Sunday, July 01, 2007

Bash the Volunteer

Those of you who have done extensive work volunteering for your church or district, can I see a show of hands of those who have never been criticized, snarked at, had your motives questioned or otherwise "bashed"?

Bueller, Bueller?

Mom to the Left has me thinking about this phenomenon. It seems that when one volunteers (or accepts a request) to do work in our churches, one is also tacitly agreeing to the following:

I, the undersigned, do hereby offer myself as a willing servant to those who wish to argue, berate, and criticize the work that I do on my own time, and for no pay. I expect no gratitude and am willing to accept being treated as if this volunteer labor is something I owe to the organization. Anyone may feel welcome to second-guess my methods, motives, and choices.

What is this?

I will admit that some of my vehemence comes from personal experience. After completing a huge undertaking, I watched as the two people who "directed" my efforts accepted accolades, not bothering to mention the drone who actually did the work. Hey, that happens. When I finally said "okay, I'm done," was when I received a boo-boo-oops email from one of the directors.

Going off on a tangent, but I've seen this done so many times, and create so many problems, let me define the boo-boo-oops email:

  1. Person A and Person B email back and forth about a particular issue, never deleting their responses at the bottom of the emails.
  2. Responding to one of the emails in the long "reply, reply, reply" email (that now contains about 4 or 5 back and forth email messages), Person B forwards the entire thing to Person C, without deleting any of the earlier messages.
  3. Person C gets the message meant for herself ... and reads the entire email. In one of the previous emails at the bottom, Person A and/or B said something disparaging about Person C.

Boo-Boo-Oops Email ... the power to break up friendships, marriages, and volunteers' spirits.

So, it was after that when I said, "Okay, I can't do this anymore. You've got 4 months to find someone else."

(In hindsight, in this particular situation, I would handle it differently now. I had a terrific opportunity to educate some folks about -- if nothing else -- email etiquette. But I, like so many, simply tendered my volunteer resignation. How often has that happened in our churches or districts, and we never knew why?)

There has to be a way to share legitimate criticism ("Mary, I really appreciate your willingness to repaint the fellowship hall. However, we've had a few concerns over the choice of neon-hot-pink with red trim.") without resorting to snarkiness, condescension, anti-authoritarianism ...

Hmm. Maybe we could start with gentle politeness. And gratitude. Appreciation. Even if the fellowship hall makes our eyes bleed, and even if it has to be repainted, it still took Painter Mary a full day to paint it. A day which she gave to try and improve things.


Ms. Theologian said...

I have had two really unpleasant experiences volunteering in the past three years that did seem as if I'd signed up to be berated and abused. And I just ended up resigning as you did without seeking to educate people. I'm not sure I could have actually done that. It seems like the paradigm in many places is to abuse the volunteers and then wonder out loud why volunteer turnover is so high.

Adam Becker Sr said...

Do you think UU is any worse than other churches or charities? Or is this just a feature of the broken world?

I started volunteering a lot at UU churches years ago. At first, I chose churchwork because the non-church volunteering I'd done had been so ill-rewarded. But after 25 years of UU, I've had a few years that were vastly worse than anything I'd seen anywhere else. OTOH, I've had some years where the snark and backstabbing has been mercifully absent.

Ms. Theologian said...

I should note that I was talking about non-church volunteering. But I'm not sure it's all that different.

Anna Belle said...

My observation is that it's a cultural phenomenon. Our church used to be a good deal worse than snarky and unappreciative, but as we have worked on healing ourselves (over the course of 12 or so years), not side-stepping ugly truths about who we are and what we have done, to my amazement, one of the side benefits is the gratitude we express to each other. We've started to grow what I think of as "a culture of appreciation."

Louise said...

I have a button that reads, "I'm a volunteer. Please don't yell at me." I wear it while doing work for the Red Cross and it helps.

The one time someone was snarky at me while I was wearing it, I just mutely pointed to it and they immediately stopped and apologized.

kim said...

I love the button idea, but what do you do when they call on the phone to criticize you? this, luckily, hasn't happened to me, but we lost a church member who had done a huge volunteer job of administering our Rochester project for the year. She did a great job as far as I know, but got so much criticism for it that she left. People actually phoned her to complain about decisions that weren't even her decision, and other totally non-sensical stuff.