Sunday, February 17, 2013

Volunteering. How it all goes terribly wrong.

Volunteering. Not as easy as it looks.

I've done a lot of volunteering in my life for a variety of organizations. Religious, political, art related, educational. Along the way I've learned a few things both about being a volunteer and also about how to, and how not to, use one.
Since every non-profit has a disproportionate amount of work to funds you would assume they would be ecstatic to have a free, enthusiastic labor. Sadly, this is often not the case.
Many non-profits suffer from dystracto-volunteer, the inability to
properly handle a volunteer.

The most common variety is slotism, where the organization is only able to use a volunteer in one narrow way. The 'slot' could be anything from fundraising to answering phones. What if that slot isn't immediately available, or the volunteer is unable to do that particular task?  The organization sends them away, losing their talent, passion, and connections to their friends and family.

Another common variety is non-prepareism, also known in-capablism, in which the organization is completely incapable of knowing how to use a volunteer.
Symptoms can range from having volunteers sit around for hours doing nothing to, in severe cases, never returning emails or calls from prospective volunteers.

The final variety, volunteer odiumism, is the rarest but most harmful variety. In odiumism the employee assigned to give work to or train the volunteer approaches them with fear or disdain rather than appreciation.  In some cases this is a result of the employee being insulted by the idea any portion of their job could be done by an unpaid, and therefore less skilled, person. In other cases the paid employee fears that the volunteer is secretly there to make them look bad and steal their job. There is little to no cure for this affliction.

Not that all volunteers are blameless. While the ideal volunteer comes to an organization with the noble intention of reducing its workload, and helping it to achieve its mission without increasing its expenses, not all volunteers are noble. Some come with the conviction that they alone know the secret to making the organization more successful. Others are more interested in socializing than working, or are uninterested in performing any task they feel is beneath their lofty perch.

Still, the smart organization can usually find a way to sooth these egos and successfully match their volunteers’ skills with their own needs. The result is well worth the effort.

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