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Volunteer Abuse

I have touched on the subject of volunteerism on a number of occasions, generally encouraging readers to give something back to their communities by getting involved. 

Today, at the risk of turning people off volunteering, I want to address the issue of volunteer abuse … and I don’t use that word lightly.

There are many, many organizations that would not be able to operate were it not for the time and energy donated by volunteers.  As the word suggests they receive little or no payment for their endeavors and yet somehow become a target for abuse from those around them.

I have been a volunteer for many organizations and currently volunteer my time for two industry associations, and a couple of charities, on an ongoing basis.  In addition I often get involved with fund raising events like the Fight for the Cure earlier this year (5 months of dedicated training leading up to the boxing match), the Ride for Heart which I ride regularly and numerous other events.

Volunteering for the above boards requires a serious amount of time, which I might otherwise spend on personal activities or even on my business; they require financial commitments because I often need to travel to another city to attend meetings and meet with colleagues; they require “mind space”, which I won’t underestimate because being “constantly on” is tiring, and unlike running a company decisions are reached in a much more political type environment, requiring patience and fortitude.

So … when others attack volunteers it bothers me.

It is very easy for people to be critical when they don’t have all of the facts.  A volunteer board may meet monthly for several hours each time, conduct more informal meetings and activities in between, and deal with many, many different issues.  A critic might be very focused on what their issue is, and not knowing all of the details, can “bad mouth” the board members for their decisions because the decisions were not to the critic’s liking.

It is always easy to second guess in hindsight that a different decision might have been better … but the critic is not volunteering their time and is not there through the process, with all of the available facts of the moment when the decision is made.

Volunteers rarely if ever receive praise for their work … just the negative feedback.

So … if you are the type of person that likes to be the “Devil’s Advocate“, who likes to “tell it like it is“, who is free with doling out “honest and open feedback” maybe you should GET INVOLVED, put some “skin in the game”, “earn the right” to an opinion or just keep it to yourself. 

Here are some things to remember:

1.  Without volunteers most organizations would be nowhere;

2.  The volunteers get some pleasure from giving back … they don’t need grief.

3.  If you have something to say then be constructive.

4.  If you don’t like how it is being done then get involved and help.

5.  If you insist on being rude then recognize that the end result is likely going to be a need for new volunteers.

There is NEVER any excuse to abuse a volunteer.

PS.  For those who are wondering … this blog is NOT prompted by activities from any of my volunteer work, but rather some observation of other situations.