A notice for a fellowship devoted to promoting volunteerism landed in my inbox this week. Some lucky duck will take a year off from their regular work and get paid $60,000 to reflect, research and perhaps publish on the significance of voluntary action. Notice that they will not be volunteering to do this reflection. In my circles at least, volunteerism is thriving. To a fault. In fact, I would say, more often than not, we are expected to volunteer our time.

This week alone, I spent an hour with a Master’s student, was asked to meet a consulting group “for coffee” (translation: pick my brain); and to speak on a tour. None of these gigs were paid. The paid gigs are few and far between, which is the life of a so-called consultant. Some people who ask me to speak are actually insulted when I mention a fee. “It’s for a charity,” they retort. Or, “We’re a non-profit, we have no money.” Or, “so and so only charges such and such.” Then there’s the prospective client who never commits but ties you up with endless phone calls and emails. Or asks you to attend another meeting because they value your expertise. Not enough to pay for it mind you.

These requests are almost always by people who are in fact well paid. Who get regular pay cheques, who get holidays, and holiday pay, and are on dental plans, and have pensions. They are not usually people who don’t know how they’re going to pay their rent this month. If I had a nickel for every request I get to work for free, I might be able to afford to volunteer more. I’d like to see a fellowship devoted to promoting how we can ensure that all people get paid fairly. In the meantime, if you ask me for a free consultation, the least you can do is pay for my coffee.

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