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king arthurThose words, “make it look easy.” Are they a compliment, or a curse? In the dictionary of English phrases, is there a picture of a volunteer manager next to the phrase, ” but you make it look easy”? How do you respond to that-a smile, a shrug, a muttered, “gee that’s what I’ve always wanted to hear?” Is making it look easy a lethal double-edged sword? How do you wield such a mighty weapon?
Rhonda is a volunteer coordinator whose organization went through some major revamping and as they looked for ways to cut costs, they called in a professional consultant. This consultant combed through the status quo, looking at each aspect of the organization’s ability to do more with less. When the consultant, Eric, spent a four hour stint with Rhonda, he shook his head. “I can’t believe you do all this in these conditions,” he said. “you really make it look easy from the notes I’ve been given.”
His notes consisted of statistics about the volunteer department. Rhonda supervizes 118 volunteers, who pretty much run a thrift store six days a week. The volunteers also sit at fairs, stuff envelopes, fill in for a lunching receptionist, file reports and make calls. Rhonda’s phone rings non-stop. Volunteers filter in and out of her office and she pretty much oversees them all. Rhonda sometimes fills in for volunteers when they call out sick. She is swamped. After four hours, Eric told her that she was one of the busiest staff members in her organization. “But,” he mused, “no one knows how hard you work.”
Rhonda did not know how to respond. Frankly, she was too overwhelmed to spend much time thinking about how to use her double edged sword.

Although Rhonda would like more help, she struggles with how to present her challenges. “Do I talk about the difficulties? Will I harm the image of the volunteers if I honestly speak about those that are a challenge? If I complain, will they just do away with volunteers all together? Do I just burn myself out and let the next volunteer coordinator figure it out?”
As volunteer managers work hard behind the scenes and let the praise go to the volunteers, do we not cut ourselves on the back swing with our mighty sword? By making it look so easy, what are we doing to our profession? Are we contributing to the perception that managing volunteers is no more than hosting tea parties and chatting with willing participants?
Rhonda is too tired to do much about her situation. I suspect she is not alone. Hard, hard work can lead to exhaustion and eventually burn-out. Our jobs are rewarding, complex and difficult. We should not be afraid to admit this.
Otherwise, our arms will be too tired to lift that hulking double edged sword.
-Meridian