Charity Resources: A Trilogy of… Lots?

‘I may not have gone where I intended to go,
but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.’

‘I love deadlines.
I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.’


I am a fan of Douglas Adams.

He was a great author, writer, humorist, and all round good egg.

So in honour, of Douglas Adams famous Trilogy in Five Parts, I’m starting my own trilogy, on Charity Resources.

And whilst it might  not be as funny as Hitchhikers, it does share a certain ambiguous numeracy. In that I’ve no idea how many there will be. 42 might be appropriate?

But, following Douglas Adam’s lead, I’m going to start at the beginning. And hope that this won’t be regarded as a bad move.

My first Charity Resource page is on charity law.

I hope this series will be helpful.

But as the great man once said:

“You live and learn.
At any rate, you live.”


Flood-Gate: Five Emergency Action Points

Monday was a water-shed moment for our office: there was lots of water, and it felt like working in a shed.

It was, if you like, Flood-Gate.

Apparently a pipe had burst over the weekend, and had slowly shared its goodness with the staff kitchen, main office, and the meeting space below.

When I arrived on Monday morning, it was like a biblical scene: sodden carpets, ceiling tiles on the floor, mushed up paper and books. And so began the slow clean up.

But it was certainly not, to stretch the metaphor, all plain sailing.

There were real difficulties dealing with the landlord; we lost access to servers, computers, and email accounts; our staff and volunteer contact details were stored electronically and couldn’t be accessed; and we didn’t have hard copies of key documents.

As a small charity it’s easy to forget that life happens sometimes.

And happen it did.

So here’s what I’ve learned from my Noah-esque adventures, handily summarised for you by the word of the day: FLOOD.

1. FOLLOW an Action Plan

When things go well, which is usually, getting on with work life is easy. But when things go wrong, it can get stressful, emotional, and difficult. And that is *the* worst time to start thinking about how to deal with emergencies.

Even as a small charity, you should be thinking about your emergency plan before things go wrong. Some of the main things to cover are: alerting your employees and volunteers, and making sure they are safe; reporting the emergency to the appropriate authorities; thinking about helpful procedures; identifying the right safety equipment; and delegating responsibility to the right people.

Our office is fortunate to have a Mother Hen office manager and management with life experience, but we’ll be better prepared next time.

2. LEAVE Emergency Supplies 

When we were came in on Monday morning, we had no electricity or heating, and all the windows were open to help dry the office.  And it was rather cold.  And it was raining. Yay.

We were fortunate that our neighbours were able to help us with coffee and teas, providing us with an electricity hookup, and letting us use their canteen and toilets.  But it might not have been as easy.

Think about what supplies would be useful in an emergency, and build a kit in an easily accessible place. You may have to evacuate at a moment’s notice and only take essentials with you: what would you need?

3.  ORGANISE Hard Copies 

Once we had sorted the immediate danger, the next round of questions were thrown out: do we have insurance, what does the lease say, who’s responsible for the leak; who do we contact about…

It was then I realised that being obsessively ‘paper-free’ at work has its disadvantages.  All the relevant documents were neatly filed on the server and in my inbox. D’oh.

You should think about what important documents and files you might need if everything starts going wrong, and keep them securely in a paper file. Consider keeping documents like leases, insurance details, contact forms, warranties etc.

4. ORDER  Backups and Spares

When we first arrived, around 6 staff computers were sitting in the pooling water.  We raised them off the ground, but the damage was done. Turns out electricity and water don’t mix. Who knew?

We have been fortunate in having spare capacity in our office with extra desks, computers and volunteer space, which we were able to use to relocate essential staff members.

But you should think about what spare capacity you might have to deal with the loss of key systems, personnel or space? Order in spare batteries, torches, paper, pens etc, so that life can go on without electricity.

And make sure your essential computer data is being backed up. When it’s gone, it’s gone….

5. DEVELOP Incident-Ready Staff 

We had recently undertaken some staff training on issues like data protection and office policies. But none of us had been trained in dealing with an emergency, or in following any action plans.

Think about training staff in your emergency action plan, where to find emergency supplies, spares and backups, who to ask about what, and who’s responsible for what.

Because time spent preparing is not time wasted.

So remember, even as a small charity, life can happen.

You never know when the FLOOD gates might open…

Ten Tips for Charity Managers…

I’ve just come across this helpful article from Empower on management.

It’s quite a helpful top ten for those managing staff: here’s a wee sample…

1. Remember it is a process:

Follow the process and don’t make it personal.

2. Ensure that you do not avoid difficult conversations, particularly around conduct and behaviour:

If something needs to be dealt with, deal with it straight away. The longer poor performance goes unchecked, the harder it is to deal with.

