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dying plantYvette manages volunteers for a specialty hospital in a city with two other competing hospitals. Therefore, her marketing department utilizes volunteers as props, marketing tools and for as many events as Yvette can round them up for. Marketing looks to Yvette’s volunteers for continuous help in drumming up community interest and business.
Recently, one annual major event was under the direction of a new fresh face in the marketing department. She had many novel ideas and requested twice the number of volunteers from years past. Yvette obliged, working longer hours to get the extra volunteers in to help on the day of this signature festival.
Everything went relatively smoothly. Yvette was there that day, making sure the volunteers had someone to do all the “grunt work” so that they could excel.

The next day, Yvette called every one of the volunteers who came out, thanking them personally for their participation and asking for any feedback that might help for the next time. Volunteers were happy to give input and Yvette was proud of their team spirit and constructive ideas, which she turned over to that new fresh face.

Several weeks passed. A hospital executive stopped by one morning and pointedly asked Yvette if the young marketing staff member had had a wrap up meeting for the volunteers. Yvette said no and tried to point out that she had already contacted everyone, but the aggravated executive reminded her that in years past, there was always a follow up meeting for volunteers. Angrily, the executive let his guard down and complained about the multiple shortcomings of this new marketing person. Yvette listened politely, feeling uncomfortable the entire time.

Yvette did not think much about that conversation until another two weeks had passed and she picked up the phone. Her volunteer, Joy called to inquire about an organiztional thank you note with a five dollar Walmart card attached. “Who’s idea was that?” Joy complained. “What are they thinking? What am I going to do with five dollars?” Before Yvette could digest what was being said, Joy continued. “Its an insult. I didn’t volunteer for five dollars. Is that what my time is worth? Id rather they did nothing than do this.”
Yvette received multiple calls voicing the same sentiment. “What does management think our time is worth?” was the most voiced complaint. Yvette deftly fielded the calls, soothed nerves and assured everyone that the gift card was not meant to be an insult.
Yvette spent many an hour doing damage control. She told her supervisor about the situation and her supervisor shrugged and said, “yes, they do stupid things,” so Yvette was pretty much on her own. She knew her supervisor would not “make waves” with a favored department. Once again, the care and feeding of the volunteers was left solely to her.

What exactly, is a volunteer’s time worth? Five dollars, ten dollars, a luncheon, a gift card to Walmart, an occasional nomination? What do volunteers really want as appreciation? A pat on the head, a hastily scribbled speech, a once a year dinner?

Do volunteers notice they are not part of strategic planning for the very organization they work tirelessly for? Does each hollow afterthought combine to make this perception worse? Do they truly “know their place?”

In the fantasy world, when the cultivating of volunteers becomes everyone’s job, then a five dollar gift certificate would not be salt on an already gaping wound. Do you want to know the one sentence that Yvette heard from all the volunteers she spoke to?
“I know YOU appreciate me, dear.”