There are requirements in some school districts for students to perform a certain number of volunteering hours with nonprofit organizations. And courts across the USA often sentence law breakers to work unpaid – to volunteer – a certain number of hours with nonprofit organizations.
I’ve not been opposed to these requirements, though I do feel that schools and courts need to sit down with nonprofits and talk about the costs of such volunteer engagement for nonprofits. Organizations are not sitting around saying, “Gee, we’ve got all this work to do, I wish some people would come do it for free.” Volunteers are not free: they must be screened, supervised and supported. Tasks must be created for volunteers, and nonprofits have NO obligation to accept every person that says they want to volunteer. If you want nonprofits to involve more high school students or court-assigned volunteers, you are going to have to fund these nonprofits so that they have the resources to do that.
Now, I’m reading about governors and state legislators in the USA wanting to require even more people to volunteer.
For instance, as of January 2016, more than 17,000 food stamp recipients in eight Kentucky counties had to begin part-time work, education or volunteer activities to keep their benefits. Childcare is not provided for these food stamp recipients for their part-time work, education activities or volunteering time.
In addition, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin wants to require unemployed Medicaid members to volunteer in order to receive those benefits.
Danielle Clore, executive director of the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, had a lot to say to Bevin’s office when it asked the group to support his proposal:
The bottom line is this will cost nonprofits money – money and resources we don’t have to spare. It takes professionals to effectively manage volunteers. For the experience to be valuable for both the agency and the individual, volunteer efforts have to be managed. Is it worth the limited and precious resources of a nonprofit to manage a volunteer that is there because ‘they have to be,’ not because they want to be? Nonprofit employees are spread so thin as it is and I feel like a volunteer requirement for anyone not truly committed to the mission of the agency isn’t an effective use of anyone’s time.
I do not typically take people who are ‘required’ to volunteer, because they don’t make good volunteers. Also, 20 hours is A LOT OF TIME. We don’t allow people to volunteer that many hours because at that point they could be considered a part time employee employee, and you have potential legal issues to consider.
Emily Beauregard, executive director of Kentucky Voices for Health, told Kentucky Health News in an interview, “We need to provide them with the support services that they need, but forcing people to volunteer in order to get health care doesn’t make anybody healthier. We know this. There are data to suggest that. In fact, sometimes these stringent requirements put people in a position where they are unable to get care and then they get sick, and they are unable to work.”
I have nothing to add to Ms. Clore and Ms. Beauregard’s comments – they are RIGHT ON.
Pennsylvania, Florida and North Carolina also now have these requirements people receiving food stamps must volunteer with a community service provider for a certain number of hours.
Here’s another example, and it may be even worse: in the proposed budget by Ohio Governor John Kasich, House Bill 49, he stealthily includes a line item requiring all licensed educators in Ohio to complete an unpaid internship with a local business or chamber of commerce as a condition of license renewal. As written, this requirement would extend to all educators — including teachers, principals, superintendents, and other school administrators — licensed by the Ohio Department of Education. This shameful proposal is wonderfully skewered in this editorial by Sue Grodek. Kasich is insulting teachers, who must already complete vast numbers of hours of classroom time and teacher training, by requiring them to be free labor for business-focused organizations, implying that teachers lack “real world” experience. It’s absolutely outrageous!
There’s no question that these requirement for volunteering from certain groups is now out-of-control. If you want to require any group to volunteer, you had better sit down, face-to-face, with leaders of organizations that involve volunteers, and work really hard to get their buy-in. You had better be able to say why it is to the organizations’ benefit to involve these people – and you had better not say it will save them money, because it will NOT. In fact, you had better have money to offer to cover the substantial costs of asking them to increase the number of volunteers they involve. And most of all, you better have data showing that this type of required volunteering is needed by the volunteers themselves.
Nonprofits: if you aren’t worried about this now, then wake up. You have every right to write your state and national legislators, as well as local media, and tell them NO. It’s never been more important for your organization to create a mission statement just for your volunteer involvement. Otherwise, you can expect not only increased expenses as you take on more volunteers you didn’t recruit yourself, but also an even bigger backlash against all volunteering.
Will the various associations of directors of volunteers in agencies (DOVIAs) and associations of managers of volunteers and what not take a public stand on this issue? I’m not holding my breath. But kudos to the Kentucky Nonprofit Network and the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and others for taking a strong public stand against political moves that will damage nonprofits and their clients.
- Requiring jobless to volunteer – reality check
- Involving volunteers: a cop out for paying staff?
- Deriding the monetary value of volunteer hours: my mission in life?
- The Value of volunteers – a web page to help you understand how to appropriately talk about the value of volunteers at your organization.
- Initiatives opposed to some or all volunteering (unpaid work), & online & print articles about or addressing controversies regarding volunteers replacing paid staff – a page I developed when someone told me there was no opposition to volunteer engagement because of job loss and “money saved” (obviously, that person was wrong)
- Assigning law breakers to community service: worthwhile?
- Yes, I love court-ordered community service folks
- My blogs about some aspect of court-ordered community service
- Make volunteering transformative, not about # of hours – a blog from earlier this year that illustrates how to talk about the value of volunteers in a much more powerful way (and one that keeps getting retweeted! Thank you!)
- Valuing volunteer engagement: an imaginary case study – an attempt to show, in the simplest way possible, why talking about volunteer value primarily in terms of monetary value insults volunteers
- CNCS continues its old-fashioned measurement of volunteer value, a blog from 2014 – and, no, CNCS nor the Points of Light Foundation responded.
- OPB & Congress Think Volunteers are Free – how the Independent Sector way of thinking influences the press (and a petition for you to sign to help fund resources for volunteer management on public lands)
- Volunteering empowers, activates, builds, communicates – just another way of saying it….
- Volunteers: still not free – a 2012 blog that I think sums up the issues well
- Fight against unpaid internships will hurt volunteering – a blog that summarizes what I have predicted for many years: unpaid interns are revolting precisely because of the reasons given for not paying volunteers promoted by so many national and international bodies
- Advice for unpaid interns to sue for back pay – helping unpaid interns know their rights
- Do NOT say “Need to Cut Costs? Involve Volunteers!” – a 2012 blog that tries to explain this issue in very simple terms
- UN Volunteers, IFRC, ILO & others make HUGE misstep – a 2011 blog in response to these international agencies promoting the value of volunteers in terms of money saved by not paying employees to do the work
- Volunteers are suing
- I agree with this anti-crowdsource campaign
- Criticism Continues for UK Government Talk Re Volunteers – a blog from 2011 that shows the backlash with the United Kingdom decided to cut employees and encourage volunteers to replace them
- International Association of Fire Fighters is anti-volunteer – a blog from 2010 that illustrates the consequences of the Independent Sector and other organization’s promotion of a monetary value as the best reason to involve volunteers.