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It is so dark that your breath hangs, a web in the blackness. Your heart races, threatening to burst to keep from confronting the terror within. You feel something near, just over your shoulder and you freeze because it is moving towards you, intent, and deadly. You close your eyes, as if to hide, but it will find you.

It is the volunteer management zombie, and it wants to eat your volunteer manager brains.

Robert, the office manager of a non profit tourist welcome center, walked into the middle of a conversation between staff member Gloria and a volunteer, Ralph. Ralph was telling Gloria, “you should have made more of those brochures. The visitors are complaining that they don’t have any information.” Gloria sighed and looked at a stressed and irritated Robert who suddenly felt the VM zombie nibbling on his brains. “Ralph, can you stop complaining for once? The brochures are on back order for the tenth time already.”

Ralph shifted his weight. “But I’m the one who hears the complaints from the visitors.” Robert cracked his neck as more grey matter was consumed. “Well, it seems all you ever do here is complain.  I’m frankly tired of it. Why are you here anyway if you hate the way we do things?”

Ralph grew defensive. “What do you mean, I always complain? I’m here three days a week, I’m always on time, I take on extra work when you need it. I’m beginning to think you don’t want me here.” He looked to Gloria for help and she just timidly shook her head as she was afraid the zombie would see her too.

In another part of town, Elise stopped in to check on the volunteers preparing dinner at the local homeless coalition. The operations manager, Elise wore many hats such as builder of community partnerships and manager of the volunteer services department. She had just come from a brutal meeting in which the CEO nitpicked her work. Elise noticed one of the newer volunteers, Yvette who was opening cans of corn. Suddenly a battered Elise felt a chewing in her cranium and asked Yvette to step outside.

“Yvette,” Elise sighed, “according to volunteer Pat, you were 10 minutes late last week. Three weeks ago, staff member Rod said you left 15 minutes early. You know we depend on volunteers to complete their shifts, right?

Yvette was taken aback. “I’m so sorry, I was caught in traffic last week, I told the volunteer lead. And I left early because we were finished and I was told to go home.”

Elise, feeling her frontal lobe being consumed, opened her notebook. “Be that as it may, according to our volunteer Craig, you also did not specifically follow the portion rule last week. You gave a quarter cup extra serving of broccoli. We almost ran out of vegetables. Look, you have to follow the rules. We run a tight ship here.”

Yvette held her tears for later. “I’m sorry, I’m doing the best I can.”

Elise blinked. The gnawing in her head continued. “Besides, a homeless man said you wore an apron from home. He said he liked it. But, we give you aprons to wear so that you can be identified as a coalition volunteer. Yours said something inappropriate.”

“It did? It said ‘love’. And I gave my apron to another volunteer who forgot hers. I happened to have my own apron in my car. I told the lead volunteer and he said that was ok.”

“You’re not taking this seriously. We need better from you,” Elise said as her phone went off. She looked at it quizzically as the cranium nosh escalated.  “Anyway, we’ll revisit this later, I have to take this call.” She walked away, leaving Yvette to wonder why she decided to volunteer.

In another locale, volunteer manager Sharon looked up and saw volunteer Astrid coming through the front door. For a second, Sharon steeled herself, knowing that she had to sit down with Astrid and discuss some troubling behavior but then, Sharon thought of her impending deadlines and her shoulders slumped. “Not today,” she murmured as the VM zombie cracked her skull open and began to feed. Sharon quickly got up and hurried off to the supply room where breathlessly, she shut the door behind her. “This is crazy, I’m hiding from a volunteer,” was her last rational thought as her brain was devoured.

Stress, overwork, feeling unappreciated and exhaustion can open up our heads to the VM zombie who dines on our logical brains when facing challenging situations. Robert was emotional and spouted vague accusations. A nitpicked Elise turned around and nitpicked her volunteers while Sharon kicked her volunteer can down the road.

Dealing with challenges takes every brain cell in our already overfilled noggins. Like Robert, we can blow one day or like Elise, we can gather evidence of any tiny mistake each volunteer makes. And then there’s Sharon, who just avoids it all. In between all this is the professional. logical and ultimately best way to resolve volunteer issues. It is the ultimate weapon against the VM zombie’s gluttonous hunger.

So next time I’m tired and cranky and under-appreciated, I’ll be listening for the shuffle behind me. Then I’ll reach for my zombie busting bat of common VM sense to protect my belfry and save the volunteers from an empty-headed mistake.

Hoping you have a safe and Happy Halloween!