, ,

I happened to be in an outlying office when a woman came in with her son, asking about volunteer opportunities. The son had been in some serious trouble and had court ordered community service. I explained to her that we did not accept court ordered community service hours and apologized, offering her some other local organizations that might, although I know more and more are saying no, but that’s another story.

Hearing this, she offered me a list of reasons we might change our mind and take her son. These seem to be universal reasons, because pretty much everyone uses them when they are told no.

1. It wasn’t his fault, it was all a misunderstanding.  (very possible)

2. He really is a very good kid in spite of it. (this may, in fact be true)

3. He really wants to volunteer here and will continue after the hours are met. (Doubtful)

4. I will volunteer with him. (even so, I’m sorry)

5. We both love this organization. (I do appreciate that)

6. My sister (or another significant person) used your services 20 (or another number) years ago. (Probably true which is why you thought of us in the first place-I’m glad we were of help to you)

7. We’re desperate and we only have 3 (or another number) weeks left to complete this. (This is definitely true)

While it feels bad to turn people away, especially because they need us and you can see the desperation, we can’t let our emotions cloud our judgement. As cold as this sounds, we have to think of our clients, and yes, ourselves. How much time will it take to mentor, manage someone who is volunteering because they have to do so? Is their need greater than your ability to help? You have to look at it that way. Not, is their need greater than your desire to help, because that will probably not be true, but is their need greater than your ability to help?

So, the next day, I walk into my home office and guess who’s there? Yup, the mom and her son. They did not expect to see me there, they most likely thought another volunteer manager would see them and crumble under one of the rationalizations on their list. As kindly as I could, I reiterated what I had told them the day before.

Two things come to mind here. If you work with other volunteer managers, you all have to be on the same page and talk with one another. The other thing that strikes me is developing a thicker skin can sometimes lead to a cold and callous view of the world, but if within that skin still beats the heart of a good person, then a balance is struck.  While the nature of our jobs and probably the very nature of each one of us is helping others, we sometimes have to make the hard choices and live with them.

What haunts me is the image of a woman who needs to help her son no matter what. As a mom that pierces, and believe me, I didn’t turn away and dust them off. I think about them, hoping that they will find whatever help they need. As volunteer managers, can we fix the entire world and stretch ourselves to the breaking point or do we need to concentrate on our own corner and do that job well?  It’s a delicate balance, one which we all cross over at times because we feel for people. The problem is, when we give different answers on different days, we increase our chaos.

Ohm to you all!