What Not To Say To Volunteers

Master Thomas Paumer, current Meridies Parchment, and myself, a Former Meridies Parchment

Congratulations! You have just been entrusted with an office/official role related to the logistical workings of the SCA. Whether it is chatelaine, seneschal, signet, class coordinator, event steward, or any of the other sundry jobs or responsibilities, thanks! Good for you! 

But I want to warn you.

Someone is going to come up to you during your tenure, probably toward the beginning of it, and you’re going to have a conversation along these lines:

Them: “So you’re the new Person Who Does This Job?”
You: “That’s right!”
Them: “I’m sorry.”
You: “…”

I wish I knew what to tell you to say to people who do this, but I have no idea. Instead, I want to talk to the people who say this to people who volunteer to help make the SCA, you know, work.

HEY.

YEAH, YOU.

Guess what? Volunteering for an organization is hard enough to manage when one has employment, family, and non-SCA obligations to fulfill. But when your reaction to volunteering is to pity a person for taking on a task or role, or to belittle volunteering and volunteers, you’re NOT HELPING.

We are an organization that, without volunteers, would not exist. Stuff would not get accomplished. Events would not happen. Even local get-togethers would not happen.

So please, please, please, stop being condescending, or trying to find dark humor in volunteering. I realize that some of this might come from you having had a negative experience when you held a similar role or responsibility, and I get that. And if that’s the case, by all means, share the wisdom of your experience without belittling the choice someone has made to volunteer. But that’s another issue we have – Information Transfer. Offer to help make the experience better for the people who do the job after you. There is no reason why a new officer/person with a responsibility should feel like they have to reinvent the wheel.

Instead of giving a volunteer your “pity,” try saying “Thank you for taking on this difficult job. I did this job a while ago, so if you need any help or advice, feel free to reach out.”

Or maybe, “I appreciate your service to our local group/kingdom/society. Thanks.”

I would say “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” but NO. Sorry. That’s not going to fly. Because volunteers need support. I’m not talking about cookies from the Crown, I’m talking about grassroots, local support. These people are your friends. A simple thank you from all your friends gives someone the edification and endorphins that they need to be able to keep going.

When you say “I’m sorry” and yet still want to have events to go to, feasts to eat, pretty scrolls for awards, tourneys to fight in, classes to take, or any number of the other things that we do in the SCA, you’re just being entitled and, frankly, whiny.

You can either do the work or support the people doing the work. You can’t not do the work and also disparage the people who are doing it.

Oh, you want some references and stuff? Here. Here’s some documentation.

Managing Volunteers: A Good Practice Guide, by Citizens Information Board (2008) -PDF

Tipping the scale – Unconscious Barriers to Community Engagement, by Brett Powell at TEDxChemungRiver – YouTube

The Third-party Model: Enhancing Volunteering through Governments, Corporations and Educational Institutes, by Debbie Haski-Leventhal, Lucas C. P. M. Meijs, and Lesley Hustinx, (2009) – Journal article

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One thought on “What Not To Say To Volunteers”

  1. It’s also just a tad tacky to tell a volunteer they’re doing a bad job when you’re sitting on the sidelines on your fundament not offering to help with anything at ALL. Just sayin’. 😉 (Meistres Bronwen o Gydweli, Meridies)

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