Give Us Your Time, Give Us Your Effort — Give Us Your Money?

I don’t know how volunteerism within the square dance community ever got so far off base? Allowing, even expecting, volunteers to not only give their time and effort but also to give substantially from their personal resources! That’s not the proper volunteer model in the non-profit sector and it’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

As an individual who studied hard over two years to earn a Certificate of Fundraising Management, I learned about volunteerism in-depth. Non-profit or non-governmental organizations cannot function without volunteers.

At a recent leadership gathering for our dance activity, I heard it suggested that volunteers want to give of their personal resources in our dance recreation. Well, speak for yourself.

It was said that picking up your expenses is part of taking up dancing as a “hobby.” But, your hobby is dancing, not the time spent volunteering to manage the activity which often takes away some of your dance time. A suggestion that such lack of compensation might be considered “abuse” was said to be mighty strong language.

What does it say, though, about those who can’t pay to volunteer? What if they’d love to donate their time and their effort but do not have the personal resources to assume their out-of-pocket volunteer expenses? Do they shy away from volunteering because they see those who can pay performing volunteer roles in which they’re interested?

Now, if the volunteer is happy to incur some small out-of-pocket expenses, such as driving a short distance in a personal vehicle to a meeting, that’s fine. But what if those expenses are not small?

I’ve seen it happen many times. At one particular dance event, an Executive member of the sponsoring organization bought all the food out-of-pocket, without compensation, and mentioned it at a subsequent meeting. I spoke up to say that it wasn’t right but “thank you” anyway. Nobody else said “thank you.” Nobody presented a motion to send an appreciation card. The volunteer became an unrecognized donor–but that’s not being understood.

Perhaps it was because the door-take at that event was minimal, so the donation was made “to help.” Still, it’s not right, even if the person wants to do it.

Another area in which the volunteer should be better compensated is vehicle usage, particularly when considerable distance is involved. Currently, compensation in the real non-profit world is around 40 to 50 cents per kilometre. It’s rarely a consideration in our dance community and, if it is, there’s often a cap on the amount that doesn’t reflect the actual cost. The volunteer ends up paying again. Vehicle usage is not just about gas. Driving in your personal vehicle to serve as a volunteer also causes it to use up fluids, wear on the engine, wear on the tires, wear on the brakes and it depreciates the vehicle overall.

Another thing that doesn’t get the proper recognition is compensation for meals while performing volunteer duties far away from home. It should be that your meals are covered from the time you leave your home dwelling to the time you return. After all, you can’t just go the fridge when you’re 300 km’s away and get a snack. Sure, a cap on meal expenses is reasonable but it should cover the period that you’re absent from home that directly relates to your volunteer effort and tasks.

Posted on the web site “CharityVillage,” a Canadian fundraiser named Bruce Raymond wrote an April 16, 1997, article entitled “When should a volunteer’s expenses be covered?”  He said:  (excerpted from:  “Those volunteers who aren’t in a position to cover their own expenses should not be made to feel inadequate or compared in anyone’s mind to those who don’t need to have their expenses covered. Time is worth money and the hours donated by a volunteer are just as important as a cheque – sometimes even more so.”

At the very least, with regard to an organization’s general operation and any special events that it presents, a policy should be in place about out-of-pocket expenses for its volunteers. Raymond said “Whoever is in charge of budgeting an event or campaign should be careful to spell out the ground rules in advance.” He went on to say: “When volunteers are engaged to take part in a project, they should be told clearly whether they are free to hand in expense accounts.”

Furthermore, Raymond suggests: “if a volunteer cannot cover them (expenses), private arrangements should be made, and I emphasize the word ‘private’. No one except the chair of the event – and particularly no other volunteer – should be made aware of another volunteer’s ability or inability to pay out-of-pocket expenses.”

In our dance community, part of the problem is sometimes a low valuation of the organization itself. There’s a regional dance association in British Columbia that charges a mere $1.00 membership per year. No wonder its volunteers might develop the mindset that they have to compensate from their personal resources for expenses faced by their “poor” organization.

If volunteers are allowed, even expected, to give substantially of their personal resources along with their time and effort, it equates to a volunteer position only for the rich or, at least, those with the ability to pay. Too many volunteers in our dance recreation are paying notable amounts reluctantly because they enjoy the volunteer experience. We might as well recruit them with the pre-amble: “Ok, now who wants to volunteer and did you bring your chequebook because it will cost you?”

Volunteers give of their time and effort. Period. Should they want to give money from their personal resources to perform the duties, apart from reasonably small amounts with which they’re comfortable, that’s a donation, either in cash or in kind. In that case, they should be considered donors (and in our dance recreation, non-tax deductible at that!). Furthermore, proper donor recognition should present them with at least a thank-you card. For donors in the charitable sector, it’s sometimes a park bench or a whole building that’s named after them!

West Kelowna, B.C.