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Is it possible to earn a living through charity or volunteer work?

I am wondering, specifically in Canada, if there is any way in this day and age to earn a living through volunteer work? I am thinking just basics, like rent, food, electricity and savings. I like helping people and solving problems, but most of the jobs I get leave me with little time or energy to volunteer.

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    Gail .

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    Mar 17 2013: There are many job opportunities in non-profit organizations. Some pay extremely well, many pay decent wages, and some cover basic expenses. Savings is not part of basics, and that's why Dan Pallotta is dead wrong about the way he thinks about charity.
    • Mar 17 2013: savings should absolutely be part of basics. you never know what is round the corner in life. something could happen that means you cannot work, or have more expenses, and savings can cushion that blow. but also, we are facing the problem now of an aging population, saving throughout working life is necessary to finance retired life.
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        Gail .

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        Mar 17 2013: I understand the importance of saving. But I was referring to the referenced Dan Pallotta talk, where he says that we should not use overhead (salaries & commissions in part) as a way to decide what NPOs to support. I do not want my contributions going to providing paying jobs to those who are well-able to volunteer their time while working in the private sector, or living off their already accumulated vast wealth. I wasn't especially articulate, but I was trying to be a little tongue-in-cheek.

        I think that Dan Pallotta is dead wrong about the way HE thinks about charity.
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          Mar 17 2013: The point that I got from the talk was that charities need to be able to attract the innovators. Innovators tend to give their all to one passion and don't have the time or energy to spread it out in many directions.
          As for donating time, it requires money to attract people to donate their energy, efforts and ideas. Videos, television, sports, family, work all compete for our time and attention. If charities can't be "in your face" the way advertised time users do, then, again, charities lose by not having the "overhead" capital. I agree with Dan; we need to think different about social innovation.
        • Mar 25 2013: What feels challenging for me in this conversation is that I think the numbers in the talk are actually on the high side for what heads of most nonprofits make. I've been in the nonprofit sector my whole adult life (and I'm 43). I've run organizations, been a volunteer for organizations and sat on boards for organizations. NONE of those groups that I've been involved with are paying their staff more than $30,000/year. One group I work with right now pays their half time ED $10,000/year; everyone else is making $10/hour. And this a group who has 5 program areas and 25 years of history, clearly contributing good to the world.

          So when he gives the average medical charity numbers, I think this is the upper end of what is happening in nonprofits. Here's some more balanced stats:

          I've never had a savings account with more than $2,000, and a recent medical crisis has put my family $30,000 in debt (did I mention none of the groups I've been involved with offer benefits?) My son has just decided he wants to go to college two years early, and we are scrambling to make that happen for him; the investments we've managed to make to support him aren't going to produce for another 18 months (which looked like smart planning at the time--just in time to protect his access to college). I work hard and always have; this isn't about being lazy or foolish about things like investments.

          I see very directly how groups in the kind of position that these groups are in are being crippled by the "program funding only" attitudes, and the idea that it isn't ethical to make a decent living in the nonprofit sector. He is absolutely right that we have a massive double standard. I guess I hope the folks that are concerned that people are getting wealthy in the NP sector are also being activists to cap CEO pay in the profit-making world.
  • Mar 19 2013: I am in complete and total agreement with Dan Pallotta's assessment that "the way we think about charity is dead wrong." Several of the comments made that are critical of his talk seem to exemplify exactly the problem. The "logical" of these counter arguments seems to be:

    1. We see that there are problems in the world that are significant, complex and pose a danger to individuals or society on a massive scale.

    2. We accept that there may be a subset of these problems that cannot be addressed by either government or business.

    3. We recognize that some of this subset of problems might not be addressed at all if they are not addressed by nonprofit organizations.

    4. But it is important to us that when nonprofit organizations solve one of those problems that are significant, complex and pose a danger to individuals or society on a massive scale that they not just solve it, but do so with a purity of spirit. Without pay. On the weekend. With their kids. Maybe their could be a little picnic afterwards.

    This is a hopelessly uninformed and naive perspective. It shows a lack of awareness of the thousands of nonprofit organizations and millions of nonprofit employees that are already in place and impacting all of our lives in numerous ways every single day.

    Those making the comments also seem like they must be far removed from any meaningful participation with nonprofit organizations. After 20 years of both working and volunteering with a broad range of nonprofits, I can tell you that the biggest advocates for both more money and more staff for nonprofit organizations are the volunteers themselves.

    This support is the logical reaction once you recognize the need for talented and committed nonprofit staff, witness the enormous personal sacrifices now required of nonprofit employees, and recognize the natural limits of your own volunteer efforts.
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    Mar 17 2013: Are you asking whether there are volunteer opportunities in Canada for which you are given a stipend intended to cover these things or in which you are fed and sheltered as part of your volunteer post? I would check first with This is the contact email for Volunteer Canada.

    One possibility that comes to mind that may offer this are some national parks in summer. They may accomodate volunteers with room and board on the premises during the peek season.

    I believe Peace Corps used to think of the stipend for volunteers as covering these expenses rather than representing payment per se.

    Working for charities is a different matter. As people have mentioned below, they have paying posts.
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    Mar 22 2013: My experience with people getting involved in charities is that they are directly impacted by what the charity represents. They or their family or friends are affected. How do we get people involved who are not impacted? Or are impacted and it is minimal and they are not noticing the impact. If we continue to do (and think() what we've always done (and thought) we will always get what we've always got. Most charities are either treading water or slipping under. How do we help them move forward? How do we think and act different?
  • Mar 18 2013: I think:to some extent,every work works in charity or volunteer position:for an instance,being a dustman and a teacher they are the same significant,as long as we work hard to do our jobs well,it not only means earn a living but also means charity or volunteer part too.
  • Mar 18 2013: I would like to work for a not-for-profit or a company that at least has some soul (or goodness) - I still have to pay my mortgage and feed my family - still looking. - cheers - Craig R. - Brisbane, Australia
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    Mar 17 2013: Yes we can. not much but enough to make living.
    There are thousand of none profit organization in the world with millions of employees.
    It's not about earning money from charity, it's about not make more that we need.
    And there is always part time jobs. You can volunteer on your free time and work part time too.