coping at work, managing volunteers, organizations, volunteer, volunteer coordinator, volunteer manager, volunteer retention, volunteers
Meg is a volunteer coordinator for a large health care system that specializes in patient rehabilitation. Her volunteers are involved in several programs, from spiritual care, and palliative listening to working with dementia patients. Meg is the lead volunteer coordinator with twelve years of experience. Recently, the marketing department contacted Meg and told her that they wanted “some volunteers” to be filmed in a short infomercial.
“They didn’t give me a date nor time and place,” she said. “I emailed them repeatedly for concrete directions, but I never got an answer. Finally, one of the marketing staff. Gwen, came down at 4pm on a Wednesday and said they were ready to shoot Friday at 9am in our location. What do you need? I asked her and she told me they wanted volunteers working with a mock patient in a rehab room.”
Meg sighed. “Gwen did however ask for our pet therapy volunteer, Sam, who owns Polo, a beautiful golden retriever. Gwen told me she loved that dog and how beautiful the dog would look on camera. So, I spent most of my Thursday pleading with volunteers to come to the shoot.”
Meg paused. “You know how volunteers are. The don’t want to be on camera. But I got six volunteers, including Sam to agree to come in and be filmed.
Friday came and I arrived early,” Meg continued. “I had fruit and coffee set up for the volunteers. They began arriving, Sam and Polo, Jerri who does amazing work journal keeping with patients, Clive and Betty, a couple who sing to patients, Jeravani, an international student who is studying physical therapy and Amelia, a volunteer who specializes in art. They were a great mix of volunteers. I gave a lot of thought to how volunteers would present on camera and I have to admit, this was a diverse group of excellent representatives. I was thinking the infomercial might encourage others to volunteer.”
Meg went on, “9 arrived and we waited and then 9:30 and still we waited. I could see the volunteers checking their watches. They had places to be. At about 10, Gwen found us and said they were ready to start filming. Biting my tongue, I stood up and waved my hand over the group of fantastic volunteers sipping coffee and started to introduce them, but she stopped me and very nonchalantly said that the crew was behind schedule and that there was only time for, as she put it, ‘the dog shot.'”
I could feel the anger and frustration in Meg’s voice and she went on, “I looked at Gwen, stunned. I motioned for her to join me outside the room, out of earshot of the volunteers. You mean our volunteers came in for nothing? And Gwen basically said, ‘we don’t have time for any extra shots because we already have more than enough. Sorry, just tell them thank you and maybe another time.'”
Meg snorted an angry laugh. “yeah, I wanted to say, why don’t YOU tell them and why don’t YOU apologize profusely and why don’t YOU waste half a day trying to cajole people for nothing? No, you get to walk away, damage done and think nothing of it.” Meg stopped to take a breath. “It just makes me so angry!”
Meg recharged. “Then, get this! Sam and Polo? Oh yeah, after I say goodbye and sorry to all the other volunteers, I find Sam and Polo in a mock-up patient room and one of the crew is being filmed holding Polo’s leash! I lost it. I went to Gwen and demanded to know what was going on. She kinda shrugged and said that the film crew set it up that way so for once in my life I stood my ground and said no. I told her that if Sam was not in the shot, then I was going to send them home. I was so mad, I didn’t care.”
I could feel the anger balloon about to burst. “Gwen intervened though and Sam was filmed with Polo. So, at least I won a minor battle.”
Then Meg grew philosophical, the way long time volunteer managers grow. “I wish our volunteers were given the same respect as others in our hospital system. No one would waste the CEO’s time. No one would be so cavalier about marketing’s time. But volunteers? They are a commodity. It’s wrong, just wrong. Although, it did feel so good to stand up for Sam. In fact, it felt great.”
Meg’s voice changed, lifted somehow. “In fact, I think I’ll start doing that more.” The old spark in her voice returned. “Yeah, stand up for what’s right, what do I have to lose? And, maybe, just maybe, I’ll stop being the clean up crew.”
Wow! Powerful one. We’ve all been there.
Thanks Patty, you are right, we all have been in that situation. It is artistry, walking that fine line between losing your cool and making your point. Go Meg for standing up for not only the volunteers, but for ultimately what is right.
Sue Hine said:
Well! There’s a story of how NOT to treat volunteers. They are nothing more than coloured paper and party hats, commodities to oil the wheels of marketing. Imagine, I say to myself, how it would be different if a bunch of staff had been asked to participate. Thank goodness Meg found her voice, and I wish her well for doing some in-house education on the meaning of volunteering and the value of volunteers.
Thanks Sue, it is apparent that we all stand up for the volunteers and the way they are treated and perceived.