The Risk of the Volunteer Model

Getting Down to Business with the OPRF Chamber

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By Cathy Yen

Executive Director OPRF Chamber of Commerce

We are fortunate that volunteering is part of our culture.  People are generous with their time and expertise.  Volunteers cheerfully spend countless hours in the schools, nonprofits, business community and even government contributing to the greater good.

It all works just fine until volunteers become essential to core operations. When the unpaid help becomes a mission-critical resource, the business model changes. Keen management is necessary to recruit, nurture and train new volunteers.  Without that in place, reliance on volunteers presents sustainability risk that can jeopardize the organization.

At the Chamber, we ask volunteers to run our special events but expect staff to manage core operations and mission critical services.  Our volunteers are dedicated, generous people.  But we know that life gets in the way.  It is difficult to build a sustainable organization when your key resources have other priorities.

Our government model essentially comprises "elected volunteers."  We rely on trustees to set policy, vision and direction.  Paid staff manages the organization and delivers core services.  Or at least that is how it is supposed to work.

The uproar over Mayor Village President Local Entrepreneur Anan Abu-Taleb's comment about compensation obscures the real point.  I did not hear him say we pay him personally (and I was there).  Rather, I heard him say that we need to realize that the transformation underway in our community, is, in part, powered by volunteers.  And, that volunteer time has a value, which we do not pay for. 

Both David Pope and Anan AbuTaleb (and trustees) have given our community eleven years of free expertise and time. Sure, they gave more than we asked, but we benefited.  Have we come to rely upon it?  And will the next "elected volunteer" provide the same level of unpaid help? 

This is a good time to review our governing business model.  I heard Anan say that the current model is not sustainable because the village president job takes more time than a volunteer has to give.  That's all.  It is worth taking that comment at face value and looking into why.  To me, this has become a risky business model.

Email: Twitter: @OPRFChamber

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Reader Comments

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James West  

Posted: May 18th, 2016 10:28 PM

John Butch Murtagh, Cathy Yen, is the one who says Oak Park, has a new way of shopping. You park in a lot, and walk over to the mall, and make a day of it. That is nice for a day when someone has off, and has the time, and wants to walk around and shop. You can do that at a mall too, and will get free parking, and have a lot of store under a roof, so it doesn't matter if it is cold, or raining, and you can do it in the evening, after work. The talk of the Village President, getting made the Mayor, with his own self imposed pay raise from his own created job is going to pass without a problem unless some people step up to run for Mayor, and the pay is very good, with benefits.

John Butch Murtagh  

Posted: May 18th, 2016 9:53 PM

There is no way in hell that profit driven businesses should be using volunteers when there are board members supporting a significant wage increase for those in need. Geeeeeee!

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