I am a “professional” volunteer. Since my kids were born I have done Sunday School, Nursery, Vacation Bible School, La Leche League, Protest Organization, Parent/Teacher League, Couch to 5k Coaching, Girl Scouts and various other one time benefits and charitable events. I am blessed to have the time to do it. I love it. And I choose to be self employed so that I can make time for my volunteer commitments. What I don’t earn in money I compensate for in friendships, freedom, and time with my kids.
I have read a few blog articles in my time complaining about being the volunteer and being criticized by the parents who benefit from others setting aside time to make it happen. I get that. I have been ignored, un-thanked, and dismissed. And worse, I’ve been complained about, gossiped about and yelled at. I come home and tell Rob about it, and he asks me if I’m sure this is what I want to do.
Here’s the thing. Just like I’m trying my best, I think the parents of the kids I’m volunteering for are also trying their best. They have less time to commit than I do, but they just as much want their kids to have fun. They have good ideas about how it should be done. They hope that their kids will learn and grow and be better people because they are involved in extra-curriculars. The same reason I signed up my kid is the reason they signed up their kid. The only difference is that I had the time and the inclination to be the adult volunteer.
So instead of complain about how often people talk to (and about) the job volunteers do, I’m going to assume everyone wants to get along and be friends. I’m going to assume that the other parents are thankful for what I am doing, because I know that they are. But just like I sometimes make mistakes and lack tactfulness, so do these other people. So I’d like to make a few suggestions about how to approach a volunteer when you hope they’d made some changes.
#1- Take into consideration that I am not being paid to do this, so there is no incentive to keep doing it outside of my own enjoyment of it.
If you bring a lot of complaints, or a whole lot of expectations to me I may quit because I can’t live up to those standards. If I quit and no one else steps up, the whole activity is gone. For your kid and my kid. So, please acknowledge that I am giving it all I have to give and try to accept my limitations. And please, forgive me when I mess up.
#2- Remember to be polite.
Some activities come with a lot of stress built in. Like controlling a group of kids in public, or making sure you don’t forget to bring 10 different safety items and the permission slips. I might be trying to keep my cool when I feel seriously stressed out. I might have been arguing with my daughter about dessert in the car on the way here and she has been pushing my buttons for 30 minutes. It might take me 20 minutes longer to get here than you, and my husband is probably out of town so I have all three of my kids with me… And if you bring a grouchy complaint, I might not take it very well. Please and Thank You are for adults, too.
#3- Make your complaint privately.
All troop leaders and coaches have to give you their phone number. And many of them also give an email address. I’d much rather get a call or an email from someone than have them bring up a complaint during an activity. There are others around. I have to think on my feet. It’s embarrassing. And my concentration is divided because I’m trying to keep track of kids and and stuff.
#4- Make sure you really think this situation is important before you bring it up.
If you have been generally happy but I keep doing one particular thing that annoys you, please consider if you could just let it go. I may not always remember to bring the newsletter. I may get kids’ attention by raising my voice for a moment instead of clapping my hands. These things may not be your preference, but really, they are just the way I get things done.
But if I have missed a few important things, or hurt someone’s feelings (all possibilities, I have a lot on my plate!) please, let me know! Or if you know of some way to get things done more efficiently, please tell me! I would love to save time and I may not know of the amazing efficiency method that you do and I would love to adopt it.
#5- Make sure your complaint is reasonable.
If I haven’t done every amazing thing you hoped I would do in this activity, it’s probably because I couldn’t. I average 4 to 9 hours of unpaid work every week on top of running my own small business and taking care of three kids under 8. I’m not bragging. I’m telling you how it is for all of us volunteers. There are some volunteers I know who do 5 times more than I do and work full time.
If you had some goals for this activity and they weren’t achieved, offer to help make them happen. Sometimes I may seem like I want to do all of the work, but it’s actually just me not wanting to bother others. I really do want some help. But I don’t know what you’re good at, and so you need to tell me. I’d love to pass the torch for a week or two and be a “regular” mom for once while we all enjoy something you are really good a sharing. Call the local business and set up a field trip. Teach us how to make baskets. Or just help me collect end of the year paperwork so it gets done on time.
We’re all trying our best. We all want to have fun. And honestly, I really want to be your friend! I hope these suggestions will help everyone, the volunteers and the drop-off parents, have a better season. We are all here for the same reason. We love this activity, it’s important to us, and we want it to be the best it can be. And mostly, know I am not complaining. 99% of the time we are all having fun. I really do love the people I volunteer for. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love it!