November 18, 2012

A Fair Price to Pay

Posted in A Bigger Picture, Best Practice, Managers Matter, Professional Development tagged , , , at 5:49 am by Sue Hine

A couple of weeks ago I was asked for information on the salary band for a manager responsible for 600 volunteers.  I’m not really the best person to ask, but the question set me thinking, again.

The first thing I note is that the topic of pay packages for managers of volunteers is like a squeaky wheel that never gets oiled.  There are regular queries and laments, but resolution always remains in the too-hard-basket.  Some themes of the debate can be found in articles listed in Energize archives.

International data from the Global Volunteer Management Survey (2008) revealed the extraordinary range of full-time annual salaries: $US9,600 – $US90,000. The average yearly income was $US45,296: New Zealand managers of volunteers earned 10 – 15% less than this average.  For 63% of respondents the handicap to growing volunteer management is that “volunteer managers would never be paid the equivalent of other professions who manage people”.

Management Matters, New Zealand-based research (2009), found the median annual salary of full-time managers is in the range of $NZ40,000 – $NZ59,000 ($US32.792 – $US49.183).  At this time the mean income in New Zealand was $NZ43,836 ($US35,919).

In 2011 a professional survey attempted to establish real market value for managers of volunteers in New Zealand but results were inconclusive.

Aside from research, there’s a rule of thumb that reckons NFP salaries are 10% lower than for-profit businesses, and you can take off another 10% to get the going rate for a manager of volunteers.  The devil is in the detail, the complex nature of the sector, the range of responsibilities, job titles and hours of work.

Managers of volunteers may be employed full-time, part-time or be an unpaid ‘volunteer manager’ or coordinator (full- or part-time).  A full-time employee may be assigned part-time responsibilities for managing volunteers.   They can be known variously as manager, director, administrator, or coordinator.  The scope of the role is relative to the nature of the organisation’s mission and scale of operation, and operating budget.  Being a manager of volunteers can be part human resource management, part line management, part strategic development.  It may include skills in community organisation and project management, and certainly communication and relationship skills.  And it will be nothing without leadership ability.

All these factors influence pay rates.  The Managers Matter survey also found salary differences relative to job title: ‘Managers of Volunteers’ attracted higher rates than ‘Volunteer Coordinators’, regardless of paid/unpaid, full- or part-time status.

As for the numbers game, I cannot find a correlation between numbers of volunteers and manager salaries.  The Managers Matter study showed that even with 200+ volunteers there were still 23% of managers unpaid.  We need added information on how the volunteers are engaged: for weekly assignments or for annual events, a fixed term or ongoing involvement.  We also need to take into account those people who squeeze volunteer responsibilities alongside other areas of work.

The concerns for low pay levels and unrealistic expectations remain.

So I was pleased to see included in the Volunteering New Zealand Best Practice Guidelines the following clause: Paying people with responsibility for volunteers a salary comparable to other managers with similar responsibilities within the organisation.

Which just begs the question: who, in the organisation, has similar responsibilities?  Who else undertakes the range of tasks, covers the territory, and handles various roles like the manager of volunteers does – whether paid or unpaid?  Is there anywhere an equivalent job?

Looks like the problem goes back to the too-hard-basket again.

But there is more to think about.  It’s not just the complexity and the variations in organisation size and function, and the job title and employment status of the manager.  There’s a perception that NFPs relying on the charity dollar should not be profligate in spending on salaries.  Some organisations lack understanding and appreciation of volunteers, which is too easily carried over to the pay and respect accorded to their manager.

It is going to take more than the efforts of managers of volunteers to make a difference.  It’s going to take the whole organisation.  Discovering the true worth of managers of volunteers will also tell us more about how volunteering is valued.


  1. Jane Scripps said,

    Thanks Sue, this information reinforces that from other sources. Interestingly here in Whangarei there are efforts to set up a Volunteer Whangarei centre, there is quite some support, and ofcourse no funding at this time, a wait and apply for funding game, again; ofcourse.


  2. Anne Layzell said,

    I once worked with a job evaluation system which recognised managing volunteers – as far as I remember managing 0 – 5 volunteers was regarded as equivalent to managing 1 worker. It was imperfect as a system, but it did help promote volunteer management by colleagues – they could see a direct impact on the evaluation of their role and therefore potentially on their salary band. The system couldn’t cope with volunteering staff who had oversight of large numbers of volunteers, but who didn’t directly manage very many.
    I keep an eye on what’s out there, and some of the UK salaries strike me as shockingly low given what the recruiting organisations are requiring of them.


    • Sue Hine said,

      Thanks for this Anne. I have heard a figure of around 50 volunteers as being the ideal capacity for direct line management. We need clarification on this, and strategic solutions for coping with 200+ volunteers. That’s after there is some movement on pay parity!


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