Learning patterns/Travel policy − defining travel support conditions to further volunteer involvement
What problem does this solve?
- Volunteers who do not know that their expenses can be covered may hesitate to take part in some activities (like attending a working group meeting),
- Expenses processing may take some time in lack of a clear process,
- Good governance calls for safeguards against abuses and conflicts of interest, even when no problems has ever occurred,
- The same discussions are held over and over again per lack of clear procedures and conditions.
What is the solution?
Establishing a travel policy which defines the conditions for supporting travel and covering expense. It should help to answer several questions:
- When is travel considered an expense which could be reimbursed?
- Who can benefit from this policy?
- What is the maximum amount for reimbursement and what are the conditions?
Things to consider
When defining a travel policy, it is very important to make sure that it is adapted both to volunteers and employees who travel (in order for them to adopt it and check if it's well designed) but also to persons in charge of processing expenses, such as accountants and treasurers.
Wikimedia France followed these steps:
- The policy has been thought and written by the Internal Control group,
- Then the Board made review and suggestions,
- Former board members, local point person and employees have also participated in the process,
- Finally, the Board of Trustees voted the text.
Regarding the length of this policy, we've worked at the same time on an explanatory document that indicates in an easy way the path to follow to make an expense and then ask for a payback.
When to use
Regarding the expenses for accommodation and dinners, we've taken into consideration the two following situations: “long travel” and “short travel”. The “long travel” definition of a French institution (which is called “Agence Centrale des Organismes de Sécurité Sociale (ACOSS))” is:
- Distance between living place or working place and mission place must be higher than 50km (single trip),
- Public transportation do not allow to cover the distance in less than 90 minutes.
These two conditions must be met at the same time.
Lunch is considered as an expense if the hour of lunch is included in the travel time.
It is very important to establish clear rules in order to know when a travel can be considered as an expense or not, when applicant needs to ask approval and to whom.
It is then very important to define to whom the policy applies and if processes are different depending on the categories of people (for instance, staff travels must be approved by their hierarchy, while volunteers' ones can be approved by the treasurer, the vice-treasurer or the executive director).
In sections below you will find the "French case" and some choices that Wikimédia France did for its travel policy:
Every travel must be approved in advance in a written form (paper or email). It prevents the person in charge of approving expenses from being confronted to an expense already done and then being forced to pay for it. Also, that enables anyone to be sure of the pay back and then to ease volunteers' implications.
In order to lighten procedures, we can set permanent and/or collective approval, for instance:
- For every member of the board of trustees during the time of their term of office, only for board meetings;
- For every attendee to a working group meeting.
At Wikimedia France, we have chosen to have expenses approved by the Executive Director, the treasurer or the vice-treasurer (however, every travel expenses sheet of a Board member is double checked by the treasurer and the vice-treasurer).
Moreover, this policy defines a general framework for reimbursement. Yet, sometimes there could be some particular cases where this framework is not adapted. We must then have the possibility to override this policy through an early approval from the treasurer or the executive directress and by documenting clearly the rationale.
Several categories of persons can ask to travel expenses reimbursement:
- Board members,
- Volunteer/member of the organization,
- External people (People who aren't members and who are helped by a micro-grant, conference speakers, etc.)
Amount Payed back
We have chosen to always reimburse economic class flight/train. We allow travels in higher classes under these conditions:
- Long trip (over 5 hours),
- Same or lower price,
- It's needed to get work done (power supply, wi-fi…),
- Medical reasons.
These conditions must be validated before traveling.
It is most of the time complicated to define a maximum amount of reimbursing for housing because prices might vary a lot regarding cities, neighborhood and booking time. Then in France, we've selected 3 stars hotel such as « Ibis ».
Meals are payed back at real prices in a limit of €23.
Only for Staff & Board members, who are traveling more frequently, and only for meals, we have chosen the flat-rate reimbursement (per diem) for the abroad travel. Indeed, these travels are most of the time source of small expenses with receipt in foreign language and different currency that are long to process.
We align the rebate amount on the scale created for French public servants. That scale is often high enough and we can decide to pay back only a percentage of the scale if it’s too high.
- Wikimédia France travel policy (discussed here)
- List of related policies by various movement entities