Do I have to volunteer at work?

Q. I work for a non-profit organization which holds many fundraising events throughout the year. Ninety five percent of these are on weekends or during evening hours. I am constantly asked to “volunteer” my time to assist at these events. I am not an exempt employee and am paid on an hourly basis. I usually help at one or two per year but do not feel I should give up my weekend or evening time do this on a regular basis without being paid or receiving compensatory time off. I am offered neither and when I have questioned this, I have been told “never mind, we’ll find someone else.”

Most people in the office (many of whom are paid by hour) do volunteer at these functions on a regular basis. I am made to feel like I am not part of team for declining to participate but feel strongly that they must offer pay for time worked or compensatory time off. Please let me know your thoughts on this situation.

A.Almost everyone I know gives up a few extra hours to support the organizations they work for – however most organizations do not run their business events on the good intentions of their employees. I have seen political campaigns run this way with staff truly volunteering their time to work events on nights and weekends, and they needed no organizational incentives or “encouragement”. But this is not the case.

You are in a sensitive spot, and you have done a good job of balancing your willingness to support the organization, be a team player, and respect your own boundaries so your cooperative spirit is not taken advantage of.
I know you spoke with someone already and it may be time to do that again. If there are other people you work with who share your views, you might want to talk to them about approaching a manager or human resources person for a formal conversation about the situation. You don’t need to “recruit” participants, but building support for your view and offering multiple points of contact lets managers know this is not a disgruntled employee with an axe to grind situtation .
You, or you and a colleague or two, might approach this conversation by saying that you recognize that as a non-profit funds are tight, and employees willingness to volunteer to support the organization after hours and on weekends helps immensely. You can continue by explaining that at the same time, if working these additional hours is an expected part of the job, as it seems it is, it should be funded either through regularly scheduled hours, overtime, or comp time. What makes it feel like it is an expected part of the job is that you are asked, on a regular basis, to assist or volunteer your services, which means work .
If the response you get is similar to the last response – forget it, we’ll get someone else – continue to explain that while you appreciate that, it does cause you to worry if your performance on the job will be judged differently than those who volunteer more frequently. I would try and get assurance that the weekend and after hours events are purely voluntary, and will not have an impact on how you are evaluated by the organization. Documenting this conversation would be justified.
Raising these issues may change organizational practice and it may not. If you are reviewed fairly for the job you perform, and you are given advancement opportunities based on your performance on the job, I’d work on feeling part of the team, without having to feel part of the after hours team too.

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