It’s a volunteer organization


“These are volunteers!
Can’t make them stay.
Can’t make them go.
Can’t offer them a raise.”

From Keeping Your Volunteers presentation – Chesapeake Fire Department;
Chesapeake, VA

Yes, after a pretty healthy hiatus of 2 weeks, 3 days, and about 45 seconds, I’ve gone and volunteered again. Unfortunately, instead of the avalanche of gratitude I was hoping for, I found myself on the receiving end of some territorial posturing, abrupt order-giving, and irritated “that’s not our job” kind of responses.

The way I look at it, volunteers should be respectful of an organization’s ideals, interested in its success, and invested in its future. I am that way, almost to a fault; I am loyal, cheerful, not very demanding, and, most importantly, I show up. I may not do my jobs perfectly, but I try hard. I won’t do just any job (I do draw the line at folding papers—when I was a kid, my Mom typed the bulletin every week for church and guess who was her little helper?), but I’ll bake cookies, write copy, sell tickets, take minutes, crank out thank you cards, and speak to crowds of people without a moment’s hesitation.

For me, though, volunteer gigs can only work when an organization who needs volunteer help is eager to utilize my talents (not just eager for another warm body), open to my helpfully offered ideas (not just open to the guy that says exactly what I just said but moved his hand like this when he said it), and welcoming to happy, hard-working newcomers like me (not so busy kibitzing with all of the old-timers that they wouldn’t even notice if I peeled off all my clothes right then and there and started singing, “I’m Gonna Wash that Man Right out of my Hair” on top of the conference table—just think, in an organization like that, you too can play the role of the Invisible Man. Sign up today!).

I guess I’m still getting my feet wet with this new group, so I’ll give the kinks a little more time to work themselves out. A couple of quirky people does not an entire organization make, right? Too bad that as I thaw out from the chilling effect of the not-so friendly attitudes to date, I’m not so willing to get much done.

Guess who’s missing out?


  1. Lorraine said,

    October 29, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Volunteering is such a great job. I well remember being the “new kid” in my Fred’s Van team. The rest of the team were so in-sync with each other and the tasks which needed to be done and I was so tentative and felt like an outsider. For my first few turns I wondered why they’d even bothered to ask for new helpers if they didn’t need us! Gradually I began to get the hang of things and now 10 years later I’m still there, every month, (unless I’m on holiday in the USA) and Dieter and my sister are also part of the team. The hour we spend preparing the food is our catch up and gossip time with this team of people that I now call friends.
    The next hour we’re out giving the food to whoever turns up for a feed. We catch up with the regulars and find out how they’re doing, keep and eye out for any problems, worry about how many families with little kids have come for food and chat. I recall one week when Dieter didn’t come and about 3 or 4 of the blokes were wandering around asking where he was (he was sick) because they just wanted to chat with him.
    At pack up time we, the volunteers, have to go around and clean-up – and I get so annoyed at the mess left behind and how much cleaning there is to do! I used to mutter under my breath (and worse) and then two things happened
    … the first was a family with babies who’d arrived back from an outing to find their landlord had put their meagre belongings onto the front lawn and changed the locks – they didn’t know why. (Rent was paid etc) Anyway, people on my team knew where to get them help.
    The second was the arrival one night of a young man who’d walked in from a caravan park about 5 km away. He was tenting because his car had broken down and he’d heard he could get some food. A couple of our regulars took him under their wing and pointed out to him all the local places he could get help – what days the food was free and which cost just a little bit of money, which places would give you a change of clothes or a blanket etc. I was incredibly moved by their kindness towards him. They gave him dignity but, oh wow, they showed me that they had so much kindness and dignity too.
    Suddenly I saw that this “Van” that I’m a part of is about a lot more than the food and so what if I need to pick up the scraps. What was good enough for the apostles is surely good enough for me!

  2. Cheryl said,

    October 31, 2009 at 1:58 pm

    A great report on a wonderful work, Lorraine! Thanks for the encouraging stories!

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