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dorian grayIt is painful to hear the words. “I don’t recognize my organization anymore.” Dillon is not a volunteer manager, but he works for a major hospice in a huge metropolitan area. As a social worker, he has direct contact with volunteers and is a champion of volunteer involvement. As he said over the phone, “I love communicating with the volunteers and each patient I see, I’m always trying to figure out how volunteers can be of benefit to them.” Dillon has worked in the industry for 25 years, most of it in hospice. He settled into this current job about 10 years ago. “I loved that the manager that hired me asked me how I felt about working with volunteers. I realized that this was an organization that truly cared about their patients and their volunteers. I was all in!”
But Dillon’s organization underwent some major changes four years ago. A new CEO, new marketing team, restructuring of disciplines and new logos and slogans all shook up the norm. “The perspective changed,” he mused, “and as competition heated up, I saw my organization shift dramatically, away from patient care to marketing and capturing demographics. It’s a business now and frankly I didn’t sign up to be a businessman.”
Dillon sighed. “And now, trying to get a volunteer is much harder. The volunteers are being asked to do things like find speaking engagements, set up health fair after health fair. And any volunteer that can sing or play an instrument? Forget it, they are being asked to perform. It’s all about the public seeing what the volunteers do rather than the volunteers actually doing it! It’s like we are advertising who we used to be, not who we are now, because who we are now is something I don’t recognize anymore.”
I could hear the chattering of staff in the background as Dillon continued. “I’m not saying that we don’t need marketing or we don’t need to compete. I’m saying that this shift is doing damage to the volunteer department. I already hear the rumblings of the volunteer staff as they stretch their volunteers more and more. On one hand, I need a volunteer to play the harp for my patients. On the other hand, they need that same volunteer to play the harp at a nursing home function. There’s only so much a volunteer will do. And I see the anxiety of the volunteer coordinators. They know which job is the right one for the volunteer, but when they continually say no to marketing, they are perceived as negative or uncooperative. They are in a no win situation here. The only thing they can do is recruit more advertising volunteers, but seriously, how many volunteers are out there wanting to do that?”
Dillon paused. “This puts me in a terrible position. I don’t want to ask for a volunteer because I know what stress the department is under. So, my patient suffers. At least though, the patient doesn’t know what he is missing. But I do. I talk to the coordinators frequently and some are new but the ones who have been here with me this long, they are sick about how their jobs are changing. Every time they try to explain why volunteers might not want to call bingo for a nursing home with no hospice patients in it, they get labeled as negative and uncooperative. Instead of listening to their coordinators, management listens to marketers, who have no idea how to work with volunteers. I’m seriously thinking about retiring and the sad part is, I think management would be happy to see me go.”
I asked him why he would think that and Dillon added wistfully, “one of the nurses who has been here longer than I have told me the other day that she thinks they want to get rid of everyone who has been here for a while. Not because of money or age, but because we know how it was in the old days and we are constant reminders that we are not that organization anymore.”
After we hung up, I felt an incredible sadness. I know that organizations need to morph to survive. But one has to wonder; once all the heart and soul has morphed out, then what exactly is left?