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Purity Pirate

“Well heck,” Ivan said, “the surprises in volunteer management just keep surprising me.” He adjusted his purple framed glasses. “I just had this one volunteer, Julie, who took orientation a couple of months ago. It was a great class, full of people ready to help. They had different interests and skills, and varied ages, but they all got along; we laughed and cried together. It was great and I had high hopes for all of them. Now ours, being that we work with disadvantaged children, is a very intense training. And Julie stood out. She was passionate, and entertaining, really a big personality. She is married to a prominent doctor, and you know how it is. I figured that not only would I have her as a volunteer, but also I would have her telling her influential doctor husband about our program and maybe I’d get some quality speaking engagements out of it as well. So I was pretty pumped about her joining our group.”
Ivan paused. “I paired her with one of my most accomplished volunteers, Sal, who took Julie out on visits. Then, about two weeks later, I get a call from Sal who tells me that all his calls and texts to Julie are going unanswered. So I try and nothing. I asked Sal if anything upset her, but he can’t think of a thing, as a matter of fact, he found her enthusiastic. So, now I’m worried. I send emails, even a written letter and still nothing. Short of becoming a stalker, I just leave her a message that we are very much interested in her continuing with us and I leave it at that.”
Ivan picks up a newspaper clipping on his desk. “Then, last week, one of our volunteers, Della, was at the county fair and sees the pageant for the married women of our county and she tells me that one of our volunteers won. So, I said, who was it and she says, Julie, the new volunteer.” Ivan holds up the newspaper picture. “Here she is and in Julie’s interview she gushes about volunteering with us. Then the article goes on to list other organizations that she is involved with.” At this point Ivan laughs. “I wonder if she did the same thing to them too. But I guess I should take this as a compliment, I’m just not sure.”

Yep, there it is. Should we feel used, or do we take the robbing of our reputation as a compliment, shrug our shoulders, furiously work our worry beads and go on?

Well, there are going to be volunteers who use us to their own gain. Resume padding job seekers, corner cutting students, court avoiding offenders, ebay selling thrifters and even parent hood winking teens all can find a nice warm blanket of self benefit by tacking us on to their veneer. These thankfully few and far between folks are truly different from the volunteers who come to us for other more varied and sometimes multiple reasons.

These Reputation Robbers are singly focused on our good name as a means to their end, and want the name recognition without doing any work. I remember the first time I was plundered by a Purity Pirate. I was so mad that I pumped my fist into the air and yelled, “how dare you!”(at the blank wall of course. The pirate was long gone, having snatched up all the loot he needed, then he paddled away in his rowboat. I think I can still hear him laughing.)

Well, these experiences teach us to expect volunteers to exhibit altruistic motivations but to prepare for occasional leeches on our work. I’ve been burned more than once. It hurts to think that you can be duped, but it happens. So, here are a few things to do if we think that a potential volunteer just wants to write a book, using our clients as subjects, entitled, “I Personally Saved This Hapless Non-Profit From Disaster.”

Do Not Sign Off: Don’t sign off on work done if the work is not done. Ever. And don’t succumb to those sad little baby alligator eyes that see right through your easy kind nature.

Do Not Be Pressured: A senior manager has a neighbor who has this niece, Lita that needs to complete 30 hours of community service. That’s an entire month of your time! Yes, I can do math, well basic anyway. But 30 hours becomes:

Meeting with Lita after she is two hours late and trying not to reach across the table and choke her when she asks whether she’ll be paid.

Calling her repeatedly when she does not show up as scheduled and getting her brother on the phone who makes Lita look like the responsible one.

Trying to explain to her again and again in a nice way (oh heck, just trying not to scream at her to get out) that signing in and leaving does not constitute hours volunteered.

Continually assuring all the other volunteers who happen to work alongside her that you have not, in fact gone completely insane.

Re-doing the event packets Lita totally messed up. It’s the night before the event and you have to miss your best friend’s birthday celebration.

Wooing back the volunteer who quit because he happened to be there the day Lita laughed at the name of an elderly client in front of the client’s son. So, in order to convince the volunteer to return, you host a ‘bagel while begging’ two hour coffee brunch. And then you spend the rest of the day on severe caffeine jitters, pacing the halls, barking at volunteers to “stop looking at me!”

Walking down to the reception area every couple of hours when Lita is actually on property because the receptionist needs you to come up and tell the little pack of Lita’s friends that they cannot hang out here.

And having these surreal phone interruptions with Lita’s parent who chastises you for not making Lita “like it there.”

So, yeah, I stand by it-that’s a month of your professional life that you can’t get back.

Put Policies in Place: Having policies will not stop all reputation robbers and thankfully most folks who need something from us are not purity pirates and honestly want to do something meaningful with their time spent. But, well thought out policies can be used effectively, especially if you discover one of these pirates has sneaked into your midst.

As for Lita? How about policy #2, paragraph #1, sentences #3 and #4: ‘A volunteer shall be counseled if said volunteer does not exhibit the necessary attitude and respect for the mission and program. After due counseling, said volunteer may be dismissed at any given time so as to protect our clients  from undue stress.’