Topeka — The Kansas Humane Society has attracted so many new volunteers since 2009 that it will begin asking people to pay a $15 fee to volunteer for the organization.
Adults who begin volunteer orientation at the Humane Society as of Thursday will be asked to pay $15 to cover costs for a T-shirt, name badge, access key card, training materials, facility use and mailing costs. Volunteers aged 17 years and younger will not have to pay the fee, nor will current volunteers, The Wichita Eagle reports.
Since the organization doubled its square footage when it moved to a new building in Topeka, the number of volunteers has increased from 300 to more than 1,300, said spokeswoman Jennifer Campbell.
"We're looking at making sure that we're balancing that many (volunteers) and the costs associated" with the volunteer program, which also have increased. Campbell said most volunteers support the fee.
"We're so incredibly grateful for the thousands of hours they donate to us," Campbell said. "The bottom line is they want us to take care of as many animals as possible."
The Humane Society said its volunteers worked 5,934 hours in July, the equivalent of $43,022 in minimum-wage work.
Charging volunteers is a growing trend. The Eagle reported that a hurricane recovery group in New Orleans has asked volunteers to give $225 to repair houses in New Orleans; a school district in Colorado charges volunteers $20 for a background check, and a wildlife museum in California charges teens $450 a year to be interpretive guides.
The organizations said the charges weed out people who train but then don't actually volunteer; increases a feeling of belonging by making the volunteer group more exclusive and brings money into cash-strapped nonprofits.
The Sedgwick County Zoo has been charging its volunteers $15 for a T-shirt and name badge since about 2004, said Bridget Landers, volunteer director for the zoo. She said zoo volunteers receive benefits such as free admission to the zoo when they volunteer, free drinks and a discount at the zoo's restaurants.
The volunteers are "very supportive of the zoo — they understand we're a nonprofit," Landers said.
The fee "instills a great sense of ownership in them," she said. "They're proud of the zoo and what it does for the community. They love to show it off."
But Pat Hanrahan of the United Way of the Plains said the Humane Society's decision surprised him.
"It seems kind of counterproductive with what volunteerism is all about," he said. "At least speaking for the United Way, we're so grateful for the support, we don't want it to be something they pay for."