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  • Writer's pictureGoose Troop

Does Anyone Remember Courtesy?

3 perspectives about courtesy and one solution.

Perspective 1:

I’ve noticed in the hiring process, that people who get called to participate in an interview, but don’t end up getting the job, are also not getting notified to hear that directly and explicitly but instead are left to keep checking their voice or email until enough time has passed that they know for certain they didn’t get the job. The same thing happens with volunteer roles.

I once applied for a job at an animal rescue for which I thought I’d be an excellent candidate. The animal rescue didn’t agree. They reposted the position and I didn’t even snag an interview. Ouch. So, I wrote to them, in case they didn't receive my resume or if they did, perhaps I could persuade them to have another look at my application, and if they still didn’t think I was a suitable candidate, I even offered to volunteer as a consultant or in any other capacity for them. I never did hear from them. Double ouch. Here I was, rejected, ego bruised, and I still offered my services for free because I believed so much in their work and they didn’t even have the courtesy to write back.

Their reply could have looked something like this:

Thank you for your interest in our organization, we are moving forward with another candidate for this paid position, but we are grateful for your offer to volunteer. Our Volunteer Coordinator will be in touch to further discuss how you may best fit into our organization.

That literally took 35 seconds to write. Was my offer to volunteer my time, expertise and enthusiasm not worth 35 seconds of their time? There are many animal rescues and non-profits vying for the time, and attention of volunteers and donors, and I can guarantee I am not interested in contributing to this one in particular – not because I didn’t get the interview (I’m not so arrogant to think that I was the only person suited for the role and fully believe there was someone better than me) – but because they couldn’t be bothered to reply to my offer to volunteer.

Perspective 2:

Alternatively, volunteers can be equally frustrating in this area. I can’t recall how many times I was waiting for a volunteer to arrive for their interview, only for them to be a no-show, because it’s happened so many times. We’d gone back and forth trying to find the right time for the interview but finally settled on a date and time. I’d keep that hour clear in my schedule, gather the interview sheet, the orientation materials, the necessary documents to sign in case things went so well, we’d get the process started right away. I’d book the meeting (either reserving the meeting room in person or send the link to the online meeting) then I’d wait. And wait. Maybe they’re just running late, I’d think. Maybe they’re detained through no fault of their own. Hope they're okay – they sounded so interested in previous communications. More likely, they changed their mind. This happens and this is okay. What’s not okay is not letting anyone know.

Also common is a volunteer not showing up for orientation or their first shift. Maybe they’re just running late, I’d think. Maybe they’re detained through no fault of their own. Hope they're okay – they sounded so interested in the interview. More likely, they changed their mind. Sometimes this happens and although disappointing, this is okay. What’s not okay is not letting anyone know.

Either situation, their email or text could have looked something like this:

Thank you for agreeing to talk further about volunteering with your organization. Unfortunately, I find that I am no longer able to volunteer but I wish you all the best in the important work that you do. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.

That took me 20 seconds and that included fixing a typo! There’s no need for a long apology or explanation – just a heads up that the volunteer can’t volunteer at this time so that I (and others) don’t have to sit here waiting and can make other arrangements if needed.

Perspective 3:

Having experience as both a lifelong volunteer and a career in volunteer engagement and human resources, I know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of both and I am ashamed to admit, I've also been the perpetrator.

I have been that volunteer coordinator who didn’t return a first phone call or email. It was never intentional, but the truth is that the phone message got jotted down and lost on the list of to-do’s or the email quickly worked it’s way down and out of sight in the Inbox, even if it was starred. Then by the time I got to finding the message again, I was horrified that so much time had passed - but I’d still confess and admit to my error and apologize for it. I almost never heard back from those potential volunteers – and rightly so in these cases. There were a couple of times early in my career, when so much time had passed, I made the decision just to leave it. How awful and how cowardly.

My reply should have looked something like this:

I was looking through my Inbox and saw the email you sent me a couple of months ago that got lost in my messages. I am embarrassed that I missed this and did not respond to your interest in volunteering with us. Please forgive my error and know that we value our volunteers and would welcome the opportunity to talk with you if you are still interested in getting involved with us. If you have found a volunteer opportunity elsewhere, I hope you are finding it a fulfilling experience.

Again, I am so sorry for not responding to you at the appropriate time and thank you for your interest in this organization.

This took a couple of minutes to write (and admittedly could be crafted a bit better) but still – worth every minute of time spent.

A Simple Solution:

I think we humans will naturally do what’s easiest – not always what’s right. Most of us don’t look for confrontation. Most of us feel embarrassed when we screw up and fear being scolded. It can be hard to have a difficult conversation that basically says, “I’m not interested in what you have to offer”, because we know how crappy that feels and don’t want to make someone else feel bad or have someone get angry with us.

But here’s the key – we must face this discomfort, plain and simple. We have to be genuine and be able to say or write these kinds of messages:

We went with another candidate.

We’ll have someone get in touch with you.

I’m sorry, I’ve changed my mind.

Please forgive me, I made a mistake.

I am truly sorry for the inconvenience.


In doing so, we actually feel better about ourselves, get to practice these difficult things to say so that we get better at them and can authentically own them, and in turn help the other person to feel better and/or find closure.

I’d rather know that I didn’t get a paid or volunteer position than to wonder if the organization is simply behind in the process. I’d rather have someone send me an email saying they’re not coming to a meeting than to have my precious time wasted, and I’d rather have someone know how sorry I am for accidentally ignoring them than to have them think they were ignored on purpose because what they have to offer wasn’t good enough.

As a psychologist colleague of mine said, “we have to get comfortable with discomfort” in order to grow and learn.

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