Honoring May, National Volunteer Month, I give you a reprint of an article I wrote years ago to ponder.


By Ilene Hoffman, Contributing Editor

Web-based Volunteerism 

Helping People or Lining Pockets?

About the Author
Ilene Hoffman is a Contributing Editor at MacTech and TechRepublic magazines. She is also the Administrator at MacFixIt.com Forums and has worked with many community–based web sites.

Naked a man comes into the world and naked he leaves it, after all is said and done he leaves nothing except the good deeds he leaves behind. 
--adapted from the great Jewish thinker RASHI (Source Unknown)

In 1997 President Clinton passed the Volunteer Protection Act. This act was designed to protect volunteers from being unfairly sued or otherwise held unfairly accountable for reasonable actions encountered while doing their “jobs” as volunteers. A random search on the web uncovers many voluntary agencies who believe that the act has a lot of holes in it, but that’s not our specific beef here though. My beef is, where does it say who is responsible for the volunteers who are poorly trained, over committed by their “employers,” and misused by profit making companies? What about the volunteers who don’t get any recognition or rewards for their time and achievements? There’s more to volunteer abuse, than being sued for a job well–done.

When was the last time you knew someone who walked into an office and said: “Hey, this job looks like fun, can I volunteer at your company?”

It doesn’t sound like a likely scenario, yet that is what’s happening all over the Web on “community-based” sites. (Why do I put community in parentheses, well, because I’m starting to doubt the truth of whether these sites really constitute community building, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant for another day.)

As an advocate for volunteerism I’ve put my money where my mouth is for many years. I’ve worked with chronic psychiatric patients, drug involved teens, low-income women, single parents, and computer user groups. All of these groups had one thing in common: They were non-profit (501–C3) organizations helping some disenfranchised population reach needed services. The keyword here is non-profit. Groups that deliver needed services to some population which either has no access, no knowledge, or no funds to receive professional services readily available to monied populations.

Volunteers aid agencies by providing needed services that help reduce operational costs; there is no question of that. Volunteers aid people in many, many ways. So what do the thousands of volunteers across the web really contribute to society? Better yet, what company policies are in place to foster and reward these volunteers for their hard work and commitment?

Are web companies abusing the privileges of using volunteers? I think so. If you go to any community site, you will rarely find a non-profit organization. You will find profit making companies who “employ” volunteers to further the company’s goals and enhance their ability to make money though. Not to belittle the volunteers themselves, they are making a difference in people’s lives. They provide information, impart knowledge, help users navigate the web, aid in leading discussions (chats and message boards), help design sites, and create a friendly user experience on the company’s web site.

The problem lies with the companies. One Volunteer Development Coordinator recently expressed this concern in a mailing list: “Are these “volunteers” help[ing] the company, which in turn will help the community? Or are they simply helping a company that is trying to save money for their shareholders?”

I think far too many profit making web-based companies are sapping our valuable volunteer resources by enticing people into volunteering for their own gain. America Online, which at least provided free accounts to their volunteers, was the target of a suit, when their service costs were reduced and the volunteers felt their rewards no longer justified the means. The difference between AOL and many other companies is they still provided those free accounts, no matter the dollar value. Most web-based companies don’t even pay volunteers’ service provider costs. So, in effect, volunteers not only give time, but actually pay for the privilege.

The Independent Sector claims the “volunteer rate for 1998 [was] $14.30 [per hour]. (Note: The estimated national rate per volunteer hour is $31.80 in 2023.) We arrive at the new figure each year after calculating the average hourly wage for nonagricultural workers as published in the latest edition of the Economic Report of the President (released each year (for the previous year) at the end of February) and increasing it by 12 percent to estimate fringe benefits.” This means that people are expending volunteer hours at a rate that is most probably higher than their own hourly wages at their jobs. Most companies are benefiting by the work done at that phantom $14.30 per hour rate, but not returning anything to society or to the IRS for that investment.

Some web-based companies even require volunteer work above and beyond their paid workers’ hours, and give volunteers the exact same jobs as the paid workers, both of which I think may be illegal in some states. These companies are very good at building internal loyalty and espousing the extra work is for the “good of the community” to entice workers to give more and more of their time. Are these people rewarded in any way for their extra time? Not on some sites. I wonder when the volunteers will realize that they are being misused as a way to increase a company’s profit and little else.

