So, we’re thinking strategically about what are the things our organization needs and what volunteer roles might make the most sense. 

And in these cases, sometimes a volunteer is the better person for that role than a staffer. A paid staffer, sometimes. So, you’ve got to think about that. In general, let’s talk about paid staff roles for a minute. What roles are most suited for paid staff? Let’s, let me give you some ideas. Mission and core functions that must be completed on a regular consistent basis. 

Like, for example, fiscal management. You don’t want to have a new volunteer every 30-days. Managing your books, right? That’s not going to work well, right? Come tax time, you might not have your taxes in order, right? Full time roles. If we’re complying with the legal definition of volunteers, full-time roles are more appropriate for paid staff. 

Those with strict deadlines or schedules. If consistency and reliability are crucial for a particular role. The operative word here is crucial. then perhaps volunteers aren’t the right role. It should be paid staff. For example, school bus drivers. If you have a nonprofit where you have buses, you’re driving buses, maybe it’s better for paid staff to do that work. 

And maybe there’s other jobs for volunteers. Now, I would say that, you know, almost all roles could be volunteer run. We have organizations with executive directors who are all volunteers. So, absolutely any role, and most nonprofits were started by a group of volunteers. There weren’t paid staff at the beginning. 

So, we know that many of these roles could be done by volunteers. But we’ve got to start to think strategically as our organization grows. What are the differences? And are there things that are better done optimally by paid staff. The goal here is when we’re designing roles for volunteer work versus paid work, the goal is the optimal deployment of personnel. 

It’s not that we don’t want people in certain roles or we’re making value judgments about specific roles. That’s not it at all. The goal is the optimal deployment of personnel. So, we’re making decisions to optimize, right? It’s not that people can’t do it, or they might not be good at it, but we’re optimizing. 

So, keep that in mind. So, here’s another role. Roles that don’t meet current availability and interests of potential volunteers. So, roles, in other words, roles you’ve had a hard time filling because the requirements are so intense. 

Now this is, A very interesting approach and the reason I bring it up is because some organizations are finding it nearly impossible to find volunteers, for example, if their role requires a three-year commitment. That’s a tough ask. And perhaps. There’s a way to restructure and say, you know, some of these really hard to fill roles, we’re going to make those paid staff roles, and then some of these repetitive staff duties or lower level or shorter-term staff project duties, we’re going to in turn make those volunteer. 

So, there is a restructuring you could do strategically. Now, this may or may not be the right move for you, but I’m putting it out there as an option. You must decide for yourself, but that might be the way to go. If the role still needs to be performed, and it’s almost impossible to find volunteers, now, of course, you’ve done everything, I’m, I’m assuming you’ve done everything to find volunteers for these roles, that, you know, maybe a staff restructure of paid and unpaid staff makes sense at this point. 

Don’t know. It’s up to you to think about another role that paid staff are more suitable for our roles that involve high risk situations or violent individuals. Okay, if you think of mental health contacts or think of emergency first responders, those are often high trauma. My nephew’s a paramedic and he’s shared with me a few things that have happened on some of his calls, and I can tell you it is highly traumatic. 

And if you’re not a professional, it is very difficult to manage. Now. That’s not to say that volunteers couldn’t do that. I’ve also met volunteer firefighters in Western Australia who work in the bush. And if they weren’t fighting bushfires, nobody would be. And they’re fantastic individuals, highly trained, and highly qualified to do their work. 

But if you’re making a decision about the optimal deployment of personnel, and you have, Some funding for some paid roles. Maybe this is a place to invest the money in that so first responders Paramedics etc. Unless they have the skills. Obviously, we wouldn’t have a volunteer be a paramedic without a paramedics license because it is a licensed job and a profession but You know, sometimes these are things we want to make sure our volunteers don’t have to experience, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes if they’re well trained, by the same token, we have many organizations, Crisis Helpline, other organizations where volunteers are well Suited and well-trained to provide crisis services over the phone or via text. 

So sometimes that works out and there are people on staff who can help them debrief when a traumatic interaction occurs or simply bothersome. Interaction something that bothered somebody whether it made them sad or disturbed or they felt like they were in conflict or whatever so, oftentimes we need social workers on staff to be able to help folks debrief, but you might choose say those types of roles in our organization are going to be conducted by paid staff Another area is roles that involve confidential or sensitive information For example HR director gets to see Everybody’s personnel files and maybe you don’t want to volunteer looking at everybody’s personnel files. 

