Care and Feeding of Volunteers

Since it is the weekend, I decided to blog about weekend stuff. Look for more statistics tomorrow. For most of the past quarter-century, I have been roped into being a volunteer for one organization or another. Here is a very, very partial list:

  • American Association on Mental Retardation
  • National Council on Family Relations
  • United States Judo Federation
  • Community Outreach Medical Services
  • American Youth Soccer Organization

I’ve been everything from Chair of the Board to chaperone. I’ve spoken at more conferences than I can count, certainly giving a few hundred presentations. I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Given that experience,  I’ve concluded that volunteers fall into three broad categories. Recognizing that fact is probably key to having a successful non-profit organization, because for most non-profits, volunteers are essential.

Category 1: People who are very excited to be a volunteer. These individuals derive a lot of their self-esteem from their position in the organization. Their enthusiasm may stem from a genuine passion for the mission of the organization, be it youth sports, individuals with disabilities or health care. Alternatively, the volunteer position may be an exciting departure from a boring day job, an opportunity to use more of their talents. Generally, it is both reasons. They are willing to do a lot of work. They are also willing to put up with authoritarian and unprofessional interactions with the organizations, because they are so enthusiastic and often, they are accustomed to being bossed around and devalued on their “day jobs”. There is a limit to their tolerance, though.

Category 2: People who are not at all excited to volunteer but have skills and talents your organization needs. These individuals are there out of obligation – they have a child on the team, a friend on the staff, or they really care deeply about the mission of the organization. These people do valuable work for the organization like raising money, providing free legal or accounting services. They have very little tolerance for authoritarian and unprofessional interactions with the organizations, because they would rather be somewhere else in the first place and they are accustomed to being the boss or highly valued on their “day jobs”.

Category 3: People who show up and don’t do any real work.

It seems pretty clear to me that organizations need both of the first two categories, and the more the better.

Not everyone sees it that way, obviously. Let me give you just a few examples, and again, this is a very partial list. I have witnessed

  • Volunteers told how to dress for an event,
  • Week-long required continuing education classes costing several hundred dollars,
  • Required training held hundreds of miles away,
  • Required drug testing (this was after I had been asked to coach for free at an event and pay my own way. My response was “Are you fucking kidding me?”),
  • “Two-hour” meetings running six hours late,
  • Volunteers told to “Show up at 7 a.m. , don’t be late and be sure you don’t leave early”,
  • Volunteers chastised, yelled at, berated by a board member or staff member

 

Do’s and don’ts

Well, first of all, don’t do any of those things above.

Second, say “Thank you.” A lot.

Think of these individuals just like donors who are giving you thousands of dollars, because they are. It would costs you a lot of money to replace their services. Treat them as you would professionals providing services for you. Would you ask your accountant to take a drug test? Would you tell your attorney to be sure he dressed professionally when he represents you in court? Don’t assume just because someone is working for free that he is a degenerate or an idiot.

It’s funny that most organizations seem to think what volunteers want is an engraved plaque or a certificate printed out from PowerPoint. Really, a little common courtesy goes a long way.

local_offerevent_note October 19, 2014

account_box AnnMaria De Mars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.