Back in 2009, the Volunteer Centre South Derbyshire, in England, featured one of my posts from UKVPMs (a discussion group for volunteer managers in the United Kingdom) on its blog in response to an article that says treating volunteers like employees is a great idea. I’m flattered that they thought my thoughts so worthy!
Here was the situation that I commented on:
In this commentary in the Guardian, the writer talks about a volunteer DJ at a small Christian radio project in South Manchester, England, who was fired when staff became aware that he is gay. The writer’s conclusion is that the employment laws need to apply to volunteers in order to protect them from being fired for no good reason.
Here was my response from UKVPMs (edited a bit for clarity):
On the one hand, I don’t believe in requiring volunteers to do things that staff are not required to do: background checks should be for everyone, not just the volunteers. The anti-discrimination policy of the organization applies to everyone, not just paid staff. Neither paid staff nor volunteer staff should be exploited or mistreated or neglected.
But on the other hand, I also come from the point of view that:
- volunteering with a nonprofit is a privilege, not a right. I involve volunteers so long as it explicitly benefits the mission of the organization, and if forced to choose, my loyalty would be to the mission of the organization and those it serves rather than to a volunteer.
- volunteers are human beings and should absolutely be expected to be treated as such, however, they are NOT employees, and therefore are not entitled by law to any of the same legal benefits of an employee.
- volunteers are managed by a volunteer coordinator, rather than a human resources director, because volunteers are NOT employees.
So I read this article with a lot of empathy and sympathy, but then cringed at “Volunteers should be protected against unfair dismissal.” Legally protected? If so, legally protected how?
The primary consequence of an employee being unfairly dismissed is that he or she loses income. There are other consequences, but loss of income is the primary consequence, and we all know that income is necessary for survival. The laws that protect employees from being unfairly dismissed aren’t designed to do anything other than to prevent an employee from losing income and to restore an unfairly-treated employee’s lost income; the laws aren’t designed to restore anyone’s dignity or honor.
What would be the legal redress of a volunteer wronged? If a volunteer is granted the ability to sue regarding dismissal, what will the compensation be if whatever deciding body sides with the volunteer? Will he or she receive money? If so, say goodbye to volunteer involvement at probably most organizations; they aren’t going to risk that kind of financial expenditure. Reinstatement? The organization will be forced to involve the volunteer in his or her previous role? Does that volunteer then become untouchable, meaning the organization will have to keep the kinds of files, including regular evaluations, on volunteers that they maintain for staff in order to justify the disciplining, the requirement for training or the firing of a volunteer?
I guess in summary: I don’t ever want any volunteer dismissed for arbitrary reasons, I don’t ever want any volunteer mistreated or exploited, and I want us all to work to make sure that never happens, but I also don’t want volunteers to become employees, for a variety of reasons that I hope I’ve made clear (not sure I have).
And so I don’t really know what the answer is…
And I still don’t.
- For volunteers: how to complain
- 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!)
- The volunteer as bully = the toxic volunteer
- Tax credits for volunteering
- vanity volunteering – all about the volunteer
- That moment when you totally change your mind about volunteer engagement
- Volunteer management is community engagement
- Missed opportunity with #volunteers: “No one ever asked me for my name. They didn’t have a sign in sheet.”