Volunteer, Not Junior Varsity

After a recently bad experience volunteering for a local organization that had professed to need her help but had in fact needed much more help than she could provide, Becky Codswallop made notes to herself such that, if she were ever in a position of leadership, she would know what to avoid. Volunteers are, after all, no less important than regular employees, aren’t they? She walked to a favorite spot at the park, a bench located off the beaten path near the creek, where she could talk to herself without being disturbed by anything other than the wind in the trees.

“One” she said, speaking as she wrote, “Make them feel welcome, and needed. Do this by training them appropriately, well, and training them yourself. Don’t leave a flunky, or someone who’s just learned the task themselves and may have missed something, or heaven forbid the punk who thinks he knows everything to train a new person.” She sat back and considered. “Although this may seem more time consuming than you can afford, the goal is to keep this new person with you for an extended period of time. It’s an investment” she said, grimacing at the word ‘investment’. It sounded inhuman and much too modern, as if she were writing a self-help manual. But it was, indeed an investment, in time, if not treasure.

“Two” she said. “Do not make your volunteer chase you down.” She scratched this out and wrote “Plan ahead and be where you said you were going to be.” She refused to write what came to mind just then: “Be Accessible.” That touched on the same tone as ‘investment’ and she refused to go down that path. Better to wait until some better words came to mind, words that weren’t so utilitarian. It was however critically important to make oneself available for questions, or even to solicit ideas. It was amazing how much wisdom people had if you just sat them down with a cup of coffee, asked a question, then shut up and listened. She made another note to herself, speaking as she wrote: “Honor the volunteer’s time and their expertise in other matters.”

The wind began to blow harder, picking up the leaves and scattering them across the bench and across her notepad. She looked up and though she appreciated the beauty of the gathering dark clouds she didn’t want to be outside underneath them when they let loose with what was certain to be a torrential downpour.

“Three” she wrote hurriedly. “Grow up and lead. Volunteer doesn’t mean junior varsity.”

She placed the cap back on her pen, tucked her notebook and pen into the leather bag she’d had longer than she’d had most of her friends, slung the strap over her shoulder and walked back to the car, satisfied that she had captured her own experience in a positive and helpful light.


Filed under Leadership

5 responses to “Volunteer, Not Junior Varsity

  1. Mary

    This illustrates pefectly my own experience. So desperate for volunteers, then treat them like the end rag on a clothes-line. Barely hanging on, blowing in the wind, with the broken, back-up clothes pin while all the good towels are every so carefully hung, with two pins fixing them securely. Well, the end rag blew away, and found a new line.
    Love it!!!

  2. Tom

    Ouch! I feel sympathy and guilt at being on both sides of this equation.
    Points one and two are crystal clear, but, I need more clarification on point three. I know “Becky” was anxious to avoid being caught in the rain, but, could she expand a little?

  3. Kathy

    Point 3 encompasses so many things! Get organized, don’t be a time waster. Be mature, as in a) Keep your frustrations to yourself–don’t take out your angst at the volunteers’ mistakes on the volunteer–that’s no way to teach and no way to lead. b) Flush your pride and be humble–what you’re doing isn’t earth shaking even if you think you’re the top dog in the pack. Get over yourself.

    Ah, so many lessons, so little time!

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