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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.