Volunteers make the world go round. Whether you work with your kids’ school, your church, the local Boy Scout Troop, the animal shelter, or even with an international organization like [email protected], your time and efforts makes all of the things possible.
Buuuuuuuutttttttt . . .
We all know—especially those of us who have been chairpersons—that not all volunteers are cut from the same cloth. There are the fakes, flakes, and troublemakers who make volunteering as painful as a Brazilian bikini wax administered on a fire ant hill. Volunteers need to work as a hive and if too many bees go rogue, the honey is just not getting made.
Don’t worry, we’re going to stop with the insect analogies there. Shifting gears, to completely illustrate our commandments for proper volunteer etiquette, we have created this entirely FICTIONAL school event—The Annual Penguin Craft Party. Once again, this event is entirely made-up, but if something strikes a chord, perhaps it is time for a little reflection. We’re going to be honest, failure to follow these simple rules will rightfully earn you the title “Monarch of the PITAs“.
Without further ado, we bring this meeting for The Annual Penguin Craft Party to order.
1.Respect the planning period! If while setting up for an event that has been planned for months, you try to push in another direction because of the idea that just popped into your head . . . DON’T!
Count to ten. Think of something completely relaxing and indulgent . . . you, know, like sitting down after the penguin party is over. DO NOT utter your brilliant thought NOW. That ship has sailed. Here’s a little example to illustrate our point. Say, you are in the gym hanging streamers for the Annual Penguin Craft Party. Now is not the time to rally support for the idea that this shindig could be so much MORE if it just had an actual dogsled race and the kids worked together to carve a true-to-scale igloo.
2. But don’t be an idea killer DURING the planning period! Nothing breaks hearts and quashes spirits more than the simple phrase:
“But we’ve always done it this way.”
DO NOT let these words leave your lips during a PLANNING meeting. This is the time to let the creative juices fly! It really might be fun for the kids to toss live mackerel into the penguin’s mouth! Builds hand-eye coordination and deadens olfactory sensitivity! Give every dreamer her (brief) moment. Every golden idea was a dusty little nugget at some point.
3. Execute your own ideas! If you throw an idea out there, be ready to catch it, and run with that ball. DO NOT expect your vision to magically happen. If your brilliant idea is going to take 50 million woman hours to pull off, you should think about putting in a lot of those hours yourself, not just patting yourself on the back for how creative you are. Start Googling how to make that igloo! Look up dry ice dealers! Be ready to drag that dogsled yourself.
4. Just worry about yourself! Everybody is a volunteer. Nobody is getting paid, and everyone has someplace else to be. You’re hanging with the heroes. If you spend more time complaining about all the people who never volunteer than you do making those papier mâché penguins, you are bringing us all unpleasantly down. Stop griping! Get pasting!
5. Follow the 10 second rule! If you have called your event chair four times in the past hour, take a deep breath and put your cellphone down. Perhaps you can solve this problem yourself!
We believe in you!
Think for 10 seconds! Remember you are competent and bright. Acknowledge that your chairperson, though in charge, is still just a volunteer. Envision your sweet little cherub’s face and remember why you’re volunteering in the first place. Use the time you just saved NOT making that phone call to cut out some more penguin bills.
6. Keep any urge to cat fight to yourself! If you start a spat worthy of a middle school cafeteria (even if you ARE standing in a middle school cafeteria) in the midst of the snow cone booth, you are a PITA. Period. It is NOT proper etiquette to squirt blueberry syrup down your fellow comrade’s shirt no matter how many eye rolls she gave you or how satisfying it may feel.
7. In fact, bring a great attitude. Chances are that inspirational posters promoting just this very thing are lining the school halls. If it applies to the kids, it applies to the adults. You don’t have to whistle while you work, but don’t swear, moan, or gossip. The penguins don’t like that. Makes ‘em cranky.
8. Do what you say you are going to do! There is no credit for great intentions. We’ve heard there’s a pathway to hell paved with these. The only thing that matters is results. Nobody cares if your uncle is the Chief Penguin Wrangler at the local zoo unless you get him there. If you volunteer him to show up and talk to the kids, he better be there with some of his feathered friends even if you have to drive him to the event yourself. In a dogsled. It’s all about the follow through.
9. Clean up after yourself. We all have kids. That’s what got us into this mess. When our kids leave a path of destruction in their wake, we feel like kicking a kitten. When you do it, we just feel like kicking you. You’re not royalty. Don’t act like it.
Nothing tarnishes your “Volunteer of the Year” crown awarded for cutting out 200 snowflakes like leaving your confetti scraps on the floor for someone else to sweep up.
10. Keep it up. Don’t be a One Note Nelly. Consider doing a little something to make EVERY event a success. Every time you put down that glue gun, another volunteer has to pick it up with the third set of hands she doesn’t have.
But, seriously, every hour you donate makes your kids’ schools, churches, youth groups, teams, and world better. Thank you and keep up the good work!
-Ellen and Erin
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Check out our books, “I Just Want to Be Alone” and “You Have Lipstick on Your Teeth.”