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Bad Volunteer Experiences Part 1


Who among us has had a bad volunteer experience?


For those of us who have a fair bit of volunteer experience, it’s almost certain that we’ve had a bad time while volunteering. Usually, we feel upset about it, or maybe we feel angry about it. We certainly need to tell other people about it. There’s a marketing stat that says that when people have a positive customer experience, they’ll tell 5 people. When they have a negative experience as a customer, they’ll tell 20 people! Clearly, we need to process our feelings by talking about them to move on from the injustice and possibly to warn others not to interact with that particular business.


So, what do you do if you’ve volunteered for a non-profit organization and feel that you’ve been neglected, treated poorly, or felt your time was wasted? I’m betting most of us will tell some people (maybe 20 or more) and then probably never volunteer at that organization again. It’s possible that some people will never volunteer again with any organization – which is a shame.


Some reasons/situations for which you may want to provide your feedback:


You didn’t end up doing the job you agreed to do. Obviously, it’s important to be flexible (if you’re able) especially at an event where there is much to do and things can change quickly. However, if you were accepted as someone who was scheduled to greet guests or sell tickets because of your outgoing personality and interpersonal skills, but find yourself in the parking lot sitting by yourself on a lawn chair, directing traffic, this is not okay (unless you happily agreed to do so)


You were ignored. Perhaps you were stationed at a spot at an event or given your task for the shift and no one ever came to check on you or see if you need anything, or even just to say “hi”. You should expect that you will get a break to use the restroom, or maybe stretch your legs. Someone should make sure you have everything you need to complete your tasks and make sure you’re all set.


You weren’t included. This is not the same as being ignored. Maybe everyone was friendly and sad “hi” but in the staffroom, they all nibbled on snacks that you weren’t invited to sample and you were never asked to be part of the conversation. It may have been clear to you that volunteers are not part of the team and that’s just rude. No one should be ignored- especially a volunteer who is generously giving their time.


You didn’t receive adequate training. If you got a quick rundown of your tasks, or were expected to hear and digest a bunch of verbal instructions, then got left to flounder on your own (or with a team of volunteers in the same situation) that is not just making the role unnecessarily stressful but, in some situations, could be downright dangerous! You should have time to learn, ask questions and review at a training session – even if it’s on-the-job training.


You didn’t have anyone to report to. This is more common in events but sometimes charities can be disorganized even for ongoing roles. Or sometimes a volunteer coordinator will recruit help for a department that doesn’t feel they need the help, leaving the volunteer unsure of their role and who to talk to about their tasks. At an event, often the organizer is super busy during the event but you should not have to run around looking for someone in charge to tell you what to do.


You felt underprepared. Perhaps it wasn’t made clear to you that you would be outside for your shift and you didn’t dress appropriately, or you weren’t told to pack a lunch because food would not be provided. These are no unreasonable situations but it’s important that you know this well before your shift.


You’ve had a disagreement or conflict with another person (staff, other volunteer or member). This is more involved because it is now a personal conflict but it’s important that your volunteer experience be peaceful and that you (and whomever you’ve had the conflict with) feels supported by a process to resolve the situation.


Perhaps you experienced a serious situation such as having your safety compromised, or you experienced racism, harassment, or abuse. These are traumatizing events and are illegal and should be reported immediately.


How do you offer feedback? Stay tuned for part 2 of this blog – coming soon!

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