Volunteers can't compete with paid staff


Last year I was made aware of a problem: volunteers sometime compete with paid staff. And since the volunteer pay is, by definition, zero, they have an unfair advantage. Obviously that does not apply to Enough itself since there is no paid staff at all. But it applies to organizations that Enough Community members volunteer for.

This year (January 2020 to December 2020) I’m volunteering for an organization who had no technical staff at the time. And no plans to hire any even in the distant future. There wasn’t any organization paid to provide technical services either. It was an ideal situation: I was not competing directly or indirectly with paid labor. And the organization doesn’t plan to spend any money on technical work in the future: this is not even discussed as a possibility. Of course one could argue that if I was not volunteering they would consider paying someone. But I’ll stop volunteering January 2021 and there were many discussions on how to deal with the absence of technical workforce after this date. The idea of spending money to takeover my duties was mentioned a few months ago but not since. If my volunteer work competes with paid work in this context, I’m not seeing it.

This year also I found myself volunteering for another organization on a short term mission. Instead of doing the work asked of me and be done with it, I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out if someone could be paid to do it. I did not declare upfront: “Are you 100% sure you either don’t have the funds to pay someone and/or nobody is able to do the work for some reason ?”. Maybe I should have but I feared that would likely antagonize people and led them to think I was trying to deflect the work on someone else. While trying to figure out how to make sure I was not stealing someone else food, I explored how to do the work. And incidentally asked questions about the technical and organizational context, people I had to report to, people who were aware of the technical details, people who could grant me the required access etc. Unsurprisingly I also discovered that a certain someone could do the work for a fee and I only had to remind the organizations about their existence. They were ultimately grateful because relying on this person is a more durable solution than relying on a one time volunteer.

That’s the only experience I have regarding volunteering and paid staff competition. Does anyone have their own experience in this domain ?


P.S. People who provide a free service because they either promote their paid services or because they ultimately want to find a paid job in the non profit sector are not in the scope of the discussion. They do compete with paid staff because they are paid staff or want to become paid staff. It is fairly easy to figure out in which category a volunteer actually is, even when they try to conceal it.

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