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light switch
When Amar answered the ad for a volunteer coordinator, he was certain that he could fulfill the stated requirements. “It was pretty straightforward,” he said, “and although I had not managed volunteers previously, I did have experience in non-profit work. So, I applied and was hired. I worked there for four years, and now, when looking back at that recruitment ad, I wonder why they included along with all the skills required, the phrase, ‘and uphold the values of the organization’. In retrospect, I left that job because I came to really wonder what their values were.”

Amar continued, “our mission was very clear. Our service delivery was excellent. Recruiting and training volunteers was going well and I felt that their contributions were generally regarded as meaningful. But internally, our organization was a mess. People routinely stabbed one another in the back. The CEO practiced rampant favoritism, set exclusionary rules and so morale was pitifully low, even though everyone worked hard at their jobs. It was as if our organization had a community face for our recipients, donors and general public and then behind closed doors, this dark side emerged. I began to wonder which face was actually the real face of the organization and what really were the values. Fairness? Not that I saw. Inspiration? No, staff was pretty much left to find inspiration where they could. It became a place where you took pride in your work, although you hated coming to work.”

Can those of us who work in the non-profit world turn our kindness off and on? Can our volunteers also turn it off and on? If we treat clients with tenderness while treating other staff or volunteers with disdain, is it truly genuine? I often wondered that when working with a few volunteers who had a nasty side. I wondered, “how can honest kindness be selective?”

Amar left his job and found another one. “I walked into a new place that did not speak openly about their values, but instead, showed them daily. Staff was genuinely kind and supportive of each other. Volunteers responded in that atmosphere and accomplished so many amazing things. I took a pay cut, but could not be happier. A value based organization that lives their values is far more rewarding than a larger paycheck accompanied by the stress of working with mean-spirited people.”

Mahatma Gandhi once said,  “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” That makes me wonder if  the greatness of an organization can be judged by the way everyone within and without is treated, including its staff, volunteers, the delivery people, visitors, the repairmen or even someone who wanders in off the street.

Is a culture of kindness so thin that it is able to be turned on and off? If so, then it’s a veil and not really a culture, isn’t it?

-Meridian