Why is Paying Volunteer Expenses Important for Inclusion?

According to Scottish Household Survey 2019, people who volunteer in Scotland are mainly employed or in education, live in less deprived areas and have higher incomes.

It’s important that volunteering reflects the diversity within today’s society. To achieve this, voluntary organisations need to look deeper at their processes and ways of working to ensure they are inclusive and accessible to all potential volunteers.

Diversity and Inclusion is a wide-ranging subject. In this article, we will focus on financial inclusion and tell you a story about Ahmed, a Covid vaccination volunteer, as well as discuss what happens if your volunteers don’t claim expenses.

Ahmed - Vaccination Volunteer from Syria 

Ahmed is an asylum seeker from Syria, who used to be a medical assistant before the war broke out. Since he came to the UK and applied for asylum he cannot work until his paperwork is complete and he’s granted a permit to work in the UK.  This means Ahmed is living on benefits.

Ahmed is a busy, productive, and proud person who struggles to sit still. When the pandemic started, and volunteers were needed, Ahmed jumped at the chance. He was volunteering for one of our charities that took on vaccination responsibilities. Ahmed was doing five shifts a week commuting to and from the vaccination centre. Now £2.50 each way may not be much for most people but for Ahmed £25 a week is over 32% of his weekly income.  

So, imagine if the organisation was taking four weeks to pay Ahmed’s expenses, because of the admin and bureaucracy involved. In that case, volunteering can quickly become unsustainable for someone like Ahmed, especially with the rise in the cost of living.

What Happens If Your Volunteers Don’t Claim Expenses? 

The team at vHelp spends their time talking to charities of various shapes and sizes. We often hear the line “Our volunteers don’t claim expenses” said with a level of pride that would shame any volunteer who claimed an expense before. When you take a closer look at the volunteers of such charities you will find they have these things in common; they are white, well off, and often middle-aged and older.  

These organisations won’t have Ahmed volunteering for them.  

If organisations don’t encourage volunteers to claim expenses, then their pool of volunteers will be restricted to the same set of demographics; white, affluent, and middle-aged. This is unhelpful to organisations but it also impacts the people who would benefit most from volunteering.

“There is clear-cut evidence that those subject to exclusion and disadvantage in society have the most to gain from volunteering” - Volunteering, Health and Wellbeing - What does the evidence tell us? Report - Volunteer Scotland 2018

These are:

  • People with mental and physical health conditions ​
  • Those subject to social isolation and loneliness ​
  • Unemployed people​
  • Asylum seekers & refugees ​
  • Armed forces veterans 

In all fairness, some of these volunteer management professionals and leaders we know are pushing hard to convince their leaders and board members to start paying expenses.  We love supporting them with facts and figures to win this battle.  With the cost-of-living crisis, charities need to act or risk losing a chunk of their volunteer workforce. 

How to Make Your Charity More Inclusive When It Comes to Volunteer Expenses

If you want to be an inclusive organisation and attract volunteers from various backgrounds, please take a look at your processes to ensure volunteers feel comfortable claiming expenses and are reimbursed for expenses quickly.

There is no doubt the diversity of your volunteers will enrich your organisation as well as the people they support. All volunteers add incredible value, but a diverse volunteering workforce will also bring different perspectives, new ideas, empathy with people from similar backgrounds and resilience.

Volunteers Week: How To Show Your Volunteers Appreciation

In celebration of volunteer week, we wanted to share a few tips on how to show your volunteers appreciation and keep them engaged. 

The Stigma Around Volunteers Claiming Expenses

We all know the value volunteers add in the UK and how time and time again they rise to the challenge.  These incredible people give their valuable time away and the least organisations can do is ensure they don’t incur any costs in order to volunteer.