I have a good friend who is a volunteer coordinator. I meet her at the DOVIA meetings in my area and have for quite a number of years. She is a wonderful volunteer manager. Honestly, I was always amazed at how much information she had in her brain about her volunteers and I would feel inadequate when she would tell the group about the touching little extras her volunteers received. During Thanksgiving she gave them crafted (by her) little turkeys with a poem about thankfulness. Over volunteer appreciation week, she took each volunteer’s name and wrote a “wish” for them, taking into account each volunteer’s personal life situation.

The last time we talked, however, she seemed a bit frazzled. Actually, she was extremely frazzled. One of her volunteers had just come out of the hospital and was having problems with recovery. Another volunteer’s son was in a car accident. Another volunteer’s husband just had surgery. Another volunteer just had to go out of state to see a friend whose daughter gave birth and the baby is in intensive care. Another volunteer, if I remember correctly had just taken in a neighbor whose house burned, but not completely, although the fire department would not let him stay in it because it was inhabitable.  And, she was just invited to a volunteer’s daughter’s dog’s birthday party. And oh, did I mention that the dog had cancer?

Whoa! My head was spinning. Do I know these things about my volunteers? Yes, for the most part. Have I been invited to their personal events?  All the time. Yesterday, I went to a nursing home to see a volunteer, and then back to our care  center to visit with one of the best volunteers I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with.  Another one is battling cancer, but he wants to keep things private. Another one is having problems with his legs and circulation and not able to come in right now, but he has his daughter drive him over and we go out and chat with him in the car. And on and on and on.

But I sensed with this wonderful volunteer manager a desperation. Keeping up with every volunteer’s personal life is really hard. Where do you draw the line? When do you drive yourself crazy? What is the fine line between healthy involvement and over involved?

I honestly don’t know. Case by case? Some volunteers need more, some less?
I know volunteers have quit because they did not get enough from our organization when they felt they needed it. I know that some volunteers feel hurt when we make a fuss over another volunteer even if they don’t express it. I know some volunteer feel so close to us that they become more like friends. While nothing is ever perfect, I do know that volunteer managers try hard to get as close to perfection as possible when working with our volunteers. We nurture, cajole, mentor, protect and care. Sometimes, it can be overwhelming. What do you think?