When volunterring, I have learned through previous experience, it is important to have very strong boundaries, rules, and limitations. It is important to know what you are willing to do and not willing to do, and beliefs and actions you are willing to see in a non-profit. I have gone through very difficult and stressful extended situations with several non-profits myself and I wanted to write about them here, to process some more about them.
Yes, you are giving your labor away for free, but that does not mean that you should not value it and that others should devalue it. Your hourly labor has a value, a price tag, and a significance.
It is unfortunate, because I should think that non-profits and other places should value what they are getting for free and should value those who choose to volunteer with them. And that means for me that I must decide in advance what kind of treatment I am willing to tolerate, what kind of treatment towards others I am willing to tolerate, especially towards those they purport to serve, and the kind of entrenched beliefs and actions that I see and notice.
Your labor has value. Your time has value. Your service has value. If someone mistreats you, you are not required to address it, you can just leave. It is not your job to change an entrenched bias in a company, especially if it is a non-profit. You are there to give. If your gift is not valued, you have every right to leave. None of it is your fault. If people act in unethical and unprofessional ways it is not your fault.
For a short period of time I volunteered at a local non-profit that worked politically for the Minnesota homeless. I was first introduced to the group through a Bruce Springsteen concert. It has been Bruce’s practice in his concerts to partner with a local non-profit, by asking them to have a table at his concert where they can hand out information and solicit donations and volunteers. During the concerts he talks about the non-profit and encourages his fans to check out their booth and to consider volunteering. I remembered the name and some time later called them and offered to volunteer. I did over 50 hours in volunteer time there.
The last time that I had committed to volunteer went very bad. I was encouraged to be there early one morning, even though I wanted to be there that afternoon, and had said so several times by phone. After changing my life around I got there only to be treated like I was underfoot all morning, until I offered to leave, which they jumped at. They had an appointment that afternoon that they were preparing for, and it was obvious that they were not ready and that they considered me in the way.
It was a small non-profit and there was only three employees, the director, the assistant director, and the office manager. I had been told that they had trouble keeping staff, yeah they had trouble keeping one staff person, which should have been a big warning sign to me.
The office manager was relatively new, and as the only other woman in the office with me there were a few times that we engaged in some light chatting, to get to know one another better. We both found that we had a mutual love of movies, older movies, and collecting movies. It made us both smile. We were just getting ready to compare favorites when the director yelled out at us: Freaks! We both stopped talking. Then I offered to leave early.
I called the next day to talk to the director. I reminded him of his employee’s and mine conversation and his shouting the word freaks at us. I told him that was inappropriate to treat someone like that in the workplace, no matter who they are or what they are saying. I told him that I wanted an apology from him. He refused to apologize and told me a lengthy explanation why not. I disagreed with him and told him why, twice, he still refused. He seemed to like to think of it as light-hearted ribbing, but how do you do that to a volunteer and a new employee of yours that you barely know? I don’t know, but I know that I was unwilling to be someone he felt comfortable emotionally and verbally abusing.
It was not light hearted banter, as he seemed to want to portray it and it was demeaning and unfeeling to treat a volunteer and a new employee in that manner. Name calling is one of the things that I do not tolerate in my life, it was chock full in my childhood and I refuse to let someone subject me to that in my present.
I decided to ask my bro what he thought of the incident. He told me, there are like a million non-profits out there, if one refuses to treat you well and with respect, go find another. He was right. So I did.