Five things volunteers hate about volunteering
From patronising management to paperwork, our disgruntled volunteer shares the top things that put volunteers off
Like charity huggers, the people who run volunteer groups can put you right off the idea of being public spirited.
Charity huggers ruined my relationship with a major charity by over complicating things. When anonymous donations were no longer enough and they wanted my name, address and banking details, I went right off the whole affair.
My experience of voluntary work has been the same. Speaking with other volunteers, a pattern of dissuading habits emerges. I’m no expert, but it might help to address these.
Take it or leave it
The most frequent complaint I’ve heard about volunteer groups is they don’t respond when people contact them.
For example, it took a man from the council two months to reply to my email about taking part in voluntary work with young offenders. It might help to communicate more. Please don’t hire an expensive, budget sapping team of ‘pro-active’ marketing consultants. Just reply to emails.
Politicising our efforts
One scheme that I relished involved taking out children who needed a break from their home lives. To prepare for this task around 20 volunteers spent months training to be mentors.
Having completed the coursework and mentored one children each for nine months, the council then cancelled the scheme, blaming cuts. But we’d all been trained by this stage, and gave our services for free. How much money was going to be saved by sacking us? Unless the council staff were raking in millions in overtime to run the scheme, the cost justification was difficult to understand.
Even when manning a switchboard where all callers remain anonymous and listening is the most important contribution you can make, you’re still obliged to simultaneously hunt round for forms while juggling the distraught caller on the other end of the phone.
Meanwhile, if you took a child (on the aforementioned scheme) out to the local bowling alley, you’d be expected to fill in a parental waiver form and get it signed by the parent. Then fill out a full risk analysis assessment. But you never knew until you met your ‘buddy’ in the morning what mood they’d be in and what they wanted to do, if anything. So you needed to carry a folder full of risk analysis forms for every possible activity, from cycling to swimming to shopping.
Then you were supposed to imagine every possible incident that could arise in each activity — which could run into dozens of projected accidents, or even hundreds if you put your mind to it. Then give these incidents a probability score. Once, when I took the child home, his mum was out so he shinned up a drainpipe and got in at the first floor windows. That put the risk analysis for visiting a museum into context.
Targets and jargon
On the child mentoring scheme, all volunteers spent considerable time writing up summary reports, which were eventually manipulated to create some narrative that could end in some sort of ‘successful outcome’. This was ludicrous, given the circumstances.
Even the simple process of taking children out can be hijacked. Common sense might tell you that a child who has a difficult home life might enjoy a bit of light entertainment. They’re not going to relish a lecture on diversity and healthy eating.
On one scheme, the suggested plan for an activity was a trip to a mosque followed by a salad. As a child, I hated going to the church, so I was delighted when instead my buddy opted to visit a children’s comedy club followed by a Chinese meal in Soho. This resulted in another warning lecture about risk assessment and putting lives in danger.
On the voluntary schemes that I have been involved in, the trainers were brilliant, but the people who managed me afterwards could put anyone off for life.
On the phone counselling scheme the supervisor spent all his time micro-managing me and addressing me like a 10-year-old.
On the council scheme, the manager took offence at a joke I made about his paperwork and lack of organisation and singled me out for lectures on everything from safety to sex offences.
So I’m looking for a new place to volunteer. Please tell me it’s not always like this.
Nick Booth is a freelance journalist and volunteer
To see a follow-up blog by another Nick Booth, click here
Source: Guardian Professional – 1st June 2012go back to the news page