Lisa, a volunteer manager for a large museum is livid. See, she recruited this really great volunteer, Jarrell, over a year ago. Jarrell happens to be a business owner in the community who heard Lisa speak at a Rotary luncheon. He approached her and offered to create an awareness event to help showcase the museum in the business community. Lisa jumped at the chance and so together, Jarrell and Lisa, along with several of Jarrell’s associates, created a modest sidewalk event showcasing the museum’s exhibits, events and community partnerships. The awareness day was a success; new members joined, the feedback from the community was positive and Jarrell was very pleased. He said he would be glad to make it a yearly event and Lisa could see the growth possibilities. She was excited that she had brought in not only a creative new venue, but also the potential for several new highly connected volunteers.
As the planning began for this year’s event, Jarrell had some ideas for ways to expand and improve, ideas that ultimately had to be discussed with the marketing manager. The marketing manager, Cheryl is new and was hired after the last awareness event. Lisa contacted Cheryl and asked for a meeting with Jarrell. Cheryl dragged her feet. Lisa stopped in to see Cheryl, explaining that Jarrell was a volunteer willing to put everything together, but that he just needed a go-ahead to proceed. It wouldn’t take but just a few minutes, Lisa reasoned. Cheryl said she would get back to Lisa. Lisa met with Jarrell, explaining that she was waiting on marketing for direction and that the marketing person was new and trying to get up to speed. Lisa tried several times to set up a meeting with Cheryl and Cheryl countered with, “well, maybe we need to push the event back. I’m pretty swamped with other things right now.” In a panic, Lisa enlisted her boss, who went to Cheryl’s boss who promised to speak with Cheryl.
One morning, Lisa opened her email to find Jarrell’s message. He said that he was extremely busy at work and really couldn’t spend the time needed to make this year’s event work. He penned that too much time had elapsed and that they should have gotten started earlier. Lisa instinctively knew his cryptic statement was an indictment of marketing’s dismissive behavior. Lisa was crushed and angry. But she calmly replied and assured Jarell that she supported his decision. As she tapped the send button, she knew this was the end, the way volunteer managers just know. Jarrell was swallowed up by marketing arrogance.
Volunteer retention is everyone’s responsibility. Volunteer managers know only too well that, when other staff members take volunteers for granted, dismiss volunteers’ busy and important lives or do not take them seriously, it begets the retention axe. It’s painful to know we can’t control everyone and everything and occasionally, our hard work is negated by other staff who have no interest in cultivating volunteers. (that is, until they need one)
Lisa feels beaten and her creative enthusiasm has been badly bruised. She is not going to work outside of the box for a while. She would however, like to scream because two days after she emailed Jarrell, she received a voicemail from Cheryl. “I can meet with you and your volunteer next Tuesday about your, what was that little event again, the shareness? Anyway, give me a call.”