3. You set the standards:

Be clear about the standards you expect from your team and offer support to staff to achieve them…

For more, do have a look at the original Empower newsletter and article.


When is a volunteer not a volunteer?

(Legal bit: the following is not formal legal advice, and should not be relied on as such.  Legal bit over.]

Riddle me this: when is a volunteer not a volunteer?

The answer is of course simple. When they’re not volunteering.

But of course, life is never quite that simple.

So brace yourself, here’s some law to chew over…

Volunteer or Worker

There is no standard legal definition of volunteer, but the Criminal Records Bureaux defined a volunteer as “a person engaged in an activity which involves spending time, unpaid (except for travel and other out of pocket expenses), doing something which aims to benefit some third party other than or in addition to a close relative.”

An employee is defined as “an individual who has entered into or works under… a contract of employment”, where a contract of employment means “a contract of service… express or implied… oral or in writing.” (section 230(1) and (2), Employment Rights Act 1996).

A worker is defined more widely, as an individual who works under either a contract of employment (as above) or any other contract, express or implied, oral or in writing, where the individual performs personally any work or services for another party but is not a client or customer.

There are a number of important factors that need to be present for an individual to be a worker, being that there is personal service; that the “employer” is not a customer; and that there is a mutuality of obligations.

Volunteer Legal Status Ambiguous

BWB Solicitors, leading charity advisors has published guidance about this.

They note that “the legal status of volunteers and interns is not clear cut, as there is a vast range of different types of relationships, from the purely voluntary to those that are clearly contractual and those in between, which are difficult to define. This ambiguity makes it difficult for organisations taking on volunteers and interns to appreciate any legal obligations that they may owe to them.”

 The Practical Law Company have also provided style volunteer agreements, noting that “where the volunteer is not otherwise entitled to the national minimum wage, organisations should limit payment to volunteers to out-of-pocket expenses only, incurred as part of the volunteer role and evidenced by receipts.”

 The National Council for Voluntary Organisations (“NCVO”) also states in its guidance to charities that “paying ‘expenses’ automatically, without justification, can be seen in tribunals as the equivalent of paying a salary. The safest course is to reimburse only actual expenses, preferably against receipts.

A example from a recent Employment Appeal Tribunal case might also help.  Mrs Chaudri did administrative work with the Migrant Advisory Service for two years and claimed unfair dismissal and sex discrimination when her role was terminated.

She worked four mornings a week and was paid volunteer’s “expenses” of £25 (increased to £40) a week, even though she incurred no expenses. She was also paid when on holiday or sick. The Employment Appeal Tribunal found that the payment was clearly for work and not reimbursement.

National Minimum Wage

Employees and workers are entitled to a number of rights which volunteers are not, including the national minimum wage (“NMW”)and annual leave.  Specifically, the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 requires employers to pay the NMW to all ‘workers’.

Volunteers will only be entitled to be paid the NMW if they are workers. Volunteers will not fall within the definition of ‘worker’ only where they have no form of contract of employment or contract to perform work and provide services and where they receive no financial remuneration or benefits in kind for providing their services.

Volunteer workers are a category of worker who work for charities, voluntary organisations, associated fund-raising bodies and statutory bodies. Voluntary workers (as opposed to volunteers) are not entitled to the NMW only if the following conditions are met (S.44(1)(a)&(b) of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998):

  1. They receive no monetary payment other than reimbursement of expenses actually incurred or reasonably estimated as likely to have been incurred in the performance of their duties; and
  2. They receive no benefit in kind other than reasonable subsistence or accommodation.

The consequences for an organisation of failing to pay the NMW to volunteers or interns who are in fact workers and therefore entitled to the NMW are potentially serious. Not only could the organisation be required to pay up to six years of backdated NMW to the workers, but it may be liable for a criminal penalty if it has wilfully neglected to pay the NMW.

Implications for Charities

A volunteer can be seen as a ‘worker’ only where there are a number of factors present, being: personal service, that the “employer” is not a customer, and that there is a mutuality of obligation.

There are a number of practical suggestions given by BWB Solicitors to reduce the risk of volunteers being a classified as ‘workers’.

Firstly, get a volunteer agreement in place confirming that the relationship is based on mutual understanding and is not a contract of services or employment.

Secondly, avoid making payments to volunteers that could be construed as wages, with payments to cover actual expenses being clearly identified as such and ideally reimbursed against receipts.


If you have any questions let me know: bettercharityblog[at] or @BetterCharity.

And if you got this far without falling asleep, well done!..