12 November, 2015

Working with Volunteers

Me working with two other volunteers at
CAJ's Thrift Shop (we were the checkout for the toy section).
This is a tricky thing to do, especially if you are used to working in a paid workforce.

I have not had to submit a time sheet for more than 16 years. I am "paid" but not in respect to the hours I do. In many ways as a missionary I operate as a volunteer. (Here a link to my blog post that explains our income a little by answering my son's question: "Are you paid to do that?"). But in other ways I'm a professional cross-cultural worker. It's complicated. 

However I certainly have experience in supervising volunteers. My job of magazine editor involves working with volunteers. 

None of the people I work with (magazine "staff" or writers) are paid for the work they do for the magazine. This means there is a limit on how much I can ask them to do and how much I can order them around. I rely on their goodwill and conscientiousness. My touch has to be firm but gentle and sensitive. It's something that I've had to learn, something I'm still learning because every person is different. 

Early on I was too sharp and probably too demanding (I still probably am sometimes). Thankfully then I wasn't supervising a team as large as I am today. Today the magazine has more than a dozen people working on it and each issue has 20 or more writers. Most of my interaction with them is via email. 

I've had to learn how to be clear and direct in my emails, while not too blunt. That's particularly hard when I've got a writer whose writing is not so great. Hardest is when I've had to reject an article, thankfully we don't have an overabundance of submissions, so that hasn't been a common problem.

Also, it's been important to be aware that many people are dealing with lots of email, so I try to keep my communications to a minimum.

Thrift Shop at the school a few of weeks ago is almost solely run by volunteers (but we do pay a limited number of students to do heavy lifting). I don't know the exact number, but I guess it would be more than a hundred, maybe even up to two hundred volunteers? Plus the hundreds who donate goods. That's a lot of people. Many of them have volunteered at Thrift Shop for many years. It is done pretty much the same way every time, so there is a lot of tradition involved for those who've been involved for many years.

Every year, though, there are new people volunteering (including students who are "volunteered" by their teachers during class-time). That means teaching people what the rules are, again and again. That's where my job came in, SIGNS. We have a lot of signs with a lot of the guidelines . . . and we hope people read them!

Every year the people who know what to do are frustrated by the people who don't, who don't understand (because their English isn't good enough), or who can't be bothered. Unfortunately the whole thing happens so quickly that there is little time for training. It is a case of get on with the job as best you can and amazingly it comes together year after year. It is a great example of many vastly different people and nationalities working together for a common goal.

Working with volunteers can be frustrating, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. As I look at the magazine, it amazes me that so many people volunteer their time to do this with little reward. Neither it nor the school's garage sale would be possible without volunteers, but both are so valuable.

I'm glad to have the privilege of contributing to both. 

What experiences do you have with volunteering, especially supervising volunteers?

1 comment:

-J said...

Just read this article today that takes a different angle, looking at the importance of volunteerism to society: http://www.aei.org/publication/crucial-importance-stay-home-wives/