There’s a volunteer coordinator, Maya, who told me this story recently. She works for a large Non-profit that helps abused women.
Each year, her organization sponsors a huge public event, and each department of her organization hosts a “game table” for attendees to stop by, play a game, win prizes and learn about that department. Maya scrambles to find dozens of highly qualified volunteers to help at the event, from the planning, to execution.
This year, Maya did not assign a volunteer to the financial department’s table. At the event, they panicked and told her they had put in the standard request for a volunteer weeks before. Maya admits that could be true, but she never got it. So, thirty minutes before the event, Maya had to reassign a volunteer to their table and Maya filled in for that volunteer in another area.
Afterwards, Maya profusely apologized to the finance manager. She pointed out that she works off of formal requests, and that they should have checked in with her and inquired about their assigned volunteer instead of waiting until the day of the event, but she also said she was sorry she did not check in with them as well.
The finance manager coolly accepted her apology. The manager complained that the volunteer reassigned to them was rather new and a bit reticent to help.
“Here’s the crazy part,” Maya said. “Every one in the financial department now is giving me the cold shoulder, even the ones who weren’t at the event! I say hi in the hall and they look away. If I have to turn in reports, they hardly even look at me. It’s like working with a bunch of three-year olds.”
“Have you mentioned this to your supervisor?” I asked.
“Yeah, and he just rolled his eyes, so I’m on my own. It makes me so angry that I jump every time they need a volunteer and the one time I don’t produce, they act like that. How unprofessional and frankly, ridiculous.”
“How did the rest of the event go?” I asked.
“Great, everything worked out well, the volunteers had a great time, the rest of the staff was very pleased. Yeah, it went well.” I could hear the frustration in her voice.
Interesting how the good part of that event is greatly diminished by the hurt Maya feels due to the financial department’s childish behavior. In her mind, her hard work is being eclipsed by the one glitch which may not even be her fault but is taped to her like a child’s drawing.
It’s intolerable that childish behavior be ignored in non-profits. Is it because non-profits are populated with people-pleasers and non-confrontational (aka stab you in the back) types? Or is it because the volunteer department is an easy target and typically on the dirty bottom of the pecking order?
Is it really because volunteer managers typically do their job, give credit to the volunteers, are inherently team players and do not live in the world of drama? Do volunteer managers abhor childish behavior because they do not engage in it?
I think the very traits that are needed to succeed at volunteer management can sometimes set us up to be hurt when staff act like 3 year olds. It pains me that Maya, who is a fantastic volunteer coordinator remembers the hurt more than the success. Will she childishly retaliate? No, she’s not a drama queen.
Volunteers are extra help to our organizations and to staff. They roll up their sleeves and make adjustments for the good of the cause. It’s a pity there are staff who can’t do the same.