Should office bearers receive “benefits”

An association held an event and the vice president attended the event free of charge ostensibly because he had done some work towards organising the event.

Now here is an interesting one. I was asked to comment on this situation which occurred in an association which is constituted as a company limited by guarantee in Australia as opposed to an incorporated association.

Is this right or is this wrong?

Well to answer this, we need to look at both sides. From the perspective of the vice president, he would feel that it is justifiable since he has given up his time to organise the event. Sounds fine so far.

However, from the perspective of the other members, they would justifiably ask why should he receive such a benefit when none of them were given the opportunity to do that work and receive a free entry for it. So the other members would see it as being entirely unfair, especially since the “ticket price” was several hundred dollars. The vice president has received a benefit by virtue of his position (since no ordinary member had the same opportunity to benefit).

Additionally, this association has a guideline which they strictly follow which says that any member (office bearer or not) who attends an event, must pay the full price.

So. Firstly, the decision to allow the vice president to attend without payment was against the association’s guidelines and therefore a contravention.

Secondly, it is entirely inappropriate for an office bearer to receive what amounts to a significant financial  benefit regrdless of any work they may have done.

Thirdly, for the decision not to be made “public” is very unwise and opens up a whole range of questions that no-one would want to be in the situation of having to answer as there is no satisfactory or appropriate explanation.

So what happened?

The decision was reveresed by the board several weeks after the event and an invoice was issued to the vice president for the full amount that everyone else had paid.

The vice president himself thought it was unreasonable because of the work he had done. This fact alone shows his lack of understanding of governance in voluntary groups.

Read on

If you volunteer or are elected to a board or committee of an organisation which is run by volunteers, then you must accept that the work you do will be without financial benefit and any time you give will be voluntary. If you pay for things, then of course reimbursement of expenses is entirely appropriate. Time however, is not a reimbursable expense unless it has been previously agreed and is given on a “level playing field”

In other words, if there is some work to be done for which payment is appropriate, then it should be offered fairly to all those capable of doing the work – not just people on the committee. Also, such payments need to be strictly managed and the person receiving the payment should have no part in any decision making processes surrounding the “project”.

Clearly in the example above, the vice president received “favoured treatment” since almost anyone could have done the work of organising the event.

Warning. Committees or organisation which begin recompensing members, whether committee members or not, unwittingly change the culture of the organisation completely and probably irreversibly. Volunteer organisation are just that – volunteers!

There is another secondary effect of the situation above. Every issue which that person or those people made from then on (and even previous ones) came into question about propriety. It creates a nasty taste in the mouth that no-one wants.

By the way – there was (we assume) no dishonest intent by any of the parties involved. It does show however,  such a  lack of understanding of what is right and what is not appropriate, and also a distinct lack of wisdom that some people will invariably make a false assumption of dishonesty. When there is even the slightest hint of lack of integrity, it does no person nor the organisation any good at all.

For instance, in regard to this example, when it came out later, some people said “that is the same as stealing from the other members”. It’s not technically true, but there is some logic in the sentiment. Better not to go there at all!

Moral of the story: Be very careful when any member of a committee receives any benefit which others do not.

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