Thursday, July 7, 2011

Using Technology to Improve Transparency

In his post Wednesday, David Matthew observed how technology can help nonprofits improve their transparency which in turn, can help them avoid mismanagement or accusations of mismanagement. As an accounting firm focusing on internal controls in our audits and a consulting firm focusing on helping nonprofits attract donors, we couldn't agree more. You can read the post here.


Last night I was reading an article about companies who invest in the community around them. It was a great article about great companies that have made a difference in their communities by their involvement with nonprofits. The article noted one company that provided paid time off to its employees to volunteer (my italics) in the community up to 2,080 hours in total—the cost of a full time person. I have seen variations of this from various businesses. While I applaud this benefit and recognize the financial donation of the company, I wrestle with the use of the word “volunteer”. defines volunteer as:

1. a person who voluntarily offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking.
2. a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.

Perhaps under definition 1 it is ok if the volunteer is paid by their company. However under definition 2, a volunteer is not paid.

Why this concerns me—
1. Are people really volunteering if their company is paying them?
2. Does it diminish the sacrifice of those who volunteer without pay?
3. Will people who were involved in the community when their company paid them, continue with community involvement if they went to another company where they did not have this benefit?
4. Over time would this trend change the concept of volunteerism?

That said, I recognize that—
1. Many employees are making a sacrifice even when they take a day with pay due to a heavy workload that they will need to catch up on later.
2. This growing trend in business has been a boost to the nonprofit sector and more and more people are encouraged to be involved in the community.
3. The business is truly making a financial sacrifice that benefits the community.

Businesses and individuals could consider—
1. Renaming the benefit from “paid time off to volunteer” to “paid time off for community service”
2. In lieu of paid time off a business could offer to donate the dollar amount of the time that a volunteer donates—essentially matching time donated with dollars donated. This could be an option presented in the employment policy.
3. The employee could consider donating the pay they receive for the time to the organization. This would be another option that could be presented in the employment policy.

It is hard to criticize a trend that has been so beneficial to the nonprofit sector and perhaps the benefits outweigh any downside to diminishing the concept of volunteerism. Maybe adding to the paid time off policies, options to donate dollars, would expand the benefit to the sector and still preserve the concept of volunteerism.