I just got back from 4 days of volunteering to install windows in a new building. I had no idea of how to do this or how I was going to be able to be useful. The great news is that with a team of 6 volunteers and three professionals, we installed 25 windows in our time there. Yes, I feel great about it. I look forward to volunteering for this organization again.
One of the side benefits of this week is that I got to observe my own behavior and that of others as volunteers. It made me think about what it is that makes a good volunteer: someone who not only enjoys their own time, but also helps to make the event an enjoyable one for the other volunteers. After all, the goal is to have everyone wanting to come back another time to contribute.
Here are some of the things you can be aware of when you are ‘on the job’:
- There are lots of ‘cool’ jobs and lots of ‘dirty’ jobs. All of them have to be done. It is not fun if you are getting stuck with all of the dirty jobs. It is also not fair if you seem to have all of the fun jobs. A good volunteer is aware of sharing the load. If you see someone always getting the boring tasks, take a moment and offer to change places with them for a while. If you see someone with a job you would like to try, speak up! Ask them if there will be a time that you can try some of the fun work.
- Do a good job. Just because you are volunteering doesn’t mean that the work does not have to be done correctly. If you are not competent to do a task, ask for training, ask for assistance, or ask for another job. Sloppy work is not appreciated by anyone. Volunteers want to be proud of what they have accomplished.
- Chill out! There may be times when there doesn’t seem to be something for you to do. Take a break and rest. Going over to others and taking their job away from them, just because you are bored does not make volunteers feel competent and useful. After you have rested, ask the coordinator how you can help or look around and see what needs to be done.
- Show up on time and make sure someone else always knows where you are. “Disappearing volunteers” is not a good thing. It makes people worry about them. Are they OK? Are they coming back? Can we give their job to someone else? Simple communication solves all of these problems.
- Defer to the volunteer coordinator or project head. You may think that you know a better way to do things, but you do not know the whole picture. Suggestions are appropriate, but the final decision goes with the boss.
- When working in teams, make sure to communicate. Get everyone working in the same direction and don’t take bumps in the road personally. Keep it light and remember that the goal is to get the job done (not necessarily to be ‘right’).
A well run volunteer project is about getting the job done well and safely. It is also about having the volunteers feel useful and accomplished at the end of the day. Everybody wins this way and you have people ready to help with the next task, whenever that may be. Strive to be the volunteer that makes the project great, not the one that makes it miserable for the rest. As a volunteer, step up and carry some of the responsibility for creating a great experience for all.