We appreciate our volunteers so much. Most of our nonprofits could not begin to provide services without the help of selfless volunteers. It’s natural to want to reward them. But can you pay them something for their hard work?
Frankly, no. California Labor Code has a strict definition of volunteer. It is someone who “performs work for civic, charitable, or humanitarian reasons…without promise, expectation, or receipt of any compensation for work performed.”
It is permissible to reimburse volunteers for necessary expenses incurred in their volunteer work for you. You can certainly have a volunteer appreciation party and treat everyone to some refreshments. Likewise, a token of appreciation such as some flowers, a plaque, or a framed certificate of appreciation is fine.
Just not cash or a check (or even a “cash equivalent” such as a gift card). From the IRS’s point of view, that would be income. From California’s point of view, it could make them your “employee.”