Thursday, September 22, 2011

Why use volunteers?

This might seem entirely obvious — we use volunteers to make more money available to help animals — but it's currently a hot topic in general volunteering circles, with some people saying that it's better to cut services than to replace staff with volunteers, and others rather more sensibly arguing that half a loaf is better than no bread and it's preferable to keep a few staff supported by volunteer helpers than making everyone redundant.

From the standpoint of an animal charity I have to admit I find the repeated assertions that volunteers should never, never be seen as "free labour" a bit strange. Volunteers are donating their time and it makes no sense to insist on devising complicated explanations of why this isn't the really important bit of volunteering.

If you're a stray cat with a broken leg, you need a qualified, paid vet to fix it, but you need volunteers to raise the cash that pays the vet.

If you happen to be a merchant banker, it probably would be more useful to us if you bunged us the odd half-million rather than helping out in your leisure time, but, for most of us, volunteering is a way to give the charity a cash equivalent we couldn't afford to donate as actual money from our wages.

Our shops illustrate how this works: we need some paid staff to ensure we can open regularly at the times customers expect, but if all the work involved in running a shop had to be done by paid staff the profit available to use for animals would be minimal, if not non-existant — probably around the 5% received by charities who don't have shops, but get a percentage from commercial "charity bag" collections.

Fundamentally, money is a way of storing the value of work. Whether you do the work directly or donate it as cash, cat food or saleable items, we need your help.

Please visit our shops at 61 Burleigh Street, Cambridge, 10a Market Street, Newmarket, or 188 Mill Road, Cambridge and give us your support.

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