Got a comment? Know of a related law in your state? Know of a profit making website who does it the right way? I’d love to hear it, email me at:ileneh-at-mac-dot-com.

Note, you can actually just leave a message here if you want to comment on this piece. This article was originally published around 2000. Thank you!

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Mother Nature for Mother’s Day Gift Fair

Male Mallard Duck

Sunday April 23 • Noon to 4:30 p.m.

5 Chambers Street, Needham, MA

(Off Linden St. across from High Rock School

Unique Gifts for Mother’s and Father’s Days 

by ilene hoffman, Nature Photographer.

Free to attend for the whole family with refreshments for a small fee. 

Photo Note Cards, Magnets, and Prints of all the wildlife Needham & surrounding towns have to offer! 

New items for 2023! 

Fine art nature prints include scenes from Needham’s Rosemary Lake, Owen’s Poultry Farm, Needham RTS, DPW Reservoir, plus South Natick Dam, and ponds in Wellesley and Dover. 

Photos are framed & unframed, in a variety of sizes ranging from $10.00 to $300.00.

Limited edition of Hector The Heron Dines at the South Natick Dam children’s book also available.

See bees and trees, dogs and frogs, dragonflies and blue skies, hawks and rocks, geese and fleece, plus ducks and bucks.

If you cannot attend my fair, don’t despair! You can still order many types of products with my photography on them from my Pixels.com site: https://ilenehoffman.pixels.com

You can also see more available images if you scroll down to my previous show notice on this page!

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You are welcome to join me for a Holiday Gift Fair in which  you can purchase photographic products from my catalog of photos. This is a free event and children are welcome!

What: Unique Holiday Gift Fair

When: Sunday, December 4th

Location: 5 Chambers Street, Needham MA

Time: 12 PM to 4:30 PM

My 2023 Needham Area Nature Calendars have arrived and are selling out fast at $30 each (+shipping). I plan to have a few available for sale at this Gift Fair.

I’ve also ordered new magnets and cards from my resent photographic endeavors. Here is a sample of new shots ordered as cards, prints, and magnets.

If you cannot come to this Holiday Fair, please click here to see some of my photos and a wide variety of products you can purchase: https://ilenehoffman.pixels.com

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Photography Exhibit & Gift Fair

Please join me for a fun Sunday afternoon exploring Needham’s and other Massachusett’s towns wildlife captured in print.

Sunday, September 18th

12 PM to 4:30 PM

5 Chambers Street, Needham, MA

(across from the High Rock School)

Admission is free and children are welcome!

Refreshments available for a nominal fee.

Below are some of the shots I took during the pandemic lock down.
Many of these photos are available as prints, magnets, 5×7 note cards, and other products.
You can also order my 2023 Nature Calendar.

If you cannot join in the fun on Sunday, you are welcome to visit my other site and choose
the photos you like and have them printed on a large selection of household goods on Pixels.com.

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2022 Needham Nature Calendar – Photos by Yours Truly

Here is a thumbnail screenshot of the 2022 Needham Nature Calendar coming soon. They will be printed through Vistaprint. The cover includes a North American Beaver gnawing on a tree and a Green Heron at the Needham Reservoir, and a female Wood Duck and her brood on Walker Pond off Central Ave.

Critters that visited the Needham Reservoir, behind the DPW Building on Dedham Ave., are featured in January, April, September, and October. All of the pages are labeled with the names of the animals. The Recycling and Transfer Station, aka the Dump, feature the coyote and the turkey. Other locations include the Needham Community Farm, the Needham High School, Rosemary Lake and my backyard. The Bald Eagle nest was shot in Arlington, but it is the same eagle that has been sighted over Rosemary Lake.

The December Blue Tree photo is an oldie but goodie. The Sugar Maple tree was planted in 1954, but was razed in 2014, due to rot. This shot was taken its last year.

The 2022 Needham Nature Calendar is 6.5 by 8.5 inches and it opens to letter size (8.5 x 11 inches). As you can see, the calendar portion is on the bottom and there is space to write notes. The price is $25.00 for each calendar and must be ordered directly through me. Please leave a comment or email me if interested.

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