People Management: Coaching session

Q: Is it reasonable to ask our volunteers to pay for their training?

A: You'd like to charge volunteers for the privilege of volunteering?

Please don't. This runs counter to a key tenet of volunteering good practice - that volunteers shouldn't be out of pocket through their involvement.

Volunteers make a gift of time: expecting them to donate money too is completely unfair - and counter-productive.

No organisation that charged volunteers for their services could claim to be taking equal opportunities seriously. Not having expenses reimbursed is enough to deter people on benefits or low incomes from volunteering.

And no matter what income level people are on, this is bound to deter people because they'll think it's unfair.

There may also be unforeseen legal consequences. The volunteers could become customers paying for a service. I can imagine that this could possibly compromise all sorts of unexpected rights, particularly by getting into difficulties on 'employment' and employment contracts.

Even requiring volunteers to pay back the cost of training if they drop out smacks of a contractual relationship. This was one of the factors in the famous Relate case, where a volunteer was able to prove to a tribunal that she was, in fact, an 'employee'. This meant that she was eligible for all the protections that this brings.

I am, however, impressed you have training for volunteers - and it must be costly to you if you're considering charging. But have you thought of getting this training sponsored, or pro bono, or as part of a fundraising campaign?

Volunteering needs to be well planned, managed and resourced. Organisations should be grateful to their unpaid volunteers, not vice versa. The relationship should be one of mutual benefit. Volunteers provide their time, expertise and commitment. Organisations should welcome this freely given labour, and have a duty to provide them with adequate training.

It's not a relationship based on the exchange of money, and for many of us, this is what makes it so valuable.

- Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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