Debate Continues on Cost of Volunteering
12 February 2007 at 4:25 pm
Following the release of the Rising Costs of Volunteering Report focusing on the issue of reimbursement for volunteers, Volunteering Australia’s CEO Sha Cordingley says covering the cost should be the volunteer’s own choice.
In an opinion piece on Volunteering Australia’s website, Cordingley says the reimbursement of expenses for volunteers is a vexed issue and has provoked some heated debate, leading some to claim that covering their own out-of-pocket expenses is part of the volunteering ethos, and others that it is a payment which could attract income tax and would therefore disadvantage older volunteers in particular.
However, Cordingley says the premise of volunteer reimbursement is that it is not income but repayment of expenses incurred on behalf of the organisation for which the volunteer works.
She points out that a careful distinction between personal expenses and reimbursement is drawn by the Australian Taxation Office and information is available on their website.
Cordingley says the underlying principle of volunteer reimbursement is that it should be universally available regardless of the individual’s view; whether to claim it then becomes a matter of individual choice.
At Volunteering Australia she says that volunteers have the right to be reimbursed for out-of-pocket expenses and that their commitment of time and skills to an organisation should be sufficient outlay unless they actively choose to make further contribution through a donation.
However she says a lack of proper policies and procedures around this issue leaves an organisation vulnerable to volunteer attrition. And while volunteers might not actively complain, lack of reimbursement provisions may be just one of many failings towards them.
Volunteering Australia says this issue does not sit in isolation from other pressing matters for volunteer-involving organisations, including the difficulty of recruiting and retaining volunteers in some sectors.
Paradoxically, VA says the numbers of Australians actively involved in volunteering has risen from 24% of the adult population in 1995 to around 41% in 2005 even though many not-for-profit organisations are reporting difficulties in recruiting enough volunteers. Last year’s survey on volunteering issues conducted by Volunteering Australia revealed that organisations still rank recruitment as one of their biggest problems.
In theory, Sha Cordingley says that with volunteers rising in numbers, Not for Profits should not find it difficult to recruit volunteers for their organisations yet here we are with a significant shortfall of volunteers, especially in such areas as emergency services.
She says the explanation for this is that there is a disparity between what the organisation needs and what the volunteer is seeking or able to contribute. Many volunteers are unable to commit to the time or training requirements; others are simply finding that the roles offered do not suit.
Cordingley concludes that the release of the Real Cost of Volunteering survey results and the report of the Taskforce on the Rising Costs of Volunteering are a reminder that volunteering is an evolving activity and volunteers drive change.