Paying Volunteers

Written by on November 25, 2022

Distinguishing Paid and Unpaid Volunteers

Paying volunteers can pose several challenges to nonprofit organizations simply because many volunteers are truly not looking for compensation. Instead, focusing on upholding volunteers’ intrinsic values and motivations can lead to more healthier and optimal volunteer-organizational wide relationships.

How is your nonprofit giving back to volunteers and demonstrating to them that you value their time? Nonprofit organizations frequently depend on the service and commitment of volunteers as well as the labor of employees. Volunteers are a great asset to nonprofits, but there are risks as well as rewards. As a result, it is important to know when or when not to pay volunteers as it can pose several risks or benefits to your organization.

Motivations of Paid and Unpaid Volunteering

There are countless types of volunteer work that exist within sports nonprofit organizations (environmental sports advocacy, recreational charities, sports education, health services, etc,) which may make it harder to determine whether they should or shouldn’t be deemed paid work. Showing volunteer appreciation and respect may work in conjunction with their self-motivation which can ensure a happy volunteer. These motivations can include:

When or When Not to Pay a Volunteer

There are at least two key issues that arise when volunteers receive payment or benefits from the nonprofit organizations they serve. The first issue is whether the payments or benefits are taxable compensation. The second issue is whether payments to a volunteer jeopardize the worker’s volunteer status.

When determining if a volunteer should be paid, it’s important to look critically at the work they are doing. Does the work itself fit into what you would consider to be a consistent role, so the one you would pay a salary or hourly wage? Is the role long-term and consistent, and again, one you feel should be paid for every time the work is completed?

If the job does constitute a paid role:

  1. Pay the volunteers as an employee

  2. Put the volunteers on the payroll

  3. Apply for employee-style benefits

In many cases, volunteer work is short-term and satisfies the desires and motivations of the volunteer. As a result, many short-term jobs simply aren’t eligible for being considered for hire. Showing the volunteer that you appreciate their time and efforts in your organization can play a key role in keeping the volunteer happy and willing.

If the job does not constitute a paid role (be creative):

  1. Reduce dues or fees for their work

  2. Give the volunteers meaningful gifts ex, gift cards

  3. Openly recognize the volunteers for their work

In addition, there are a few other ways to determine whether a true nonprofit/volunteer relationship exists under federal law. Some of these factors include: how the worker performs services typically associated with volunteer work. Lastly, if the services are truly voluntary, and not performed as a result of any pressure or coercion. We recommend that your organization keeps in mind that it has a duty of care to uphold alongside solvency and sustainability. Therefore, failing to understand when to hire and pay volunteers can result in failures in protecting pivotal budgets for your organization.

The Bottom Line:

We recommend that your organization remembers that the main objective is to uphold its duty of care while maintaining solvency and sustainability. Protecting your budget, motivations, and values as a volunteer will open doors to future success for your organization along with volunteers. Providing personal value is the best way to pay volunteers for their commitment to your organization and its mission. Your nonprofit can provide personal value by communicating impact, developing skills, recognizing efforts, encouraging input, and creating friendships.

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