No, I’m not masochistic. Not even close. My little world is filled with kittens and marshmallows shaped like flowers and moonbeams streaming through the forest. (after all, why else would I be in this job?) But, I also don’t want volunteers to lead me on. You know, tell me that I’m wonderful, that you want to spend time with me, buy me flowers… (oh wait, that’s a different conversation, oops).
But in volunteer management, I court the volunteer, right? I woo them with tales of how wonderful it will be, I walk beside them, listen, adjust, mentor, guide, run interference, and heck, put a bunch of time in, making sure volunteering will work for individual rewards. After all, it’s what volunteers want, right?
So, here, I think is my biggest frustration. I’m thinking of Yancey who had/has such potential. She is young and vibrant and full of compassion. She paid strict attention in training, and bright eyed, couldn’t wait to start. She was mentored by seasoned volunteers, and is truly magical with patients. She writes comprehensive reports. She passed every background test. She is perfect. Well, was. That is, until she just stopped.
At first, I assigned Yancey to a volunteer friendly nursing home. Both of the two current volunteers were leaving, but for different reasons. They had built a great relationship with the nursing home staff and together, they introduced Yancey to the patients and the employees. It seemed like a good fit. Yancey was excited. I called her frequently, answered any questions and assumed things were working out.
Two months later, she stopped sending in reports. She did not return my calls, nor did she answer emails. Then an email I sent bounced back at me. Still no word. I checked with the facility and they had not seen her in weeks. I finally, reluctantly removed her name from our list and started searching for another volunteer to take her place.
Was I mad at her for not wanting to volunteer anymore? No. This is, after all, volunteering. Would I judge her for her reason to stop? Absolutely not. If volunteering isn’t adding to someone’s life, they shouldn’t be doing it. Did her stopping ruin my life? C’mon.
But, do I wonder what happened? Would I rather hear the reason even if it means finding out I failed her somehow? Absolutely. How else can I correct a situation or behavior if I don’t know about it? I suspect that Yancey couldn’t fit volunteering into her busy lifestyle, or more accurately, volunteering with those patients wasn’t rewarding enough to fit into her busy lifestyle.
I could have told her that this is not my first experience. I’m used to volunteers leaving for so many different reasons. At least for some, I know why. That helps. For others, they float away like an unfinished manuscript dropped in a river. If only….
I may pen her a letter but I truly wish I could have spoken to her and offered her something else or a more flexible schedule. It may have worked. But if not, at least I could have assured her that she was welcome back at any time in the future. I could have told her that she was a good volunteer and that she needn’t be embarrassed about quitting. I suspect that may be the case.
But I don’t know. I wish I did.
Sue Hine said:
Hmmm… I’m thinking this unfinished manuscript might well have experienced a melt-down in another part of her life.
Thanks Sue, you are probably right, didn’t see that one coming.
How interesting this all is. I’m a volunteer. I “do” Hospice, I am (was) a Big Brother and I’m in training to be a CASA or Guardian ad Litem. Why? I became disabled at 56 and my wife said I need to “do” something. 40+ years of business experience and finding a job or going back to school is impossible. The biggest lie I told in my career is that I was a “team player” I’m not. I’m a “closet” type-A do it my way or the highway person that prefers working alone in my home office.Volunteering has “forced” me to interface with disfunctional families, smart motivated 65+ year old women – retired educators and State Department translators with great pensions – who think they’re saving the world blindly worshipping non-profit management that think they walk on water. I’m burnt out trying to be someone I’m not. I tried to see one of my Hospice patients the other day and the familiy lied to me saying he was not available, I hung up the phone and stared out into “space” for about 15 minutes. Angry? Maybe. Frustrated? Maybe. Had enough? Definitely. I’ve decided to give it all up. No more volunteering with no say in how an organization is run. It’s all too shut-up and volunteer. Will I be honest with why I will not continue? Do they care? No and probably not. It’ll be for “personal reasons” Just another amazing person that tried to do amazing things but didn’t find anything amazing about the process. At least I tried.
Hi-thank you for your honest response. If I were your volunteer coordinator, I would have been glad that you told me how you felt. Whether or not I could fix it is another story. Since you have touched on so many things in your commentary in order to be brief, I’ll just speak to one. Volunteering is like an entry level job; the established staff is usually not interested in hearing how they can do things better, even if the volunteer has extensive experience and a proven track record. Non-profits can be populated by folks who believe they are “special” because they are in the business of helping people. Staff and administrators can be very territorial and deaf to suggestions from newbies.
Outsiders can be scary to them-outsiders, who can be either new staff or new volunteers,are viewed as not understanding the intricacies of the mission. Sadly, this means a lot of organizations are very cliquish.
We, volunteer managers, often experience being in the middle of great volunteer suggestions or questions and stonewalling staff. It’s a tough position to be in.
How do we handle it? I think most of us concentrate on the individual day to day work of each volunteer. In spite of organizational politics or speed bumps, we try to help each volunteer find something fullfilling which in turn helps clients immensely. It’s this quiet, under the radar work that we are so good at.
I am truly sorry that your volunteer experience was not what you had hoped. The process can be frustrating. It is to us many a time. But what we try to always keep in mind, is it is not about us, it is about the time spent with our clients. As a hospice volunteer manager myself, I try to help the volunteers understand that hospice patients and caregivers are under so much stress that they will occasionally do or say things that might be hurfful or odd to us, but in order to be most helpful, we have to set aside our judgements and support them. Then and only then, will our volunteering actually help.
Thank you for taking time to reply.