Most charities rely heavily on the support of their volunteers. In fact, according to the NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations) 91% of UK charities employ no paid staff at all. It’s critical that charities continue to inspire and look after their volunteers in order to achieve their ongoing goals. One of the best ways to do this is to provide branded clothing, workwear or protective equipment, even though it is not actually a legal requirement. There are no set rules regarding the provision of volunteer uniforms, so it’s up to the charity to decide what they think is best and whether it fits within their budget.
We decided to explore exactly what a charity is legally allowed to give to their volunteers and how workwear can benefit both the wearer and the charity as a whole.
Firstly, an important question to address is; ‘Should staff and volunteers be treated equally?’ Of course, this is not a question as to whether staff and volunteers have differing human rights. From an ethical standpoint they should be treated with equal care and appreciation. However, it’s crucial to remember the legal differences between employee and volunteer rights.
So what rights do volunteers have?
Volunteers work unpaid and do not have a contractual agreement, which means they do not have the same rights as employees. To legitimately keep volunteer status the charity can’t pay for their time or provide benefits that aren’t linked to their role. Charities are at liberty to pay volunteers expenses, such as food, drink, travel and necessary equipment, which can include work clothing.
It’s crucial that a charity regularly demonstrates that volunteers are needed and appreciated. After all, they are giving their time for nothing to support the charity’s cause, so it’s only reasonable to express gratitude for this commitment. Not only will this help them to feel valued and fulfilled in their role, it will motivate them to remain loyal and also inspire new volunteers to join the cause.
Successfully inspiring volunteers to do their best has been proven to greatly contribute to charities meeting their goals, including increasing donations, legacies, memberships, visitors and retail sales.
Providing uniform and PPE
While charities are not obligated to provide branded clothing or protective equipment to volunteers, it is one of the best ways to demonstrate appreciation and promote a sense of team spirit. Here are a number of factors a charity can consider when deciding what to provide volunteers:
Some tasks may require the volunteer to wear specific clothing. For example, those in a customer-facing role such as visitor experience or fundraising should be kitted out with branded clothing to improve recognition and customer engagement.
Volunteers are living representatives of a charity’s brand. Clothing them in a smart uniform will improve people’s awareness and perception of the brand. This is particularly important where volunteers are participating in a campaign or attending a charity event, so those present know who they are.
Volunteers working in unpleasant weather conditions will likely need waterproof or thermal clothing to fulfil their role effectively and comfortably. Those working outdoors in direct sunlight may need garments made from wicking fabric or sun-protective clothing to reduce heat stress and UV damage to their skin.
Health and safety
While health and safety legislation does not apply to volunteers in the same way as employers and employees, organisations are still expected to protect volunteers from hazards associated with their work. If a volunteer is exposed to risks while working, charities may need to provide them with protective workwear or PPE, such as coveralls, high visibility clothing, gloves, ear protection and safety footwear.
Financing volunteer uniforms
If a charity hasn’t planned to invest in clothing for its volunteers, it can be a challenge to justify the cost. Here are some recommendations on how to manage the cost and calculate a realistic amount to spend:
First and foremost, remember to include volunteer requirements when setting the annual budget to ensure sufficient funds are available. This may seem tricky when budgets are tight, but considering the benefits this can bring to the organisation helps attribute the amount to the right spend category. For example, if uniform will boost the charity’s brand presence, it could be treated as a marketing investment. If it will encourage donations or new members, the money could come from the fundraising or membership recruitment pot.
Share the cost
Sometimes it’s possible to share the expense with another organisation who is working alongside the charity, especially if the volunteers’ work benefits both parties. Instances where this works well may be where two charities are working on a mutual project or campaign.
A great way to achieve additional funding is to partner with a company or brand who is willing to provide a sponsorship. If the company shares common interests with the charity, or the brand is looking to increase brand exposure while demonstrating its support for charity, this can be advantageous for both parties. Consider dual-branding the garments to showcase this partnership.
Subsidise the cost
Where it’s not possible to cover the total cost, or to allow for additional purchases beyond what has been budgeted for, organisations can offer volunteers a contribution towards their uniform. This could be a flat rate per volunteer, or it could be based on the individual’s role or number of hours worked per month. Some charities initially provide one or two items of workwear to volunteers, and then reward them with further items after they’ve consistently supported the charity for a given period.
Although volunteers’ rights are not the same as employed staff, it’s equally as important to show appreciation for their commitment and hard work for the organisation. Providing branded workwear or PPE can contribute towards volunteers feeling valued, strengthens commitment, enhances team spirit, encourages new volunteers to join and promotes the charity brand. This in turn can improve customer or visitor experience, boost donations, increase memberships and help the charity in its overriding mission.
WISE Worksafe has decades of experience working closely with non-profit organisations. Get in touch today to hear more about how we hand-pick ranges of staff and volunteer clothing, to provide perfect uniforms for many large charities across the UK.