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Find news you can use on a variety of topics; opportunities to raise money, changes in postage rates; local and regional training, statistics and facts that impact volunteer programs; and more.

~September 2011~



This special issue of Volunteer Today (the first ever) started with an email from a director of volunteer services.  Her organization was being forced to down size.  Department heads asked to put volunteers into positions formerly held by a paid employee.  Nothing she did seemed to stem the flow of requests.  The staff at her organization was unionized and no one noticed what was happening.  Conversations with other managers of volunteers convinced me that the idea of a volunteer replacing an employee was not limited to one organization or region.  Thus was a special issue of Volunteer Today conceived. 

A request for testimonials and comments on the issue of the role of volunteers at a time of serious economic constraints touched a nerve.  Readers emailed their stories, strategies, resources, and the response of organizations to utilizing volunteers .  This entire issue is “from the field.” 


The comments and ideas received created the opportunity to cover a single subject in depth.  You will find articles by experts, Susan Ellis and Tobi Johnson,  who share suggestions.  Glenis Chapin worked in a unionized environment for a long time and shares her strategies to make supplanting work, when it needs to.  There are resources, news clippings from Jayne Cravens, and links to legislation that addresses this issue.  Judy Liberman and Marcia Shanker shared personal observations on their experiences.

My job as editor/publisher was to maintain focus for everyone, ask our regular columnists to help out with editorial tasks, in lieu of regular columns, help revive a journal article by Connie Pirtle that addresses the issue (thanks to Dale Safrit at IJOVA and Connie for working this out), and provide an overview of the topic for readers.  Be sure to see the Thank You page for the cast of this production. 

So, exactly what are supplanting, supporting, and supplementing, ? 


1.       to take somebody’s place or position by force or intrigue
2.      to take the place of something, especially something much used, inferior, outmoded, or irrelevant (Encarta, 1999)


1.       to keep something or somebody upright or in place, or prevent something or somebody from falling
2.      to be strong enough to hold a particular object or weight in place without breaking or giving way
3.      to give active help, encouragement, or money to somebody or something
4.      to give encouragement to somebody or something by being present at an event
5.      to give assistance or comfort to somebody in difficulty or distress (Encarta, 1999)


1.       to increase, extend, or improve something by adding something to it
2.      to be a supplement to something (Encarta, 1999)

All three words are used in relationship to the roles played by volunteers.  A volunteer supports the work of a paid staff person by providing assistance to make the paid staff person’s work load easier.  Many volunteers in schools do bulletin boards, photocopying, care for plants in classrooms, and the like.  No volunteers a paid staff person does it.  Supplementing means adding to what paid staff might do.  Volunteers in schools are frequently utilized as mentors to children.  The volunteer listens to children reading, or doing math or science assignments.  This is extra effort is not required of a paid staff, so the volunteer’s work is supplemental.  Budget cuts come to an organization and volunteers are asked to carry out tasks formerly done by a paid employee.  A school might lose paid classroom aids.  Volunteers might be asked to step into those duties.

Most organizations, especially those with unions and in the public sector, allow the presence of volunteers if they do not supplant a position held by a paid staff person.  The role of the volunteer in the workplace is to supplement and/or support the work done by paid employees.

The definitions of supplant, supplement and support are straightforward from the dictionary, but reality is not so clear.  Is there a problem for administrators of volunteer programs when most resources recommend clear policies against supplanting.  One credible resource for those concerned about volunteer and staff relations makes as its first recommendation, “Establish official policy on supplementing not supplanting jobs with volunteer.” (United Way Salt Lake 2011)  There is a Federal directives against supplanting by volunteers (See Tech Tips Page).   It would seem that no supplanting means no problems. 

Several managers of volunteers reported to Volunteer Today that their policy was that volunteers would NOT replace staff.  “I ethically think that you cannot replace a paid position with a volunteer.” (Shaff-Palmer 2011) “I was able to recommend against supplanting and my recommendations were followed. (Wolfe, 2011)  What “. . .worked for me was being very clear and up front about what was going on. . .” (Marks 2011)  These are examples that show clarity prevents confusion, bad relations between volunteers and staff, and roles are clearly defined for volunteers and staff.  Would that this clarity existed in all programs!

Alas, reality raises its head.  An employee union was slated to go out on strike and requested that volunteers be brought in to make sure operations proceeded smoothly in the event of a strike.  Here is what the administrator of volunteers had to say about it.  “The volunteer policy in the museum states that volunteers will never be used to replace any, or any aspect of a, previously paid role but it was obvious that this would need restating as it was possible that managers might, quite innocently, contact volunteers to fill gaps or to find out if they were attending on the day of the action (strike).” (Thompson 2005)

Another administrator of volunteers found that employee and administration fear of supplanting led to watered down tasks for volunteers so as to make them unappealing to a skilled individual. “What we have done in response (to the fear of supplanting) is to minimize the job descriptions to the point where they are very unappealing to most people.!” (Huffman, 2011)

In a total karmic twist on the problem of supplanting one manager said, “When I was hired as a volunteer manager at an agency, they had been “holding” my volunteer coordinator spot with a volunteer!”  She reports the ensuing months as being a most disagreeable situation. (Shaff-Palmer 2011)

As with most elements in administering a volunteer program there are no simple approaches or answers to the issue of supplanting.  This issue of Volunteer Today tackles this topic and provides guidance, “war” stories, resources, and tips to navigate the challenges of crafting the right policies for your organization.  Visit our regular pages for such things as the review of a book to help you organize in the union environment, read tips by Chapin, Ellis, and Johnson.  Commiserate with those having challenges with supplanting, read the law on supplanting most often cited, and read how a hotel became a nonprofit, so it could turn employees to volunteers. 

As with all things at Volunteer Today we welcome your comments and feedback.  Send an email to Nancy Macduff at mba@bmi.net.


Encarta® World English Dictionary © 1999 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Developed for Microsoft by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.
Huffman, Julie, retrieved email July 14, 2011
Marks, Celeste Sauls, retrieved email July 14, 2011
Shaff-Palmer, Annette.T 2011, retrieved email July 13, 2011.
Staff and Volunteer Relations, United Way of Salt Lake, 211 Resource page, http://www.informationandreferral.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=26&Itemid=28 downloaded August 28, 2011
Thompson, Matt, Strike Action Volunteer England, 2005 http://www.volunteering.org.uk/resources/goodpracticebank/Core+Themes/creatingvolunteerroles/strikeaction downloaded August 28, 2011.
Wolfe, Steven, retrieved email July 15, 2011

See Who Made This Issue Possible

Thank You Page


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Jayne Cravens with Live Examples

Jayne Cravens offered for this issue some examples of the good, bad, and the ugly of volunteer roles in various types of organizations.  From a union in California that wants all volunteering banished, to an inn and restaurant that went totally volunteer staff, to a state agency that increased customer service with volunteers at the helm.  Jayne’s blog gives real life examples of the challenges facing those who administer volunteer programs.  Check out these stories and more at Posterous

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Portland State University
Volunteer Engagement and Leadership Program

Recruiting Volunteers
Begins Monday, September man at computer 26, 2011

Wonder about the changes in volunteering behavior.  What is driving it?  How can you accommodate episodic volunteers?  Should your organization go to targeted recruiting?  Build a recruitment plan.  What is appropriate to screen different types of volunteers?  Learn and discuss all these issues.  Sign up for Recruiting Volunteers a fully online and interactive class for those who are managing volunteers or hope to.   Do assignments with your own program in mind, talk with others who share your enthusiasm for the administration of volunteers and want to improve their skills. 

For more information: http://distancedegree.pdx.edu//programs/v_engagement.php

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