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Volunteer v Employee - a skewed balance? (FSB)

"But it's not sexy" ... a reason advanced for something that should be newsworthy, or worthy of attention, but hasn't made the headlines.

Take, for example, the relationship between volunteers and employed staff within charities and other non-profit organisations. Whereas employed staff has many a great number of rights and protections under law, volunteers have next to none ... and if there's a falling out between the two elements, there's something of a trend for the volunteer to be treated shabbily or shamefully, for fear of the employee taking a case against the employer. I have heard of long-standing volunteers in charity shops being told by a new (employed, paid) store manager that their services are no longer required and whilst I can't speak for the particular cases, there's a pattern to the harshness and effect on the volunteer - and the customers who have grown to know that volunteer - that gives serious cause for concern.

But one particular case that I can talk about with some first hand knowledge is the local region and branch of our Federation of Small Businesses. The FSB touts itself as being a "Member Lead Organisation" - though I note that those words are less visible than they used to be - and states its mission statement as: "To be and remain the largest and most effective organisation promoting and protecting the interests of the self employed and small business owners within the UK". But the more active of those business owners who volunteer to assist at a local and regional level can find themselves shabbily treated if they dare to say "boo" to a goose - or rather to one of the Federation's employees.

Let me tell you a little about the case. In May 2007, Mrs X was suspended from her roles as branch and regional chairman after accusations were made against her by an employee. Her resignation from the National Council was also required, based on a vote at which - it later transpired - eligible voter(s) were debarred by not being given voting papers. At the tail end of 2007 / start of 2008, at a branch EGM and AGM, Mrs X was voted back in as the branch chair, but was immediately suspended from the role once again. Only in May, 2008, was the case referred to the Federation of Small Business's Disputes and Disciplinary Committee who met in Bath at the beginning of this month, and completely cleared Mrs X of the matters for which she was originally suspended. However, it's not within the remit of the committee to lift the suspension, so Mrs X remains suspended to this day - for something that she's been cleared of. It gets worse - I understand that the rules concerning who is eligible to stand for office next year were changed in Spring 2008, and nomination papers in which Mrs X was seeking the local chair once again at the forthcoming AGM have been rejected because (as a suspended officer) she is not eligible to stand for re-election.

Mrs X has been a rock of the local FSB branch and region over recent years; in her absence, with two other committee members suspended too (one similarly cleared, one resigned as she couldn't go all through the inevitable pressures this has brought on) and with the local region also suspended, local services to members have crumbled. Remaining committee member volunteers (I remained on the committee until the AGM about a year ago) found our ability to plan anything such as even simple networking events hamstrung by requirements that seemed designed to frustrate. And the cost of the whole business must be tens of thousands of pounds - which no doubt comes out of the FSB's bank account, the major contributor to which is people like myself - an ordinary FSB member.

I - still - need to be very careful indeed what I write concerning employees. But I can tell you that Mrs X had an excellent working relationship with the predecessor of the employee who made the accusations, with the two of them working together very much as employee and volunteer should work in such an organisation. Where the right people are in the right roles ... my goodness ... an organisation such as the FSB can / should do so much good, but alas that's not the case at the moment [for whatever reason]. Let's hope that the D&D Committee's report, which highlights many organisational problems, is fully taken to heart and that the FSB can sort out its problems and get back on track.

((If you're a local FSB member reading this - North and West Wilts Branch or Western Region - and aren't fully in the picture, please feel free to email me - graham@wellho.net. I think that FSB members, who pay for services that have clearly been diverted over the past 18 months have a right to further information, but it's not right or appropriate for that information to be published while the final elements are still being - so s-l-o-w-l-y - played out))

Update - November 2009. This article has recently been brought to my attention as being potentially biased, incomplete or in error. I am happy to make necessary additions to complete the story or reflect other views, and to correct any error of fact. See here

(written 2008-10-25, updated 2009-11-29)

 
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This is a page archived from The Horse's Mouth at http://www.wellho.net/horse/ - the diary and writings of Graham Ellis. Every attempt was made to provide current information at the time the page was written, but things do move forward in our business - new software releases, price changes, new techniques. Please check back via our main site for current courses, prices, versions, etc - any mention of a price in "The Horse's Mouth" cannot be taken as an offer to supply at that price.

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