Imagine being employed by a nonprofit seeking to extend its reach by bringing in more volunteers. If enough volunteers get on board, you might start worrying about your job. After all, your organization could save a lot of money by getting rid of paid staff and replacing them with volunteer help only.
Actually, you would have nothing to worry about in such a scenario. According to Energize contributor and volunteerism expert Betsy McFarland, it is nearly impossible to run an organization exclusively on volunteer help. She cites a number of reasons, some of which will be discussed in this post. Needless to say that it’s very difficult to run an organization of any size without at least some paid staff.
Management and Administrative Duties
A typical nonprofit’s first hire is almost always some sort of manager or administrator. Subsequent hires bring in people who can assist that individual. It is the nature of the beast. Why? Because management and administrative duties are very rigid by nature. They also increase as a nonprofit grows.
Someone has to manage the day-to-day operations of the organization. Someone has to handle the books. Someone has to answer the phones and reply to e-mails. All of these responsibilities require a certain amount of structure. They cannot be left to haphazard schedules. Thus, an organization requires paid staff to keep things running smoothly.
Specialized Knowledge and Skills
Sometimes a nonprofit needs a core group of people with specialized knowledge and skills. If they cannot find enough volunteers to provide what is needed on a consistent basis, they may have to turn to paid staff. A nonprofit medical clinic is a good example. Without enough volunteer doctors and nurses to keep the doors open, the clinic may have to hire a staff doctor and at least one nurse.
Volunteer Scheduling and Flexibility
Another concern is that of volunteer scheduling. Whether you are managing something like the Junior League of Salt Lake City or the Genesee Country Village and Museum in upstate New York, those volunteers you do have access to tend to want quite a bit of flexibility. You might not be able to depend on the same group of volunteers performing the same tasks at the same time each week.
Add to that the fact that the vast majority of volunteers are still working. Some work full-time, the rest part-time. Their jobs come first, meaning your schedule has to revolve around theirs. You may have certain tasks that cannot be dependent on such a flexible scheduling model. You may need paid staff to guarantee those tasks are done.
Keeping the Ship Stable
Finally, there is a lot to be said for establishing stability as early as possible in the life of a new nonprofit. Stability is necessary to maintain an organization’s vision and mission. It is necessary to facilitate growth and expansion. Without any sort of stability, it is too easy for an organization to fall apart before it ever accomplishes anything.
How is stability established? Through the hiring of a core group of paid staff members who will be largely responsible for maintaining organizational competence. A good team of managers can keep the nonprofit ship stable even in the most turbulent seas. Without them though, sinking is a real possibility.
It is exceedingly difficult to run a nonprofit organization solely on volunteer labor. By the same token, it’s equally difficult to operate without any volunteers. Nonprofit success is almost always the result of the combined efforts of both paid staff members and those who volunteer their time.