Sunday, January 14, 2018

"But I'm Just a Volunteer!" (no, you're not)

I've written before about the importance of volunteers for nonprofit organizations. Apparently, little has changed in the two years since my initial observations. So here we go again. 

I arrived early to the location of workshop I was facilitating. I entered the main entrance and looked to my left. I saw two women wearing smocks. I concluded they were representatives of the organization hosting the workshop. I introduced myself as the workshop leader. I then asked about obtaining supplies and a list of attendees.

The taller of the two women responded, plaintively, "I have no idea where these things are located. I'm just a volunteer."

Slightly stunned by this response, I proceeded to the workshop space. I had work to do and precious little time to do it. I pressed on, making a note to seek out someone else to help me obtain what I needed. 

About 30 minutes later, I finished my preparation. The supplies I needed gradually made their way to the workshop space, thanks to the efforts of others we enlisted in helping us. The list of attendees was nowhere to be found, however.

Throughout this time I was drinking coffee and, inevitably, I needed to visit the men's room. I thought I recalled where it was located, as I had been at the location before (but not for some time). I checked with a volunteer (the second woman whom I had met when I arrived). She instructed me to leave the building and "follow the blue arrow." I did and came upon a locked door. I headed back to the main entrance where this same woman was still standing. 

"I followed the blue arrow and came upon a locked door," I said to the woman. "Now what do I do?"

The woman looked at me, deadpan, and replied, "well, you can find someone with the key. But I don't really know, because I'm just a volunteer."

That's twice in under an hour I heard "I'm just a volunteer" when I asked for assistance.

Just a volunteer
Just a volunteer
Just a volunteer?!

No, you're not just a volunteer. You're a representative of an organization. You're part of the face it shows to the outside world. You're a vital member of the team. You're indispensable. People look to you to help them solve problems. They may not know (and often don't care) whether you're paid or not. 

If you didn't know your role as a volunteer, the organization has failed you. They owe all staff members the information and training they need to succeed. 

If you knew your role as a volunteer but simply considered yourself less qualified, resign immediately. If you simply felt less responsibility because you weren't being paid, resign immediately. Find something else to do with your time. The organization would be better off without you. Leave the volunteer opportunities to those committed to service. Let individuals unwilling to make excuses help out. Everyone will be better off. 

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