Stop Volunteering

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Stop Volunteering

You need to stop volunteering. I’m serious, it’s draining you. You think it’s making an impact, but it’s not. In fact, you might be causing more harm than good.

You may not even know how much you are volunteering. You’re just giving time away left and right. Your practice is more like a non-profit than a business and it’s hurting you.

“Wait, I’m not volunteering!” you might say.

Maybe not, but let’s look a little deeper.

Typical Practice Volunteering

I imagine you’re like many practices, you get paid a different amount for each client:

  • $150 for private pay
  • $115.21 from your higher paying insurance
  • $61.12 for Medicaid
  • A couple sliding fee clients at $50 that are leftover from your old job that you felt bad raising their rates

Sound familiar? If not, well done! For most practice owners, this is the sketch I see over and over again. They may be charging $150 but their actual average is $87.

Let’s drill into this, say a practice owner does the following sessions:

  1. Five full pay sessions at $150/week = $750
  2. Five sessions from insurance at $115.21 = $576.05
  3. Five Medicaid at $61.12 = $305.60
  4. Five sliding fee sessions at $50 = $250

Another way of looking at this is as a percentage of time. If you’re getting $150 per session and that is equal to 100%, that means for a 45 minute session you’re getting $3.33 per minute ($150 divided by 45 minutes = $3.33).

Comparing Rates and Volunteer Time

If we start with $3.33 per minute as the standard, how many minutes are you volunteering when you have different rates?

For a session rate of $115.21 your session is over after 34.6 minutes ($115.21 divided by $3.33), meaning that in comparing that to your full fee, you’re volunteering about 10 minutes.

What about compared to the Medicaid rate? If you’re getting $61.12 per session, that means that you’re done after 18.35 minutes. That means you’re volunteering 26.65 minutes.

When you’re doing a sliding fee of $50 you are done after 15.01 minutes. This means that ⅔ of your session is volunteering at 29.99 minutes of volunteer time.


But We’re Supposed to Care for People

Yes, absolutely! We’re caring people. Sometimes it even feels weird to charge people for a caring ear. There’s a famous story about Picasso doodling while drinking coffee in Paris. He crumbed up his drawing and threw it away. A perceptive woman noticed it was Picasso and nicely asked, “May I have your doodle?”

He responded, “Sure, for $30,000.”

“But it only took you seconds,” she responded.

“No, it took me a lifetime,” Picasso responded.

Would you pay a plumber $100 if it took her 1 minute to stop poop from overflowing right before a party? That’s crazy, that’s $6k an hour. But they know how to do it.

Stop undervaluing yourself and your work! You have studied your niche for a really long time! According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics, only 8% of the US has a Master’s degree. Just having your degree puts you in the top 92%, that’s without looking at how few Master’s degrees are mental health. Then what about your specialty!

If you are passionate about volunteering your mental health services, that’s awesome! Maybe it’s for you, but most people do it because they think they are supposed to.

If a local non-profit asked you to volunteer 3 hours of counseling every week, would you? Stop and think about your volunteer work within your practice.

Let’s run some numbers. That early example of 20 sessions equally split between four types of services would bring in $1,881.65 per week or in 48 weeks $90,319.20 per year before taxes and expenses. Not a bad living.

Let’s look at how many sessions $1,881.65 would be if it was all full private pay at $150. It would be 12.54 sessions. That’s a donation to the practice of 7.46 hours.

What would you do with seven and a half hours? Volunteer them?

That 7.46 sessions equals $1,119 in lost income every week. If you feel guilty, give away the extra $53,712 per year.

Think about it, does the world need your volunteer work and bad business model more, or does it need $53k?

Here’s what $53k could buy:

The real question is, why are you volunteering for your practice? Is a sliding fee scale, insurance, lower rates actually the best use of your volunteer time? Maybe it’s time to raise those rates, leave some insurances, and impact the world more.


Joe Sanok is a keynote speaker, #1 podcaster, adventurer, and dad.