Saturday, April 30, 2011

Does it pay to manage volunteers?

I had an email from someone a few weeks ago saying that they felt they were not being paid enough. To help their cause they wanted to benchmark the industry on pay rates.

My thoughts are that this in fact could be counterproductive.

The fact is that no one knows what people leading volunteer teams should be paid.

We’ve had many debates over the years on this and related items for example “should a person managing 100 volunteers be paid differently to someone managing 15” that’s just one. However I’ve also noticed that we are most uncomfortable talking about such matters.

Let me straight out, from the start, inform you that I am talking about Paid Volunteer Managers. I have to say this because there are “volunteer” volunteer managers out there. I run into them at talks I give on Volunteer management.

I have to always emphasize that just because they are unpaid doesn’t mean they have the skills to do the job. People miss my point.
However we are unique as a sector that such people exist. We won’t hear too much about Volunteer HR managers for example. I won’t see too much of volunteer marketing or finance managers within organisations. And yes I do know that people provide services pro bono.

But over the last few years I have noticed a discomfort with pay and volunteerism. I think it even affects thought within the volunteerism industry.

This is a little elephant in the room and I will come back to it later.
“I am not in it for the money”

This is something I hear from quite a few in our sector. And that’s all well and good for those who perhaps have no desire for advancement of a professional sector.

This is where our huge conundrum lies – striking a balance between advocating for better and fairer remuneration in an area that engages people who do not get paid.

And therein lays our biggest failure of thought in my opinion when it comes to volunteerism and introduces our elephant: If we equate volunteering to saving money or economic value then we take from volunteering itself.

Please read Jayne Cravens blog on these matters.

Volunteering is NOT ABOUT MONEY! Volunteering is not UNPAID WORK! Volunteering is many dynamic things but not these.

I’ve had to say to audiences I’ve spoken to - “is it wrong to have a volunteer management role that helps pay my mortgage?” Good grief – we would not hear this in other sectors!

If a volunteer Manager states that they do what they do to be financially secure is this so bad?

Some of the best consultants on volunteering and volunteer management and not for profit governance I believe are ignored by certain high profile sections in volunteering because they try to make a living out of what they do.

As though that’s a sin.

Again, there is little discussion by volunteer management associations on this topic. I again and again wonder what exactly their brief is. I mean, is this not a bread and butter issue? Some will say that it is not. Some will think I am barking up the wrong tree again and say “what are you on about DJ?”

But there are those reading this blog who know exactly what I am talking about.

How terrible is it to find yourself with a huge responsibility for managing volunteers within your organisations and not to be fairly compensated for the huge role you undertake.

You know who you are. Take heart. There are a few of us trying to do something about this.

Because we believe you do an amazing job.

You need to believe it yourself too! And be fairly paid for what you do!


  1. A very insightful post DJ. Thank you for yet again challenging us to think about our profession and consider strategies for improving our situation.

    While it may be straightforward to benchmark a position based on an evaluation methodology such as the one below, the remuneration of the position depends on the organisation itself. Factors such as the organisation’s culture and financial resources impact on the remuneration of the position. The culture of the organisation looks at how the organisation values its employees. If the organisation values volunteer management, it is more likely to remunerate the position accordingly.

    The Mercer Job Evaluation Management System (JEMS) Methodology grades each position, using alpha-numeric and plus and minus codes, on each of eight criteria called subfactors:

    Expertise (the inputs required in the position)
    1. Knowledge and Experience
    2. Breadth
    3. Interpersonal Skills
    Judgement (the processes involved in carrying out the functions of the job)
    4. Job Environment
    5. Reasoning
    Accountability (the outcomes required from the position)
    6. Impact
    7. Independence and Influence
    8. Involvement

    The JEMS methodology, developed by Mercer Cullen Egan and Dell is a methodology frequently used by government departments.

  2. In the Global volunteer management survey pay rates for a full time volunteer manager ranged from $US9600 to $US150 000. There was NO correlation between salary and experience, degree qualification or number of volunteers.

  3. Thats very interesting Wendy - thanks for your contribution

  4. Thanks Martin. Would you be interested in sharing more detail about this groundbreaking survey? When I talk about the survey many people express surprise that they havent heard about it. I'd welcome an article on its findings if you have the time sometime.

  5. ADVR conducted a survey of our members last year, and included a question about pay scale. The discrepancy was huge. It’s unfortunate; because as an association that represents Volunteer Managers we would love to be able to state what we feel is an appropriate pay-scale for professionals in our city. However with our industry being so varied, it is impossible to decide what the norm is.

    This is definitely an issue that we need to be taking into our own hands. Does anyone know of any groups who are doing research on this topic right now?


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