Can Volunteers Be Paid?

Can Volunteers Be Paid?

Sometimes, non-profit organisations find it challenging to entice would-be volunteers. They might think that they need to make their volunteer opportunities more appealing, for example, by giving some gift or reward. Throughout my years working with not for profits, ‘can volunteers be paid?’ is a question I’ve encountered.

After all, wouldn’t this attract more people? The thinking behind this is logical. More people will volunteer if they are rewarded in return for their efforts. There are several reasons why this is the wrong approach to take.

Disclaimer: Please note that this is not legal advice. I am not trained in law or volunteer employment law for that matter. If you need legal advice, you should contact a law professional. The information contained on this web page is provided as a basis for discussion only.

Definition of Volunteering

By definition, a volunteer is someone who does work without being paid for it because they want to do it…

“A person who does some act or enters into a transaction without being under any legal obligation to do so and without being promised any remuneration for his or her services.” – Collins English Dictionary.

So, can volunteers be paid? According to the dictionary definition, no. At least not in the traditional sense of being promised a reward for services provided.

The government also seems to follow this definition. The .gov website states that “You are not paid for your time as a volunteer, but you may get money to cover expenses.” This makes sense. If volunteers are paid for their services, then, of course, they are no longer volunteers. Instead, they may be classed as employees. This could make the relationship between volunteer and not for profit contractual.

It is worth noting that any form of payment runs the risk of being seen as volunteer compensation. As Sheffield Volunteer Centre states “If a volunteer gets any other payment, reward or benefit in kind, they may be classed as an employee or worker, rather than a volunteer.”

Volunteer vs Employee

You may ask why can it be seen as contractual when there is no contract in place? Verbal contracts may also count or a contract inferred by circumstances. It’s vital to have an understanding of your volunteer recruiting process. This is a subject for which you will want to seek professional legal advice if in doubt.

If a volunteer is actually an employee, they will likely be entitled to employment rights such as:

  • The national minimum wage
  • Statutory minimum holiday
  • Statutory sick pay
  • Statutory maternity leave
  • Statutory redundancy payment
  • Protection against unfair dismissal

Employees are liable to pay tax. It could also affect any benefits they receive. Neither of which is preferable for a traditional volunteer position. It seems if you wish for your volunteers to be classed as such (and not as employees/staff members) you need to be careful about payment.

So, can volunteers be paid? It appears that the answer is no; otherwise, they could be considered an employee. Yet, they can be paid reasonable expenses.

Volunteer Expenses

Volunteers can be paid for expenses without it affecting their volunteer status. There are, however, strict rules about this.

Non-profits do not need to pay their volunteers’ expenses, although it is good practice to do so. After all, they do not want to make it financially unviable for someone to volunteer. If they do, they should only pay out-of-pocket expenses. These are expenses that volunteers have incurred whilst carrying out their duties.

“This is usually limited to food, drink, travel or any equipment you need to buy.” – .Gov website.

Receipts should always be provided wherever possible. This is to prove that out-of-pocket expenses are related to their volunteering work. Receipts show that they are not requesting to be paid more than they have spent. If they are paid any extra, it could suggest that they are not giving their service free. Thus, the relationship between non-profit and volunteer leans towards employment. Having a volunteer expenses policy in place is essential. A volunteer expenses form is also good practice when paying volunteers expenses.

The rules around expenses are detailed and complex. If you are unsure, please see the UK Government website. The webpage contains useful examples, clarifying expense scenarios.

So can volunteers be paid expenses? Yes, but these need to fall into the expenses guidelines. In my understanding, volunteers can only be paid for what it costs them to volunteer. Any more payment than that causes the risk of them no longer being volunteers.

Should Volunteers Be Paid?

A counter-question to ‘can volunteers be paid’ is ‘should volunteers be paid?’ Today, volunteering is a cornerstone of our society in the United Kingdom as well as abroad. It has existed without the need of financial rewards for a long time. I believe it is vital to protect that.

In my opinion, paid charity work should be kept separate from voluntary roles. The motivations behind volunteering are different from staff members who have their career in charity work. It is important that existing volunteer motivations continue to be nurtured. If charitable organisations needed to pay their volunteers, many would be unable to afford a voluntary workforce.

There has, of course, been various evolutions of the concept of volunteering. This includes online volunteering and volunteer positions outside of the third sector. In my opinion, anything that is not strictly volunteering belongs as an alternative. A noteworthy alternative to volunteering is Time Banking. Timebanks can be used as a means to reward members, not with money but with services.

If it’s the case that you want to better entice more people to volunteer, payment isn’t the way to go. Every cause has rewards it can offer volunteers that are not financial or benefits-in-kind. Identifying these is key to gaining more volunteers. I help charities and not for profits to reach and attract volunteers. My strategies are cost-effective, and I have a proven track record. Get in touch for a free, no-obligation conversation.