Moving From Volunteers to Paid Staff

Non-Profit Organization: Moving From Volunteers to Paid Staff

A sensitive issue for a non-profit board to resolve is moving to a staffing model that includes replacing some volunteers with paid staff.

Many small non-profit service organizations operate with a significant number of volunteers, usually under the direction of a paid coordinator or Executive Director (ED), and other paid staff. Over the years, the board comes to realize that it is time to reassess the role of volunteers in delivering services to clients, find more info.

Deciding to Move Beyond Volunteers

Deciding to Move Beyond Volunteers

It is a always difficult to determine the appropriate role of volunteers in any community-based service organization, whether it organizes sports in a social housing project or runs a multi-service center for the homeless. Many of these organizations started life with a few people concerned about social issues, deciding what needed to be done, and actually doing it.

There have been changes in the environment in which volunteers have traditionally helped the poor and disadvantaged.

  • Trend towards ‘professionalizing’ services
  • Government or foundation funding requirements
  • Increased expectations of the recipients of the services
  • Increased demand and competition for volunteer time

Recognizing these changes, the board might want to look at a different staffing model for the organization for which they are accountable.

Assessing the Service Needs

Although the paid ED determines operational needs, the board has to be involved and provide direction if there is the possibility of a substantial move from volunteers to paid staff.

Assessing the role of volunteers in providing client service is best begun with a fresh look at the work being done in the organization. Over the years, it is all too easy to provide more and different kinds of service without really formalizing the service and the staffing model. Everyone is too intent on providing the service to analyze the infrastructure.

It would be useful to review the following areas.

  • Categories of job. For example, workers are needed for case management, meal preparation, healthcare assessment, recreation activities, computer training, sorting donations, and administrative support.
  • Qualifications needed. These qualifications can range from simple friendliness, to experience in pastoral care, training in addiction assessment, or handyman skills. There might be levels of education, training and skills required by funders.
  • Number of hours of work required. There are few volunteers prepared to work full-time hours. Review each job in terms of the need for continuity and commitment of full time or even substantial part-time hours.

Assessing the Culture of the Non-Profit Organization

The board and management can also assess the culture of the organization in using volunteers.

  • Tradition. Consider the role and expectations of current volunteers. If the organization has always been proud of the number and commitment of its volunteers, if that is part of its public face and communication to the community, the board will naturally be hesitant to upset the status quo.
  • Turnover rate of volunteers. If the turnover rate is high, that makes for unstable service delivery and considerable effort at continually training volunteers. If the turnover rate is low, check on age and commitment to see if a significant number will be leaving in the next year or so.
  • Acceptance standards. Some organizations believe that it is important to find work for everyone who wants to volunteer. This can lead to ‘make work’ jobs and/or unsuitable volunteers. This means that effort to sustain those unhealthy situations is being diverted from client service.

Making a Decision about the Role of Volunteers

Putting all this information on paper in an organized manner will help the board and management identify the following.

  • Work that should be done by paid staff in order to meet funding requirements, comply with health and safety regulations or with a risk management plan, or simply to sustain the quality of client service.
  • Volunteer services. These might require certain training or experience but are not essential to the primary service mandate of the organization. They could include jobs like organizing social activities, pastoral visiting, filling grocery bags, or driving clients to appointments.
  • Work that could be done either be paid staff or volunteers. There is significant research that explores the idea of interchangeability and substitution between paid staff and volunteers. The main determination here is whether or not it makes a difference who does the work. There will probably be considerable discussion around this category as one common, but controversial principle is that core services are provided by paid staff and value-added services can be provided by volunteers.

The board and management have to make a decision about the right mix of paid staff and volunteers for their particular organization, providing their kind of service, to an identified population.

Next Steps in Moving from Volunteers to Paid Staff

Next Steps in Moving from Volunteers to Paid Staff

Once the board has made a decision to use more paid staff for work traditionally done by volunteers, management will proceed with implementation.

  • Develop the new staffing model, identifying paid and volunteer positions with appropriate job descriptions. It is typical that the description of work currently done by volunteers will require specific qualifications and/or increased time. There might also be new volunteer positions.
  • Identify the ‘new’ jobs for which people will have to be hired. Any volunteer will be free to apply for the job.
  • Develop a training plan to ensure that all staff and volunteers will be adequately equipped to handle the work.
  • Develop a transition plan to implement the changes over the following months.
  • Develop a communication plan that explains clearly and succinctly the changes, the reasons for them, and the transition plan to move forward. The board chair and Executive Director should present this information in person with written handouts so there are no misunderstandings about the intent and the plan. Everything will, of course, be interlaced with appreciation of the volunteer work currently being done and confirmation of opportunities to come, although perhaps reorganized differently. Make it clear that everyone is affected, all for the sake of better client service.

If this is a unionized environment the Executive Director should work through this process with a labor relations consultant or labor lawyer.