To charge or not to charge?

We’ve decided to charge – for the time being.

I received board approval a few months ago to establish a training arm of Jewish Women’s Aid. This falls under the remit of my role, which is to raise awareness of Jewish Women’s Aid and domestic violence in the Jewish community.

Rather than continuing only to give talks to community and synagogue groups, it became apparent that awareness-raising would have more impact if I provided training for relevant professionals. Training usually comprises a half-day course providing delegates with a tool kit and enabling them to provide better support and signposting to women and children affected by domestic violence.

The courses have been well received and have attracted teachers, counsellors, police personnel, nurses, and informal educators.

The problem, as I indicated above, was to charge or not. Discussions went back and forth. In support of charging were the arguments that delegates value training which they pay for, that it would bring in some much needed funds to the organisation and that it would cover the cost of any resources needed.

Arguments against were that charging would decrease the number of delegates because all training budgets have been slashed, that charging is generally a deterrent in this sector where free training is sometimes available and that we could probably afford to provide this service free of charge for a time.

And so it went on. In the end, we decided to charge a minimal amount, with the caveat that no delegate would be turned away from a course because they couldn’t pay. To date the charge hasn’t elicited a comment from any delegate, although one or two have asked for a reduction in the cost, which I have of course given them.  Some organisations have requested bespoke internal training, for which we’ve requested a financial contribution rather than charging at market rate.

The point, really, throughout the whole exercise, has been to keep in mind that the purpose of our courses is to raise awareness of our organisation and to ensure that women who need support are able to get it – either directly from us or from someone trained by us.

With that in mind, the courses have been a huge success – delegates have not only given  positive feedback but also gone on to provide good, solid advice and support to women affected by domestic violence.  We have had new clients referred to us, and course delegates have become ambassadors for Jewish Women’s Aid. For us, it has been well worth keeping course prices low.

Naomi Dickson is a community awareness co-ordinator at Jewish Women’s Aid

  • Debra Allcock Tyler

    Well said Rob.

    • Rob Jackson


  • Mark Atkinson

    Surely the first question has to be “what is the common goal for volunteering?”….closely followed by “what do we need to change in order to achieve this goal?”. I’m pretty confident that a small working party with the appropriate knowledge, experience and intuition could address these questions and offer up a raw solution for validation by the wider sector. (PS…thanks for the insightful post Rob!)

    • Rob Jackson

      My pleasure Mark.

      I’m not sure we can come up with a common goal for volunteering given the diversity that is inherent within volunteerism. I think NCVO are trying their best but it’s always tricky to develop a coherent position on behalf of a large, diverse and not always easy to define sector.

  • Michael Ambjorn

    Well said Rob: ‘Volunteering is freely given but not cost free’.

    I look forward to the impact assessments of the the raft of investments the UK government has made in volunteer management platforms through the Innovation in Giving Fund as per etc. Do you know if there’s a schedule for that?

    That should bring up some interesting insights / lessons learnt around new approaches (and the challenges therein).

    This, of course, is only one angle of what you are calling for to be thought through… So indeed, your call is timely.

    • Rob Jackson

      I’m not aware of any impact assessments Michael. I don’t recall many in the past for flagship programmes, probably because they usually have little actual impact.

  • Gillian Douglass

    I worked with an organisation in the States who gave employees a day off every year to volunteer for local projects. It worked well. Employees were paid by the company, the company gained positive p.r. in the local community and the community benefited. It did, of course, need organisation and a p.r. company was involved in finding a suitable project.

    • Rob Jackson

      Hi Gillian. I think day off to volunteer programmes can be great. My concern is that some here in the UK seem to be calling for them without thinking through the likely implications.

      • Gillian Douglass

        Yes, I think it can only be done on a voluntary basis. To mandate community giving or any kind of giving is ridiculous and impractical.

  • Hayley Peters

    I struggle to see how paid time off is volunteering – I have always found that these types of volunteers are very difficult to engage in longer term commitment and that it often costs the organisation more in time and funds than they get back.

    I believe that volunteering needs to be promoted more by the government. Team London and the work of the Mayor in volunteering has been fantastic for London, and the charity I work for has benefited hugely. This needs to be national, with enough funds behind it for advertising etc.

  • Linz Darlington

    Rob – your post is spot on.

    Charities are too busy delivering the services (that in many cases they are already under-resourced to deliver) to have the capacity to find, enlist and apply one-off volunteers.

    That said, with the right application, professional people do come with a rich resource of soft and hard skills which – with the right management – lend themselves to be applied to the benefit of the service users and regular volunteers.

    For example: the benefit can be in providing direct skills (e.g. employment guidance) and sometimes merely having a ‘new face’ provides variety, moral support and reduces isolation.

    Initially the exam questions here is 1) what can be done at scale to identify and structure opportunities to benefit from this support and 2) how do we reduce the burden for the charities, to ensure the benefit of the involvement of these volunteers far outweighs the cost.

    If we answered that we could look forward to engaging a greater number of corporate firms in volunteering, and engaging a greater proportion of the work-forces of those that already offer it.