Just a Thought – The Price of the Ticket

pissI found myself with an unexpected problem situation last summer, and now that the calendar has rolled back to August, I’m more than reminded of it; I’ve had a series of situations so much like it, I have to see this isn’t an isolated phenomenon. It’s a trend. We are now supposed to pay to volunteer.

The problem – my beloved ‘Family Camp’ had been taken over by new directors, and volunteer policy had changed. Instead of working for about 20 hours as means of paying for my room and board (I had always paid cash for my kids to attend) I was told that I’d need to put in more time. Like about 80 hours, because things had to be done before camp, and then, I’d have to be on shift the whole time I was there. Oh, and there were no “stipends” available, no free room and board for volunteers. So, the offer on the table was to work four times as much AND pay the full price.

Um, no thanks.

At first I put in the ‘personal dislike’ category. The new directors just didn’t like me. (I do not have any illusions that everyone thinks I’m a good person, or wants to spend time with me.) Uncomfortable – I had thought we were friends – but not fatal.

Then, I recalled the old Barnes & Noble policy of “task them until they fail.” In the corporate world, managers are discouraged from firing employees because that means paying unemployment. So, the thing to do is to make their jobs so absurdly difficult that no human can possibly do them and then wait for them to quit. Maybe I was the only staff volunteer at camp being given this special offer.

But in the past year, I’ve had several situations where I was asked to donate my time, and pay for the privilege. While I’m sure none of these individual organizations know anything about any of the others, the concept seems to be getting a pretty good foothold in the landscape.

Don’t just ask people to offer their time and their talents for free. Make them pay the ticket as well.

The people I see being asked to do this are women.

As someone who is self employed, the fact is that every hour I volunteer, I’m giving up an hour I could be making money. I’m losing money by giving my time.

Whatever management manual preaches that it’s great idea to make your volunteers to pay full price ought to be burned in a public ceremony.

Women are already economically crippled by pay inequity, hidden ‘pink taxes’ on everything from clothing to toiletries, and the amazing number of unpaid hours we put in doing housework and, yep, volunteering. Now, it seems working for free is no longer enough. We are being asked to pay to work.

So, what I first became aware of as an outrageous volunteer standard at a church run camp is now standard procedure for many types of organizations. While this used to be my one week of vacation – a working vacation, but still, it got us out of town for a moment – I realize we won’t  be going there again.

Dignity doesn’t come cheap. If that is the price of the ticket, it’s not worth it.

The Actors' Gang


  1. Judith, I am so sad to read this. And appalled, of course. I don’t run any volunteering projects anymore, but if I ever do again I’ll be remembering what you wrote here.

    There are a number of programs I’ve been involved with in the past that quietly ask applicants if they are requesting a scholarship and several maintained an policy that they never turned anyone away for inability to pay. It’s always worth asking if scholarships are available (as you probably already know, but not everyone reading this might).

  2. Sara – I really ‘thought’ long and hard about publishing this, (because it sounds a little like ‘poor me’ and that’s not what I want to convey) When I have a problem, I recognize that there are LOTS of other people having the same problem, and my object with every ‘Thought’ is to get people to think. The creeping corporatization of every aspect of our culture seems to give organizations the right to request/require/demand that we comply with every standard they set, no matter how nonsensical. At the root, it has to do with the economic exploitation of women – And that’s a bigger thought. Thanks for commenting.

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