Volunteer guilt, do we need to do something about it?

Kathryn Shepherdson header

I sit at my desk looking at my work calendar and suddenly realise that I’m travelling to a conference on the day I said I would lead my Girlguide Rainbow session. A wave of guilt runs over me that I’ve now got to cancel another meeting.

Now, why do I share this with you?

Because volunteer guilt is real, and if I’m honest, I don’t think we acknowledge this enough as a sector. For one, I have known Volunteer Managers who use it to keep volunteers and make their lives easier, partly due to lack of numbers, partly for keeping the doors open or pushes from above. All things which need to be addressed.

Now I know my leader will say that’s fine, we’ll move things around, and no one will know anything. I’m fortunate that we have enough leaders in our pack that it doesn’t affect the girls, BUT if it did, that guilt would have been so much more, and indeed this isn’t what I signed up for. No volunteer advert promotes that feel-good factor when your turn up and deep guilt when you don’t!

As a sector, we need to acknowledge and talk about how we deal with this elephant in the room, for it has always been in the room, but we just don’t want to say hello and work out how to remove it.

Here are my thoughts on removing the elephant;

  • For one, we need to make sure we have enough volunteers. This, I know, is easy to say, but there are things we can put into place, such as rotas or buddy systems, which allow people to know they are not the reason why something isn’t happening.
  • Stop gossiping with the volunteers. Volunteer Managers keep your stresses in the paid team or board. Once your stress gets into the volunteer, they feel responsible and there not!
  • Can we please accept that there is no pool of volunteers we will be able to tap into? This means when projects are dreamt up to support our crumbling statutory sector, that we can’t help hundreds of people in the first six months of your funding. Plus, we might actually need to close the door on your referrals because we can do that to our volunteers.

Finally, this one is for funders, boards and those at the top. If you want your volunteers to feel valued, talk well of your organisation/funder and stay a volunteer for life, then please can some more money get invested in Volunteer Managers… it’s not a volunteer role!

But…then you may disagree…..I would be interested to hear your thoughts on LinkedIn

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