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roadblockJeff is a part-time volunteer manager at a small community hospital. He is responsible for staff education, special projects and the 50 auxiliary volunteers. An educator by trade, he is new to volunteer management, but embraces the idea that volunteers add real value to his organization. He has an auxiliary president and vice president who recruit, interview and train the new volunteers. The hospital volunteers run the gift shop, do office work and are expected to staff the reception desk seven days a week. Lately, though, the receptionist volunteers have been telling the auxiliary president that they cannot effectively do their job because the desktop computer doesn’t work properly.
A rather ancient piece of equipment, the computer is necessary for finding a patient’s location. The computer acts up by losing connections and then it takes a few minutes to reboot. The volunteers resort to calling hospital staff for room numbers, which is beginning to be a problem for irritated employees who are impatient with the volunteers. Jeff, thinking that it would be an easy fix, put in a work request to repair or replace the desktop. When he did not receive a timely reply and after more volunteers complained, he called the maintenance department who told him the request was being reviewed. Puzzled, Jeff called his superior who said that all capital expenses or major repairs had to be reviewed by a committee. When pressed on how long the process would take, the superior curtly said that he did not know, but would inform Jeff when he had an answer. After three weeks of growing impatience and endless excuses, the volunteers started to doubt that Jeff had actually requested help. They began to complain loudly and some threatened to quit. Jeff called his supervisor again and brusquely asked about the status of his request. “Come on,” he said, “I’ve got people wanting to quit. I need some movement on this.” After another week, the fed up volunteers started to miss their shifts, leaving Jeff to frantically call the auxiliary president to find replacements. The empty reception desk was noticed, but instead of acknowledging Jeff’s predicament, the senior management complained down through the channels that Jeff was not doing his job staffing the front desk. Jeff blew his stack. “This is ridiculous,” Jeff fumed. “If they expect a volunteer to do a job for free, the least they can do is provide them the tools necessary to do that job. Instead, this organization drags its financial heels, thinking that it doesn’t matter. Well it does. Paid staff can’t and won’t just quit, but volunteers can and will.” Jeff continued, “and then, they have the nerve to complain when volunteers quit, as if they have no culpability in this. It’s maddening how they dismiss the basic tools volunteers need, but are vocal when their roadblocks cause us to lose volunteers. It’s as if they think that volunteers will do anything asked of them, no matter how they are treated or no matter how tough they make it for the volunteers to successfully do their job. It’s ludicrous!”

Jeff is spending a great deal of time soothing the disillusioned volunteers who rightfully feel that they are not worth the price of a new computer. Jeff is not giving up, even though some really good long-term volunteers are choosing to stay home. He’s not used to using the nails on a blackboard voice, but to him, it has become about what is right. Hopefully his administration will do the right thing. Hopefully they will realize the difference between staff who must deal with inconveniences and volunteers, who can choose to leave if conditions are unacceptable.
But if administration won’t, then when the next volunteer leaves, each manager should be made to figure out how to replace that volunteer and each manager should have to say to the new volunteer, “You know we really don’t think you are worth proper equipment. But keep coming in and working for free anyway and stop complaining.”
Because essentially, that’s what Jeff has to do.