08 Apr
  • By Theresa DeSouza
  • Cause in

The question of Volunteers in the Non-Profit Industry

by Tara Dunsmore

UPAVIM Crafts recently sent out a survey to our retail partners across the world, asking for their input on our business and products. For the most part, the response has been overwhelmingly positive, or, extremely helpful constructive criticism. However, we received one response that we feel the need to respond to in a bit of detail.

[blockquote align=”center” cite=”This customer asked to remain anonymous.”]I no longer support organizations who use volunteers. You abuse poverty alleviation.[/blockquote]

While we respect the right of every business owner to reflect their personal values in their business model, we feel that this statement implies a distinct lack of understanding about UPAVIM and what we do.

UPAVIM Crafts is just one of many projects of the organization, UPAVIM. Through the sale of their crafts, UPAVIM is able to fund a daycare and full-day primary school for the children in the community. Our school is staffed by a combination of paid employees (local women from the community of La Esperanza) and volunteers from the US and around the world (who receive a small living stipend.) Without the support of these volunteers, UPAVIM itself would not be possible. (read more about the various projects of UPAVIM here.)

Our crafts are made by women artisans, all of whom are paid a fair wage for their work. Once those crafts are made, the women are paid for their work and their products are shipped to our distribution center in the US. At this warehouse, located in Maryland, we have 2 full-time employees and 2 part-time employees. All work for a fair but modest wage. We also have 3 volunteers who come in once a week to help us with various tasks around the warehouse, such as wrapping terracotta in bubble wrap, or fixing price tags.

UPAVIM Crafts sells products in several ways. Through our website we sell to our retail partners internationally, as well as to directly to consumers. We also run a thriving consignment program. Through the consignment program, groups and organizations who support our mission of empowering women in Guatemala  can host sales of UPAVIM Crafts’ products.

These sales are run by volunteers working for the host organizations. UPAVIM Crafts does not make a profit on these sales (or any sales for that matter!) – the funds are used to cover expenses at our warehouse and in Guatemala.  Most sales are hosted by non-profits, schools and churches and are staffed by their volunteers who wish to raise money for their local organization. These organizations contribute to their local economy and community through many endeavors. Consignees have the option of keeping 15% of their sales as a donation toward their own organization, or to return that donation back to the women of UPAVIM. Many of our consignees do choose to send the money back to Guatemala. Some keep it to fund their own mission trips to Guatemala or for other worthwhile causes. In addition to raising money, consignment sales also help to raise the profile of the Fair Trade mission and awareness of UPAVIM.

None of our consignees are employees or volunteers working for UPAVIM. However, they generously volunteer their time to raise money for our cause and to support the women and children of UPAVIM. Without these volunteers, consignment sales would no longer be a sustainable business model for UPAVIM Crafts, thus removing a valuable source of income for UPAVIM, not to mention an employee in the Maryland warehouse who manages the sales.

At UPAVIM, we strongly support the use of volunteers in the non-profit industry. We never support the exploitation of workers (paid or unpaid.) Ideally, as our business grows, we will be able to continue to hire more employees and help contribute to the  local economy, as well as that of La Esperanza. As members of the Fair Trade Federation, we are vigorously screened for our commitments to Fair Trade.

We would like to invite all businesses and organizations who are concerned about the exploitation of workers and who have a mission to support fair trade to apply for membership to FTF, and to purchase from FTF members.

Here’s to all the hard working volunteers helping to promote Fair  Trade in their communities!