Paid work – from voluntary work to gainful employment

Many initiatives are supported by one or more board members, who are usually both highly qualified and equally committed to the goals of the organization. Especially when they do this successfully and the project ideas are well received by the public, a voluntary activity quickly becomes a part-time or full-time job. How can the transition from voluntary to (full-time) professional activity be structured and what do we have to pay attention to?

The more successful an initiative, the higher the demands on the organisation and the associated workload. In order to protect the board or the driving forces within an initiative from self-exploitation, many initiatives will eventually have to face the question of how to cope with the growing number of tasks. Voluntary, i.e. within the free time that the members have in addition to their professional activities, this is often almost impossible to achieve. Then it makes sense to consider turning voluntary work into a full-time or at least part-time position.

Financing full-time positions is one way of creating jobs where people can work sensibly. In addition, a permanent position that lasts for several years can give your own initiative a major boost to development. It is important to note that this does not necessarily mean that volunteering within the organisation will be completely abolished. Many organizations are run jointly by both full-time and volunteer workers.

Gradual transition

In an effort to keep the risk of fixed costs not being covered by wages and salaries through corresponding income as low as possible, it may be advisable to carry out the transition in small steps. A first step would be, for example, the introduction of expense allowances for the honorary board. This can be paid in various forms, which – depending on the type – are subject to income tax or not:

  • Excluded from the tax is a certain amount of the instructor’s fee. According to § 3 No. 26 of the German Income Tax Act, part-time income up to an amount of EUR 2,400 is tax-free if you work for a non-profit organisation or a legal entity under public law. These include, for example, trainers, instructors, educators, caregivers, artistic activities or the care of old, sick or disabled people.
  • Since 2013 there is the so-called honorary office lump sum at a value of up to 720 euro / year for activities in the non-profit range of the association. In contrast to the flat rate for instructors, these activities do not have to serve the purpose directly and also have no pedagogical orientation, i.e. this flat rate is applicable, for example, to board or administrative activities. If this lump sum is to be paid to the Executive Board, the Articles of Association must include the possibility of a lump sum payment.
  • Reimbursement of expenses: If the volunteer has paid amounts within the scope of his work, he can have these replaced by his institution tax-free in accordance with § 3 No. 50 EStG.

If the budget allows it, then the employment of personnel on 450 euro basis may additionally be a good idea (mini or Midijob). It offers the possibility to get the tedious financial, administrative and accounting work done regularly. This person can also, for example, distribute or answer incoming requests that come in by e-mail. It can give a group the freedom to concentrate on their projects. Similar possibilities are offered by a federal volunteer force. The experience of the “BluePingu e.V.” group in Nuremberg is also that a volunteer needs a lot of time to learn, for their holidays and their further training. There is not much time left for the actual work in the initiative.

Other low-risk options would be the introduction of commission models, according to which the organisation only remunerates its members’ services in the event of success, or Personal-Sharing, in which a position is shared with other organisations. In addition, employees of city councils or companies can be temporarily released from their work for voluntary work within the scope of the so-called Corporate Volunteering. For companies, this can sometimes serve to improve their own reputation (regional commitment, social responsibility).


The creation of a full-time position once again requires a fundamental decision of direction within the organisation. The extent to which the organisation really wants to pursue a growth path with professional management also depends on its willingness to enter into (pre)financing and thus take a certain entrepreneurial risk. For this purpose, it is regularly necessary to draw up a business plan that provides an overview of the potential development of the company.

A permanent position also places demands on one’s own organization:

  • There must be an institution that hires the person and can take over the social insurance, i.e. the initiative must have a legal form such as the association, the limited liability company, the eG, etc.
  • Proof that you can provide an office space is required. One way to get a cheap office is to network with other organisations (e.g. church institutions).
  • Furthermore, project and board work must be separated. Everything relating to the work of the Management Board cannot be paid or (if the charter provides for remuneration for the Management Board) must be invoiced separately.

One way to deal with this difficulty is to pay for other work. Of course, this requires a certain budget. The “BluePingu e.V.” group in Nuremberg has decided that any work that has a ‘job character’ should be remunerated with 10 € per hour.

Consequences for the initiative

Permanent positions carry the danger that the social dynamics in a group will change. It can be a problem if one person gets money for their work and others do not. The associated inequality bears the risk of envy and unfairness. The reaction may be that the unpleasant tasks are passed on to the person working full-time. It is therefore important to make the dividing lines between the two as transparent and comprehensible as possible and not to neglect the non-monetary recognition of voluntary work.


Further information

Stories of success

The “BluePingu e.V.” group in Nuremberg has decided that any work that has a ‘job character’ should be remunerated with 10 € per hour. This includes work that takes place regularly and requires a binding commitment. For example, watering plants in the city garden in summer. The Group finances these expenses through donations, subsidies and membership fees. This remuneration can be paid out as part of the flat-rate fee for voluntary work – without issuing invoices or having registered for self-employment. The flat fee for voluntary work is tax-free.


The group Winchester Action for Climate Change (WinACC) was initially set up with funding from local authorities/local governments/local agencies in 2008. Its first meeting brought together local government at city (municipal) and county (sub-regional) levels along with the University in Winchester. There was then an initial public meeting that attracted 45 people to kick the organisation off. The formation of WinACC as a registered charity followed quite quickly and in 2013 it converted to a company limited by guarantee. The group took the decision to become ‘institutionalised’ at an early stage in its development reflecting its origins.

In its first annual report WinACC describes itself as a partnership, a network and dependent on volunteers. As an unincorporated association (2008-13) it was a charity with a formal board of trustees that included representation from local government as well as trustees elected from the membership of WinACC. It established rules for membership that included individuals (and households) as well as organisational membership. Later in 2009 a form of associate membership was established for organisations. As an organisational entity WinACC employed a full time co-ordinator and had other part time staff dealing with the administration of a charity.