Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check

John Albers, a state lawmaker from the USA State of Georgia, wants people receiving government jobless benefits to have to put in 24 hours of community service a week (read more about the story here).

Did he talk to nonprofits and government programs that involve volunteers and ask if they could involve an influx of new volunteers, putting at least one person to work for 24 hours a week?


Does he know how much staff time and resources are required for a program or agency to involve volunteers, that volunteers are never free – and, therefore, will the government be providing funding to nonprofits and other organizations in order to fund the staff time and resources to involve volunteers in such large blocks of time each week?


Did he do any research on how difficult it is for people who want to volunteer to find opportunities, that people report applying for multiple assignments on web sites like VolunteerMatch, over a period of weeks , sometimes over a period of months, before they ever actually end up volunteering?


I’m all for people who are unemployed looking into volunteering as a way to build their skills for employment, as a way to make contacts that might lead to employment, as a way to get some accomplishments under their belt that would look great on their résumé, and as a way to counter the negative emotional pressures of unemployment.

But finding volunteering activities is hard. VERY hard. Much of my web site has been primarily focused on the organizations that involve volunteers, but I had to create pages focused on people who want to volunteer because of the OVERWHELMING number of people that post again and again to places like YahooAnswers, people who are trying to find volunteering activities and cannot find such.

Why do I get hired again and again to do training on how to involve volunteers? Why does Susan Ellis keep writing and selling so many books on volunteer engagement? Because thousands and thousands of nonprofit organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), schools, government programs and many others do not know how to involve volunteers.

So, reality check, Mr. Albers. If you want organizations to involve more volunteers – and to involve volunteers in such huge chunks of time (24 hours a week – three full work days a week!), then start looking for money to give to these organizations – they will need it to fund the time (and perhaps even the training) of a full-time manager of volunteers who will screen, train, support and supervise all these thousands of volunteers you want to send their way.

4 thoughts on “Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check

  1. cambstreasurer

    Doesn’t it depend an awful lot on what the volunteering opportunities are? I get lots of people asking if we have opportunities to walk dogs and have to disappoint them, but I could use far more people than we have in our charity shops. (I totally agree that resources have to be made available for induction and training).I’d say there is much more of an issue about whether compulsory volunteering is an oxymoron and it ought to be called something else – why not simply, "work experience"? There are probably good reasons why it might be better for the work experience to take place within a voluntary organisation than simply sending them to fill shelves in Asda, but working in a voluntary organisation doesn’t make you necessarily a volunteer.

  2. Anonymous

    Thanks for replying "cambstreasurer". You wrote:"I could use far more people than we have in our charity shops."Then do you have these roles in writing, defined in terms of how long each might take, posted to your web site? Are they short-term projects that someone could commit to, finish, and then leave, or are they ongoing roles? Do you have all of these listed at whatever volunteer recruitment web site serves your country? (In the USA, VolunteerMatch is a must – not sure where you are)? Does every person who answers your phone know exactly how to direct volunteer inquiries? I ask all of this because I rarely find anyone who says they are short of volunteers AND they are doing all of the aforementioned. "compulsory volunteering is an oxymoron and it ought to be called something else"Sorry – I’m just not going to get into this debate AGAIN. It’s been done again and again on UKVPMS, OZVPM, CYBERVPM, etc. and I have come down on the side of – if I’m not paying the person, he or she is a volunteer, period. I’m not going to start segregating people because this one has "pure" intentions but this one has been required by a court or a school or whatever (and, for the record, those "required" folks often turn out to be my BEST volunteers, and stick around long after their requirement is up!).

  3. Colleen

    Thank you for speaking to this issue. Here in Minnesota, a proposal was briefly floated around this spring to require General Assistance recipients (a short-term state cash assistance program for people with disabilities/illnesses) to volunteer 20 hours per week. As a volunteer manager whose organization serves many GA recipients, I was horrified. First, I knew that it would be very difficult for volunteers to access the opportunities for the reasons you listed above. In addition, GA recipients are ill, very low-income, and often homeless. To find opportunities that suit their abilities, schedules, and transportation needs would be tough–many of these potential volunteers don’t even have internet access. I had no ability to welcome an influx of these volunteers and neither did any other volunteer manager I know.I was also frustrated that this volunteer requirement would only set GA recipients backwards by making it harder for them to receive GA during their time of illness. They would be likely to fall under sanction and lose their benefits, which would threaten whatever health and stability they do have. The cost of administering such a program would also be high and would add to the bureaucracy that low-income folks must already navigate.I was very glad that the proposal was pretty much DOA and didn’t get far. I definitely get the appeal of "let’s make assistance recipients volunteer" because it sounds nice. People think volunteering is easy and accessible to everyone and that organizations are just clamoring for more help, any help. It’s up to us as volunteer management professionals to speak to the unintended consequences of such proposals.

  4. Anonymous

    Colleen, thank you SO much for that account. It illustrates perfectly why this isn’t a good idea.


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