Since I can remember, I have always been a volunteer. I have given my time, money and expertise to a variety of associations and causes ranging from sporting groups through to cultural exchange and many things in between. Currently I sit on the board of three associations, two of them with big challenges. Therefore there is a lot of work needing to be done and it all needs to be fit around life (work, home, family, fun, health). Sometimes it can all get to be too much and then you are faced with quitting to ease the stress or forging ahead and seeing it through. This weekend I was very close to quitting, but I wrote this article instead.
Everybody is familiar with the phrase that is often associated with volunteers. “It is a thankless job”. I was reminded of it this weekend when an unsuspecting member sent me a message telling me he thought my work for the association was not going unnoticed. He must have had access to a particular perspective that prompted him to send his thoughtful message. A timely message that kept my head above water and let me to stay on-board to box on and do my best for another week.
At the moment this particular association is off kilter, and it has been so for several months. The active board committee (all four of us) have been working hard behind the scenes trying to get the foundations right. It has been like trying to renovate a boat while keeping it afloat, except every-time we nailed on a new panel, another one fell off. Progression has been slow and the members don’t see that side. They only see the exterior. Did they get their newsletter on the same day each week, was the information accurate, is the training offer challenging enough, will the race day have a club tent for the competitors and so on. They don’t see that it is four people, with other club administration agendas and requirements, volunteering their time in between ‘life’.
This is when it starts to get draining and at times (like this weekend) overwhelming. It seems at times that people criticise more for cheap or free things in life rather than full priced items. The membership to our association is $55 a year. We provide (when we can) a volunteer to set-up a tent on race days with food and drinks (to the value of $100) that are free of charge to members. We provide our members with free rental of items for their sport when travelling (potentially saving hundreds). We provide discounted end of season tickets to our awards night. All of this equals to more than $55 of service.
Which leads me to the point behind this article. A membership organisation with a skeleton board member structure can only survive if the members volunteer and participate in the running of the club. It cannot be left up to the board to be solely responsible for all functioning aspects of the club. If you are a member of a membership based organisation, your board is already putting their hours into club strategy and it is not their responsibility to run all aspects. It is not reasonable, it is not fair and it is not correct.
For some people, helping a club run really isn’t viable due to other commitments or helping is not of interest to them. Those people who enjoy the benefits only of other people’s free volunteered time, should not complain or criticise the service offer. If they aren’t happy with the service offer, they need to put their hand up and get involved. Most people volunteer to give back and do this for the greater good. If things aren’t going so well then it is a sign of help that is needed, not a sign of incompetent volunteers.
So please, for the benefit of all of board volunteers in membership organisations doing “thankless tasks” and working hard behind the scenes, recognise that a membership organisation requires the assistance of every member to make it work. You don’t need to have a board position, but you can certainly volunteer ad-hoc or you can volunteer for a specific task. Either way, get involved, it is every member’s responsibility.