When Volunteers Should be Paid

When Volunteers Should be Paid
May 4, 2017 Bob D'Ambrosio

They say volunteers aren’t paid—because they’re priceless. But have you ever felt as though a high-capacity volunteer should be paid? Has a volunteer ever asked to be “promoted” to paid staff?

This situation is becoming more frequent due to our current economy. Unemployed church members have stepped into ministry areas where staff leadership may not exist presenting the question as to whether compensation should be offered.

While it may seem appropriate in some situations, use caution when determining that a salary is what’s needed. Once a volunteer position moves to paid status—it’s difficult to reverse.

To determine if a volunteer position should be compensated, consider these factors:

Skill-Set.  Does the position require a specific skill-set or training that’s so unique, it limits the number of people who might be qualified to volunteer? You may not have a network of people who could perform this task on a volunteer basis. If this is the case, it may be necessary to hire someone from outside your membership base.

Hours Required.   Determine how many hours per week are reasonable to expect from a volunteer to successfully serve in this role. Calculate an average number of hours per week that it takes to accomplish the job. Some volunteer positions may have seasons when the time required may increase. For example, the person who is directing vacation Bible school may only need 10 hours a month in the early planning stages, but the week of the program, put in 35 hours! When you get close to 20 hours per week, on a regular basis, you may need to determine if that’s a reasonable time expectation for a volunteer.

Ministry Load. Can the responsibilities of this position be divided with another position? If the position requires too much for one person, consider creating another position to share some of the duties. For example, you may want to have a choir director focus only on regular worship music, while another director leads special productions. Creating additional volunteer positions also multiplies ministry by getting more people involved.

Volunteer Specific.  According to the Fair Labor Standards Act, a volunteer’s services or activities should be distinct from an employee’s normal employment duties. To justify a paid position, you’d need to identify responsibilities that would be added to the current position, that you wouldn’t expect a volunteer to perform. This might include managing a budget, supervising other paid workers, or authorizing expenditures.

A church that equips its people for service will raise up leaders-—and that’s a good thing. The challenge will come in determining if it’s time to transition for volunteer to paid staff.



Bob D’Ambrosio is a 25-year veteran of frontline church ministry and now serves with Group’s content solutions team. He’s a trainer for volunteer equipping, a Refresh the Church blogger, and a ministry coach for Group U. Bob is a contributing author and general editor of the E4:12 Bible Study Series Better Together: Connecting to God and Others and Leading Out: Connecting People to Purpose.


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