August 7, 2010
The Totally Bad Volunteer Experience
When a volunteer experience turns bad everyone gets to hear about it. Not just in your local community. You can go global on the internet. Here is a desperate story from Mr X in Singapore about Why I’ll never volunteer again.
”It was my first time volunteering with this agency – and it will be my last time. When I got to the agency there was no one there to tell me and another two student volunteers what to do. We were ill-equipped to handle client queries: we had not been trained and did not have expert knowledge. I got invited to a ceremony for presenting awards for our efforts. When I replied, I was told I should have received my certificate of appreciation once I had completed my volunteer assignment. I am still waiting to receive my certificate. The whole process has been disorganised and unprofessional.”
You can hear in these messages some clear volunteer expectations. Indeed volunteers have a right to expect better from an organisation. And our hapless volunteer received a few other pointers about volunteering from others who replied to his post:
- It is more dangerous to give wrong advice than no advice at all.
- The gift of our time is the most precious thing that we can give and volunteer managers forget that at their peril.
- Maybe it will be better to volunteer with SPCA. At least the poor abandoned animals will show their appreciation by wagging their tails or by snuggling up to you.
I am not surprised Mr X never wants to volunteer again. I am not surprised he is being recommended to volunteer with SPCA and tending loveable animals. Humans can be such beasts at times.
What does surprise me are a couple of other comments sent to Mr X:
- You should never volunteer if you expect something in return.
- Real volunteers never complain, and always prefer to remain anonymous.
Surely – please tell me – the people who made these statements were not real volunteers? I shall save up my opinion on this kind of false sainthood for another time.
Right now, what Mr X’s experience is telling us is how utterly critical the role of manager of volunteers can be for an organisation, starting with being ‘organised’ and ‘professional’. Maybe it is an extreme example of what can go wrong, but the signposts to disaster are clear for any manager to avoid.