Maybe that’s the reason to have that role paid. So, I hope this has helped. I want to add one more way of thinking about how to make the decision to categorize something as volunteer work. Or categorizing it as a paid staff position. And that is the identity of volunteer workers. As workers, volunteers see themselves differently. 

than paid employees. I want to repeat myself here because I think people don’t really recognize this. But as workers, volunteers see themselves differently than paid employees. So, if you think of the difference between a leisure activity versus a survival activity. Volunteerism is a leisure activity. 

It’s something we do for personal fulfillment. It’s something we do for fun. It’s something we do for social time. It’s something we do to start to self-actualize. It’s personal fulfillment, a personal growth exercise that’s way different than what paid employment is. Now, certainly paid employment can help us grow as individuals and we want to grow in our workplaces. 

Work is a survival activity. For many of us in our jobs, I think if you were honest, if someone said, hey, I’m going to give you a bazillion dollars and you’ll never have to work again. You would say, Thank you very much. I’m putting in my two week’s notice. You know, this is survival. We work to make a living. 

Now, it doesn’t mean we don’t love our work. It doesn’t mean we’re not passionate about our work. It doesn’t mean work doesn’t have personal meaning. It doesn’t help us aspire to greater things. But it’s a survival activity. It’s not a leisure activity. It might be fun, and we might look for workplaces that run it. 

I hope my workplace is fun, but I’ve got to tell you, sometimes I don’t know about that! But we all have our moments in our workplace, right? So, it is a survival activity, not a leisure activity. As such, they both are purpose driven, especially for anybody who works in nonprofits. I’ve worked in nonprofits my entire career. 

I could never work anywhere else but nonprofits and government social service programs. I didn’t want to ever work anywhere else because I was, I’m a purpose driven person and that’s where it made the most sense to spend my time. But for volunteers, the cause is more of a passion. paid staff have passion projects. 

They are committed to their cause, but you can be committed to many causes throughout my nonprofit work. I think I worked for nonprofits and government programs for about 25 years before I started my consulting practice. And I worked for a variety of causes. Senior services, youth, arts and culture, you name it. 

And whatever nonprofit I was working for, I felt passionate about. But I didn’t feel like I had to work only in that area for my entire life. I didn’t have that level of passion. But for many of our volunteers, they have so much passion for a cause that’s the only cause they want to support. Now they may support, you know, puppies and kittens. 

Down the road at a different animal welfare organization, but they still want to help puppies and kittens. So, you know, we want to think about this passion as, you know, a frame of mind and perspective and identity. Sometimes I think volunteers identify with the cause differently. And I’m not going to say more or less, but I’m going to say it differently than paid staff do. 

So just think about that, you know. I think volunteers identify with a cause differently than paid staff do. And that changes their relationship with our organizations. And then when volunteers leave their shift, I talked about this earlier, they move on to other things and naturally so, and that’s okay. 

They don’t need to obsess about our nonprofits. They don’t need to go to every cocktail party and ask for money from everybody at the party for our nonprofit. We don’t, that’s not reasonable. So, when we think about the level of commitment and the differences in commitment, just think about that in an artful way. 

About how you would categorize a role as volunteer work or paid staff work. It’s different and something to think about, you know, what are the identities of these workers and how does that impact how they do the work, the commitment to the work or what’s appropriate for their work. 

So, in terms of roles. So, I’m going to leave that one a little bit open ended, think about that a little bit. Just think about that. It’s an interesting area of just, you know, thought. So, I think that’s where I’m going to leave us today. I hope this has helped you think a little bit more about, you know, volunteer work or a paid staff position. 

And I hope it’s given you a guide for how to decide. There is a lot of art to this. We don’t have a list of rules or laws, except for a few. There’s not a ton. There’s nobody out there that’s telling you how this must be done. And every organization will approach this question differently. And that’s okay. 

What’s important is that you do it purposefully, and that you have rationale for why. Because you want to make sure you can explain it to other people, you know, and you want to make sure that your paid staff Understand how these decisions are made and it’s going to make for better morale It’s also helpful to share this with volunteers just makes for stronger team morale I hope this has helped you think this question through This sticky wicket, this nugget that sometimes we need to think about over and over again. 

People ask me this question quite a bit. So, should this be volunteer or paid? I don’t know. Let’s think it through together. So, I hope this has helped you. If you like this episode, please share it with a friend. Thank you so much for listening today. If you want to rate and review, we’d appreciate it. 

And I hope you’ll join us next week, same time, same place, on The Volunteer Nation. Take care everybody!