The Unpaid Volunteer

Much has been written about unpaid internships and the negative and positive benefits for both the organization and the “free” laborers. Nonprofits rely on a constant source of volunteers and many nonprofits exist solely through the work of volunteers, without any paid staff. I attended a recent event during which a speaker exhorted the attendees to make use of the “free labor” provided by the college students at that university.

ARTery party volunteers

According to the US Department of Labor’s web site, “Individuals who volunteer or donate their services, usually on a part-time basis, for public service, religious or humanitarian objectives, not as employees and without contemplation of pay, are not considered employees of the religious, charitable or similar non-profit organizations that receive their service.” The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), simply defines “employee” as “any individual employed by an employer.” Employees may not “volunteer” for their for profit, private sector employers under FLSA.

Volunteers and interns serve as fantastic resources for nonprofits, but must be treated with the same respect and appreciation as paid employees. The Independent Sector quantifies the value of volunteer time as $22.55 per hour. This results in a value in the tens of thousands (and even millions) of dollars for many nonprofits. However, a lack of communication with volunteers and unrealistic expectations can lead to a breakdown in the relationship between a volunteer and the organization. Nonprofits must provide adequate training for volunteers and clearly articulate the requirements for different volunteer opportunities. They must also understand the difference between a volunteer and an employee. I am thankful to live in a city that is consistently recognized as one of the top cities for volunteerism. In our next blog posts we will share some tips for engaging volunteers and volunteer appreciation.

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