Chicken or Egg
Rummaging through some old e-mails I came across one - a letter of standing down as a volunteer - which I wrote back in 2018 when I was working as a volunteer with another charity. The underlying issues seem as relevant now as they did then – if not more so.
So I though I would publish it as a “Charity Thought”.
The original text has been slightly modified to avoid getting the libel lawyers over-excited.
"Why should I work here as an unpaid volunteer when others around me are getting paid?"
That is a question that I have long found helpful to ask myself from time-to-time to try to ensure that I am getting my priorities right.
It is, of course, well-established that philanthropy is not uni-directional – but brings mutual reciprocal benefits to both the donor and the recipients. There is nothing to beat that feeling of personal satisfaction when you have been able to help others in need and bring a bit of joy/relief to their lives. But philanthropy can – like the "chicken and egg" conundrum – be a question of which comes first?
Is the driver for the philanthropy the relief of those in need – the benefit to the donor being merely an "incidental" consequence (to quote the Charities Act)?
Or is the driver for the philanthropy the personal satisfaction (benefit) to the donor, and "the relief of those in need" (to quote the Charities Act) merely the means by which that satisfaction was achieved?
And in the latter case, although the personal benefits to the donor can be financial – in the form of an income or other monetary benefit – that is not invariably so. Social benefits – in the form of social standing in the community and the associated benefits of charity contacts with others of influence capable of "enhancing the well-being of the donor" – can also be an important (and indirectly lucrative) primary motivator.
Many of the queries to the charity requesting help with governance issues revolve around how to deal with trustees who are (ab)using their position for personal social benefit.
for example: one from a charity looking for a Trustee/Treasurer which received an application from a "well qualified" individual who, it turned out, was more interested in being able to put such volunteering on his/her CV to improve his/her chances of promotion than in the activities of that charity to meet the needs of its beneficiaries.
When I first started volunteering with the charity my answer to my question was affirmative.
I was comfortable that I was working with like-minded colleagues whose primary motivation was meeting the needs of small charities rather than their salary or social status.
But when I started to find that the answer to my question becoming negative I also started to find that any personal sense of satisfaction was being overwhelmed by a sense of being exploited.
The consequence is inevitable.