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The Dark Side of Volunteering
Old 04-24-2003, 01:54 PM   #1
Recycles dryer sheets
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 212
The Dark Side of Volunteering

I posted this on The Motley Fool. Thought you all might find it interesting.

The goal for most people to get to FIRE is a chance to spend their time as they wish. For many this includes volunteer activities. I've burbled about volunteering before, but now I want to explore the dark side of volunteering – doing too much and encounters with the power hungry.

It's real easy to end up spending too much time on volunteer activities – just like work, when you are good at something, they just give you more to do. In fact there are definite similarities between work and volunteering, except in one case you don't get any money.

1. If you aren't careful, volunteer activities can fill all your time and annoy your family. There is a fine line between getting fulfillment from volunteering and spending too little time with your family and friends. This is why with my volunteer activities I've moved very slowly in accepting new/more responsibilities. My family is more important to me than any volunteer activity, and it helps to keep that in the front of my mind when besieged with requests.

2. If you do let volunteer creep occur, there is a good chance you'll be burned out, just like at work. And that is a terrible thing to have happen. Something that you formerly enjoyed greatly turns into a dreaded chore. I have seen rehabilitators almost lose their minds during baby season. They, and any other volunteer, have to know when to say “No”. Sometimes a breather is all that is needed. If a person is truly burned out, it's almost impossible to get them back.

3. Sometime saying “No” will have undesirable effects that must be accepted. When a rehabilitator says they cannot take one more animal, there is a good chance that animal may die. That's why it is so hard to say “No”. There are also people who will deride someone who cuts back on their load. You have to grow a thick skin – but most people on their way to FIRE already have pretty thick skins.

4. Even in volunteer organization, there are some people that are all about “power” (like some managers?). I recently joined the Board of Directors for the organization where I volunteer. This experience has been a real eye-opener. I couldn't believe that there were people who were more concerned about their name getting out into the community as an important person within our organization than they were about wildlife, but so it has turned out to be. And as far as I can tell, many people, just because they were elected to the Board in some capacity, think they are now “better” than the other members of the organization. I've watch them make decisions that should have involved people outside the Board and I've heard them speak of the others as “children”. As you can imagine, I've been pretty cranky about this stuff and generally a pain in the butt to other Board members

5. This leads to MONEY. Someone awhile back [on TMF] talked about a general who, when retired, served on the Boards of several charities. He said it was important to see where the money was going before you volunteered in other capacities. By golly, he was right! Not everyone can start on the Board, but I was appalled at some of the mismanagement of funds. Not in the embezzling sense, but just spending money on the wrong things. This was often tied to the power motive. As a result, rather than donate extra money to the organization, as was my wont, I directly spend money on what I think is important. At least I know my money wasn't thrown down the drain.

Having said all that, I really enjoy my volunteer work, though I'm not sure I want to stay on the Board. Some have talked about how hard it is to join a group and find meaningful ways to help out. The fit is awfully important. You need to be sure that you generally approve of the organization and that you are comfortable with its agenda – political or otherwise. Then you have to figure out who the truly important are – not the power hungry, but those who really understand the basis of the organization. These are often people who work directly with whatever the charity is about: the homeless, children, animals, etc. The people that do the real work. Once you get to know and understand those people, you'll know if you want to continue with that organization.

So with that, I hope that those that want to volunteer find their niches. Just don't think everything is going to be perfect, because nothing in life is that way.

arrete – time to feed the babies
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Re: The Dark Side of Volunteering
Old 04-25-2003, 06:35 AM   #2
Dryer sheet wannabe
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 15
Re: The Dark Side of Volunteering

I have served on boards and have been the president of one non profit. It is a lot of work but worth it. On the topic of spending money you will need time on a board to fully understand why certain monies are spent as they are. There is a huge difference between being a volunteer and being a board member. The understanding of this takes quite abit of time as does the true rold of a board.

I concuur that I have also seen board members involve themselves with too much detail in the way a group is run. The board needs to set direction,and work at a high level and insure the org. is producing.

Stay with it and be open to a new understanding of the way the group runs. The issues you deal with are quite diffrent than those of a volunteer even though you are still one!

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Re: The Dark Side of Volunteering
Old 04-30-2003, 05:57 PM   #3
Recycles dryer sheets
Join Date: Jun 2002
Posts: 212
Re: The Dark Side of Volunteering

I concuur that I have also seen board members involve themselves with too much detail in the way a group is run. The board needs to set direction,and work at a high level and insure the org. is producing.

Stay with it and be open to a new understanding of the way the group runs. The issues you deal with are quite diffrent than those of a volunteer even though you are still one!
Thanks for your comments. So far, being on the Board has been a trial for me. But I will perservere. I have a 2 year term, so maybe things will even out a bit.

I know that at each Board meeting I can only throw out so many controversial issues, so it seems pretty slow going to me. I think the main problem is that many on the Board don't hear what the regular members are saying. My concern is that the group as a whole will fail because of this blindness. In this particular area (wildlife rehabilitation) having the organization to belong to is a nice thing for the rehabiltators because they get classes and some supplies as well as a forum for networking. However, the rehabilitators don't have to have the organization - they can rehabilitate whether there is one or not. But the organization would disappear without the rehabilitators. And that is who the Board is ignoring.

I will do my best, but I dread every meeting.

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