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Mind the Step: Replacing Employees with Volunteers


Thursday, 12th June 2014 at 9:42 am
Lina Caneva, Editor
The temptation to replace paid staff with volunteers is on the table when Not for Profits are thinking about budget savings says Sue Noble, CEO of Volunteering Victoria, who offers a number of principles for Not for Profits to consider in their workforce planning for the uncertain times ahead.

Thursday, 12th June 2014
at 9:42 am
Lina Caneva, Editor


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Mind the Step: Replacing Employees with Volunteers
Thursday, 12th June 2014 at 9:42 am

 

The temptation to replace paid staff with volunteers is on the table when Not for Profits are thinking about budget savings says Sue Noble, CEO of Volunteering Victoria, who offers a number of principles for Not for Profits to consider in their workforce planning for the uncertain times ahead.Sue Noble

The message from State and Federal Governments is loud and clear that we are in fiscally frugal times and that everyone must do more with less. We are on the precipice of an overhaul of Australian Government funding through the Department of Social Services, the results of which will affect Not for Profits that deliver services on budgets that are already lean. So lean that without the support of a volunteer workforce, most would not deliver at all.

Recently VCOSS recognised the essential role already played by volunteers in their State Election Platform launched at their Summit on 30 May. They noted, for example, that about 80 per cent of people who work in Victorian emergency relief organisations are volunteers. That’s a lot of unpaid essential work.

It’s tempting, in these financially constricted times, to wonder what might be achieved with more volunteers. In fact, the elephant in room is the issue – or rather, perhaps the temptation – of replacing paid staff with volunteers. When all Not for Profits are thinking about budget savings and efficiencies and how they might be derived, reducing salaries is on table.

Even organisations that have not traditionally used volunteers may be considering this issue. The most recent example of this is Victoria Police: They released a ‘Blue paper’ last week (3 June) which included that they are seriously considering  the use of volunteers to supplement their paid staff.

The challenge is that by their very nature, Not for Profits want to continue to provide services, to support their communities. Nobody wants to shut down programs, especially when demand is growing and people need them.

Volunteering Victoria is concerned about the number and nature of queries from our members, who already use volunteers as part of their workforce and are genuinely concerned to ensure they can continue providing services, and who want to continue to employ people. But we know some Not for Profits may be considering whether they could (or should) replace some paid staff with volunteers. We know they are struggling with this possibility.

Determining what work should be done by paid staff and what work could be done by volunteers is not easy – and it’s getting more difficult.  There are no longer any hard and fast rules about this: what is properly paid work in one Not for Profit may be legitimate volunteer work in another; what was traditionally paid work in the past may now be widely accepted as volunteer work (and vice versa).

In developing our Position Statement on this issue, we developed a number of principles we believe should be applied as Not for Profits think through their workforce planning into the new (and in most cases, unsettlingly unknowable) financial year.

Principles to plan by:

1. Organisations must comply with the law – in particular legislative requirements about termination of paid staff and redundancy of paid positions.

2. Compliance with the Volunteering Australia Definition and Principles of Volunteering and the Volunteering Australia National Standards for Involving Volunteers in Not for Profit organisations.  In particular, recognising that volunteering is an activity done in a position not designated as paid and that the principle that volunteers do not replace paid workers nor constitute a threat to the job security of paid workers.

3. It is a business decision. We know that sometimes Not for Profits just cannot afford to continue having paid staff perform particular roles. In those circumstances Not for Profits may have to choose between reducing services and engaging volunteers to perform those roles. As long as they comply with the law, Not for Profits are entitled to make that decision.

4. Before deciding to replace paid staff with volunteers, Not for Profits must carefully consider how this might affect relationships with paid staff, volunteers, clients and other stakeholders.  We recommend consultation and ongoing respectful communication with all relevant stakeholders.

5. Not for Profits have legal and ethical responsibilities to protect clients, staff, volunteers and others from harm.  The nature and extent of risks, and the strategies for addressing them may be different when roles are performed by volunteers rather than paid staff. Before deciding to replace paid staff with volunteers, Not for Profits must carefully consider the risks associated with changing the nature of the workforce performing the work.

6. Volunteers and paid staff are motivated by different things. Not all roles will attract volunteer support, and volunteers require different management methods. Roles for paid staff mainly focus on meeting the Not for Profit’s needs. In return for salary, staff are expected to meet selection criteria and performance requirements. Roles for volunteers are different because they must balance both the Not for Profit’s needs and the needs of volunteers.  In lieu of salary, volunteers have different motivations and expectations, which may not always align with the needs of the Not for Profit.

7. Resources will still be needed.  Many people see volunteers as ‘free labour’ but running a volunteer program can require significant resources, in terms of management time and other support costs.  Before deciding to replace paid staff with volunteers, cost consideration must be given to volunteer management, supervision, recruitment and induction, training, insurance and other practical expenses.

Replacing paid positions might be the best option for some organisations, but it might be a bigger step than first anticipated. Mind how you go.

Read Volunteering Victoria’s DRAFT Position Statement on replacing paid positions with volunteer positions at their website. Volunteering Victoria welcomes comment on the Statement and aims to finalise its position in the coming weeks, following the consultation and feedback period.


Lina Caneva  |  Editor |  @ProBonoNews

Lina Caneva has been a journalist for more than 35 years, and Editor of Pro Bono Australia News since it was founded in 2000.

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