Pros and Cons of Using Volunteer Labor on Your Church’s Project

July 8, 2019 |David Graf

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During the early stages of a church building project, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the expense. Even when your plans are finalized and construction is about to begin, you may find yourself looking for more ways to cut costs—as many churches do. You have probably “value engineered” your building to save as much money as possible, yet you may still need to think creatively about other ways to lower your construction costs.

One common and effective way to cut costs on your building project is through volunteer labor.

I have seen many churches enjoy significant savings by using skilled labor from within the congregation. While hiring volunteer labor can be a wonderful blessing, it can also be a potential disaster. But if you take the right precautions and avoid a few common mistakes, you can increase the likelihood that this approach will work for your church.

Two common forms of volunteer labor are professional and unskilled. It is not uncommon to have one or more contractors within your church body who do at least one aspect of construction for a living (framers, roofers, painters, etc.). These people will often volunteer to do part of the building at little or no profit to save the church money.

If you find such laborers, begin by having your general contractor vet them. It is imperative that their work is up to his standards and that they have commercial construction experience. Also, their companies must be large enough to handle a big job such as your church building, and it must be clear that they can meet the general contractor’s construction timeline. Often, the people from your congregation can offer cost savings by doing the job outside their regular working hours, but this won’t work if it slows down the entire project.

Any church members who volunteer for your project should work directly for the general contractor—not the church—if at all possible. A contract should be signed just as with any other subcontractor, and you must address issues such as worker’s compensation and liability insurance.

Ultimately, the general contractor must be responsible for the quality and timeliness of every subcontractor’s work, and he should have free reign to replace them if necessary. Finally, he should incorporate the subcontractor’s costs into his overall contract but state clearly how much more it will cost if the subcontractor fails to perform. The Finance Committee should plan its funding strategy around the full cost of the particular job being completed without cost savings and consider them a blessing only if they ultimately materialize.

You also need to be careful when using unskilled volunteer labor on your project. Often a general contractor will allow for church members to do simpler tasks such as cleanup, painting, and landscaping to save money. If your congregation wants to attempt this, there are a few steps you should take.

First, create a written contract that spells out the contractor’s expectations and how to calculate cost savings. Detail what will happen if the volunteers do subpar work and how remediation costs will be handled. The contract should also specify all liability insurance issues.

Second, the contractor should provide any necessary training and the volunteers should treat him like their boss. Dependence upon unskilled volunteers is quite risky. The workers will often fail to understand the physical demands of the job and either take too long to complete it or simply stop showing up. Any work that demands at least some skill, such as painting, can be done poorly if the volunteer is not up to the task. Again, the Finance Committee should not count on cost-savings but simply accept them as a blessing if the volunteers complete their tasks as hoped.

If you’re still unsure if this approach is right for your church, please contact Orchard Alliance today. Our Lending team will be happy to provide input to help your church make an informed decision.

Click here to learn about Orchard Alliance’s lending programs.

David Graf
Vice President for Lending

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