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Avoiding job substitution

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Keeping the distinction between volunteers and employees clear.


You may need to adapt your volunteer management practice during the coronavirus outbreak. For specific guidance on volunteer management and to see our latest covid-19 guidance for charities, please visit our coronavirus pages.

Do volunteers provide value that employees simply can't match, or is volunteering an excuse for cheap labour?

Although traditionally associated with charities and voluntary groups, volunteers are now generally accepted in any not-for-profit setting. With the increase in employer supported volunteering, the term 'volunteers' is now also accepted in the private or corporate sector.

Some national services like coastguard and search and rescue services actually rely on volunteers. In the Crown and Magistrates Courts, Witness Service volunteers give support and information to people attending court. There are well established volunteer roles in the public sector, such as school governors, magistrates and representatives on Youth Offending Panels.

Job substitution

There are concerns, particularly in the public sector, that pressure to reduce costs and increase outputs will lead to volunteers being recruited for the ‘wrong’ reasons. It is important that concerns over job substitution are addressed.

In NCVO’s report on the volunteer experience Time Well Spent, 24% of those surveyed who were volunteering at least once a week felt that it is becoming ‘too much like paid work’. Findings show this to be the case with those volunteering in the public sector and other formal settings.

In 2009 the TUC and Volunteering England signed a Volunteers’ Charter to strengthen ties between paid staff and volunteers. Inappropriate volunteer roles or poor working relations between paid staff and volunteers need to be resolved. 

Apart from being aware of the potential legal risks, the majority of volunteers will not want to be treated as employees.

Volunteers or staff?

So if you are thinking about recruiting volunteers to work alongside staff, there are a number of questions to consider:

  • How will the Board support the involvement of volunteers?
  • Why are you doing it?
  • How will volunteers add value?
  • How will you introduce the concept to staff?
  • How will you reassure staff about job security?
  • What roles are appropriate for volunteers to do and what roles are not?

Remember, volunteering is something people do because they want to, not for financial reward. They will want their contribution to be clearly defined and valued and they will need support.

Page last edited Dec 17, 2020

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