How To Reimburse Volunteer Expenses

When you work with volunteers, you truly benefit from the time they give your organisation. Due to their willingness to give their time,  it is highly recommended to reimburse their expenses. This helps with engaging your volunteers for longer and it also helps with inclusion by widening the pool of volunteers your organisation works with. In this article, we will be looking at where to start when it comes to paying your volunteer’s expenses, the obligations surrounding this topic, and how to reimburse your volunteers manually and electronically.

How Should I Start Paying Volunteer Expenses? 

It’s good practice for organisations to have an expense policy regardless of size.  

An expense policy defines the type of expenses the volunteers can be reimbursed for. The policy also details how the volunteer should submit their expenses and set the expectation around the time taken for expenses to be reimbursed.  This can be a short document with a few paragraphs you share with your volunteers when you recruit them. 

As mentioned above, part of setting up your policy is figuring out how you will pay those volunteer expenses.  We’ve researched over 60 charities and found most of them still pay volunteer expenses manually which is time-consuming but still very common.

What is my Obligation When Processing Volunteer Expenses?

The most important obligation for an organisation processing volunteer expenses is to ensure they keep records and evidence of all expenses paid.  This is an HMRC requirement, in case of an audit HMRC would want to see an audit trail of expenses being paid with evidence if relevant. 

Reimbursing Volunteer Expenses Manually 

Organisations use a range of ways to reimburse volunteers manually. Here are some key examples:

The volunteer would fill out a form either a physical form or an emailed one and send it to the organisation. The organisation will review the claim ensuring the information is accurate, if they are happy to approve the expense they then store the form and any evidence securely and make a payment to the volunteer either by cash, a cheque, or a bank transfer. 

Since the start of the pandemic, most organisations moved away from physical forms and petty cash boxes to avoid face-to-face interactions.  

It’s worth mentioning that if there are any issues with the information submitted in the form, the volunteer manager would have to go back to the volunteer either via email or phone and ask them to amend the expense form and resend it.  This process of going back and forth could take several days if not weeks. 

Things to consider when processing volunteer expenses manually 

  • The number of volunteers you have and several claims they will make on weekly/monthly bases.  If you have a couple of volunteers who make a few claims a week this could be a manageable process. 
  • How will you store the expense data securely? As mentioned above any data that includes financial transactions must be stored for a minimum of 7 years in case of an HMRC audit. You must ensure the data is stored securely and organised in a way that can be accessed if needed. 
  • GDPR considerations when sharing and storing data, it is important to ensure that your volunteer’s data is stored securely and only shared for the purpose of expense processing. 

Reimbursing Volunteer Expenses Electronically 

When we were volunteering during the pandemic by doing shops for our neighbours we realised there was no easy way for reimbursing volunteers. We did a great amount of research to find a digital solution to support charities and volunteers when it comes to reimbursing expenses but couldn’t find any. 

And that’s why we built vHelp, we designed it with volunteers and charities at heart. 

vHelp is an app and web-based solution to help organisations reimburse volunteer expenses. How does it work 

  • The organisation signs up with vHelp which takes no longer than 5 minutes 
  • The volunteer manager can then use the vHelp dashboard to invite their volunteers to register to use vHelp
  • The volunteers can then make a claim through the vHelp website or the iOS/Android app 
  • The volunteer manager gets notified as soon as a volunteer submits a claim, if they’re happy with it they can hit approve and this payment will then be queued up to be paid at the end of the day. 

If there is an issue with the claim the volunteer manager can simply send the claim back with a note to correct it, the volunteer can edit the claim and resubmit. This process takes minutes instead of the days and weeks it’s taken when the process is manual. 

Benefits of using an electronic solution like vHelp 

  • We proved that vHelp can save organisations 88% on time spent processing expenses, see case study with Halton and St Helens   
  • reimburse your volunteers within 24 hours of expense approval
  • Reimbursing volunteers swiftly means the organisation can be inclusive, involving people from various backgrounds and ensuring no one is left out of pocket  
  • Personal data is stored securely with full GDPR compliance  
  • A full audit trail of transactions is available through vHelp’s user-friendly dashboard where reports can be downloaded based on selected parameters; this is helpful if the organisation needs the data for an audit.

How vHelp Can Support Medical Research and Clinical Trials

When we started vHelp during the first lockdown, we were focused on creating a solution to ensure volunteers were able to get reimbursed quickly - especially as they were completing large shopping trips for vulnerable people isolated within their homes and weren’t getting reimbursed swiftly.  We really connected with the problem and worked on ensuring volunteers’ expenses were getting paid securely and in a timely manner. 

How Can I Create a Volunteer Expenses Policy For My Charity?

More and more organisations are starting to pay volunteer expenses, especially with the current rate of inflation and petrol prices increasing. The most important benefit of paying volunteer expenses is inclusion; by ensuring your volunteers are reimbursed quickly you are widening the pool of your volunteers and opening up volunteering to people from various backgrounds.