A friend of mine called me yesterday with a problem. She volunteers in a thrift store for a local organization that helps victims of domestic violence. Every Saturday, she is scheduled to work from noon until 3pm. She has been doing this for two years.
She told me that since Christmas, it has been hard for her to get to the shop. She’s had numerous out-of-town trips to see ill family members, and oftentimes her job requires her to work on a Saturday. She tells me she is diligent about calling to let them know she will not be there. The last time she had to go out-of-town, she called to let the manager know and was told that new volunteers were starting on Saturdays and to call when she got back. She called and was told that the shop would contact her when they needed her. This was about 3 weeks ago.
My friend is angry, confused and upset. In her mind, she did everything right and her two years of service is being discounted. She feels as though she’s been cast aside for an unknown new person. She is really hurt. She is so hurt that she is telling everyone she knows about the shoddy treatment she received.
Hmmmmm. From a volunteer manager perspective, I can only guess that the shop really depended on my friend and that each time she could not be there caused great hardship on the manager. We all know that oftentimes it is the volunteer manager who has to replace the volunteer when they are unavailable. This makes our jobs so much harder. What volunteers don’t realize is that they are not alone in calling off. Depending upon the type of volunteer role, volunteer managers can be left doing the job of three people at any given time. If this happens day after day, the volunteer manager can grow tired of filling in and will look to someone new who might exhibit a stronger commitment.
However, what we always have to keep in mind is the perception of the volunteer. If they believe that they have given excellent help, have followed the rules and are diligent about reporting absences, that is all they will be able to perceive. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of trying to salvage a relationship with a hurt volunteer more times than I can ever count. Perception is everything.
Was my friend a good volunteer? I don’t know, I wasn’t there to observe her. Was her manager just looking for a way to get rid of her because she was not performing well? I don’t know that either. I do know that volunteers who are “fired” by never calling them are not happy. Clarity is necessary, especially when the message is a delicate one. Leaving volunteers hanging, not knowing if we want them or why we don’t want them is tantamount to unleashing a barrage of negative advertising. They will talk about us, even more than the volunteer who is happy.
Not everyone can remain a volunteer. If we do need to let someone go, it’s better that they understand why. My friend has been hurt by her experience. The volunteer manager who left her hanging probably soured my friend on volunteering. That means we’ve all lost another volunteer. And we can’t afford to do that to one another.
Hmm, let’s see – she signed on to volunteer knowing that the shop cannot be open without her, yet takes months off (presumably week-by-week by the sound of it), then expects her “position” to be held for her indefinitely until she decides it is convenient for her to return??? She thinks that calling in justifies her prolonged absence? I think I would have had her replaced way before now.
If her anger is due to not being called for three weeks and she really wants to help, perhaps she should call and ask if her help can be used anywhere else. Sorry, but it looks to me like lack of committment on her part has just given her reason to bad-mouth the organization. That is one volunteer I wouldn’t want back.
Thanks Patty, great point and I agree with you about replacing volunteers with a low commitment. It was really interesting to me to hear it from “the other side” for a change, which just re-inforces in my mind how difficult our jobs can be and what juggling acts we go through daily.
Kristen McHenry said:
Hi, Meridian. I just wanted to let you know that I recently read your book, ““The Volunteer Shelf Life: A No-Fault Look at Volunteer Retention and the Reasons Volunteers Leave”. It was the best book I have ever read on volunteer management. Thank you so much for your hard work and passionate writing on this topic. My colleague at another hospital also read the book, and we have been sharing about it on a regular basis. (Recently, a nurse demanded a “roving volunteer” to come and show a patient how to use his new cell phone. We had a good laugh about this being a real “gumball” moment!) Anyway, I loved the book, and will definitely refer to it as a resource frequently. For what’s it’s worth, I have written a review of it on my blog, http://thegoodtypist.blogspot.com/ Thanks again for such a great book!
Thank you so much for your very kind words. We all have so much to share with each other and I LOVE the story about the “roving volunteer”. How typical of what we are supposed to magically produce. I love your blog, you are an excellent writer and I will be visiting you often.
thanks again, your comments mean so much to me.