August 2012 PSA

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So what is a volunteer?

The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) considers one who provides services without any expectation of compensation and without coercion or intimidation a volunteer. Further items that define a volunteer include:

  • the motivation as to why one volunteers;
  • is the service also performed by a paid worker within the organization;
  • is the work normally considered volunteer work; and,
  • how much control does the organization exert over how the volunteer performs the service?
Let's break this down.

While each member applies for their own reasons, which may or may not include merit badges, the end reason is to give back to our great community. Speaking for myself, I see a need that I know I can fulfill. I see a job I can do well and enjoy doing - that will benefit the community and the organization. (Note: just so I don't come off too arrogant, just as with my paid job I know that there are others who can do my job and do it well. ;) )

No volunteer receives a salary, hourly rate, bonus, or stipend- not a Board member or Officer or Executive or anyone - every one of us is performing without the expectation of being compensated. As there are no paid positions, we can't say that a volunteer position does similar work as a paid worker.

What is volunteer work? It ranges from managing a group of volunteers in projects, to office work, to heavy labor, to cooking for others, and so much more. Every position at TarValon.Net can be found as a volunteer position within other similar nonprofit organizations.

One of the continual challenges TarValon.Net faces is when the real life monster rears its head, because we do not tell anyone when, where, or how to do the job they are volunteering for and other than Executives there is not cross training to ensure work gets done timely. While there are guidelines and expectations, no volunteer will be told that program X must be used in a specific way to accomplish a goal. Further, TarValon.Net is not providing any hardware, software, office space or otherwise for a volunteer to perform their job. TarValon.Net doesn't tell volunteers when to do their job, but instead the volunteer decides when to perform their duties. This meets the criteria that there is no control over how the volunteer performs their service.

Bottom line, we are volunteers. No question about it.

Let me back up a second, because I am sure some will remember Riley's PSA about money and how the organization covers various expenses such as an Officer travel to an event. I bet you are asking yourself how that jives with not being compensated. The way the IRS sees it, is that reimbursement - say for our Goldschlagger at an official event - is not compensation because it is irregular and not defined by an employment contract. Covering when an Officer goes to an event is considered indirect compensation - it doesn't happen for every event or every year or even the same Officer! So, based on how the IRS looks at things, we do not directly compensate any one.

Now we know what we are classified as, we can move forward with understanding the hiring process!


TarValon.Net is an equal opportunity organization. The fact that technically the community of TarValon.Net has no employees means that we are not covered by many federal laws – however being the cautious Human Resources and business person that I am I work to ensure that we operate as if we are covered anyways. I see it as training us in case we ever do reach that point in the distant future. In the vernacular, CYA (cover your a$$.)

What does being an equal opportunity organization mean? It means that we do not make “employment” decisions based on potentially discriminating factors. Employment decisions are hiring, firing, or anything else based on a multitude of factors that are covered under the American 1964 Civil Rights Act and its amendments, commonly called Title VII. These factors range from sex, national origin, race, sexual identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, if one is pregnant or not, if one is employed or not, disability, veteran status, or genetic information. And for the record, we also do not look at what community group one is a member of when making these decisions either. :P Instead we look at the knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, and past records of applicants to determine if they are the best fit for that position out of the pool of applicants.

Hiring Process

The hiring process is a case of paradox where a simple email is the application, yet that email is fraught with complexity due to the lack of guidelines of what elements should be included. As a hiring manager I have seen applications as simple as, “I would like to perform this job. I think I would do well in it,” and as complex as a five page email with resume and references attached.

When reviewing applications those who provide more detail and treat the application professionally with utilizing the job description verbiage as well as examples where they have already accomplished similar tasks appear to be more suited to the position. This is a situation where more is more. I strongly urge future applicants to provide as much (relevant) information that can make them the best possible candidate. For example, I know of one member who is the short and sweet type, and while I personally know their skills, if I were the hiring manager I have to go based upon what they provide in the application initially, which tends to leave them out of the running more often than not.

From the hiring manager perspective, hiring is tough work. It is very difficult to quantify skills, experience, et cetera among the top applicants. I would like to reiterate the above statement, though, that the first “cuts” are made based upon the knowledge, skills, abilities, experiences, et cetera that are provided in the application. In most instances that is all that is necessary. However, once those major skills are reviewed sometimes there are still some tough choices to make. It is here that the hiring gets more subjective where fit with the existing team and statistics come into play.

Applicant Tracking

Fall of 2011 Officers and the Department of Administration decided that an additional guideline might prove effective – looking at the application history of applicants. The thought was that this would help us get a better rounded picture of applicants who might not provide a full picture on their application. It also would show passion as well as help us perhaps to hire people who are just as qualified but have not been hired previously to “spread the wealth” as well as actively work against the accusation of hiring the same members repeatedly.

To this end we created a database of applicants, what positions they applied for, and basic information such as demographics. We have begun utilizing it for its intended purpose and, in my humble and objective perspective - not having been a hiring manager- it has already made an impact in hiring decisions. Additionally, a report spanning five years worth of information has been produced to show some interesting patterns in hiring over the years. You can find this report in the library HERE. The report is specifically written to address common accusations regarding hiring practices. We intend to produce it annually, so that in time we can see trends and changes in the hiring practices as the Tower has evolved with our incorporation.