Lessons from a disgruntled volunteer
A friend of mine, whom I will refer to as Harry, is a freelance graphic designer who has worked for companies such as: Tesco, B&Q, Currys, Marks & Spencer and Charity Checkout. Last year, Harry volunteered to rebrand a local homelessness charity. The charity was suffering from funding cuts and was eager to make up the lost income by shifting their focus towards an appeal for donations, from the public as well as private companies. While this local charity successfully secured the support of an experienced and talented designer, they made three common mistakes that eventually lost them Harry’s ongoing support. There are three lessons that can be learned from these mistakes.
Lesson 1: Too many cooks spoil the broth
One of the most common complaints I have heard from volunteering professionals is that many charities take too long to make decisions and involve too many people. This specifically applies to charities that lack strong leadership and as a result adopt an unhealthy degree of group decision-making.
In Harry’s case his initial meeting with the charity was absorbed into a larger meeting, in which 26 individuals were present. It was agreed, after this extraordinarily unproductive day, that only three of these individuals were actually required at the forthcoming meetings to discuss the design aspects of the rebranding. Nevertheless, despite this sensible step, the team persisted in seeking the opinions of the rest of the staff after the meetings, making the whole process rather challenging for Harry as agreed aspects of the design would be changed in between meetings.
Lesson 2: There is no such thing as ‘free time’
It is unusual these days to find a professional who has ‘free time’; personally I do not believe that such a thing even exists. I only have time for work and leisure, and both are equally valuable to me. In many cases successful professionals will value their leisure time most highly, yet it is usually this that they are offering up in order to volunteer. If they’re with charities during usual working hours, they may well be catching up on their own paid work after the charity’s staff all go home. It’s important to remember this when someone offers their services for free; if you want to keep them, you need to value their time as if you were paying at least market rates for it.
In Harry’s case, when he arrived on the first day he was asked to wait outside the meeting room until they had reached the topic of the rebranding, which was near the end of their agenda. Harry was asked to wait for two hours, which clearly demonstrated a lack of respect for an individual who was volunteering his time.
Lesson 3: Your charitable cause is not good enough
This may seem harsh, but the truth is there are thousands of great charitable causes out there. Whilst the good cause you represent may be enough to secure the support and aid of volunteers, it will not be enough to keep them long-term. For that, you will need to be a pleasure to work with.
In Harry’s case he described his experience as, “being reduced to a Mac Monkey”, sitting at his Apple Mac computer and executing commands based on the consensus of more than 20 staff members. He was eventually persuaded to produce 38 different colour scheme variations for the logo, which the staff collectively chose between. In an ordinary scenario he would offer a maximum of two or three variations, as the design aspect of the job would be left in his experienced hands. In most cases, his clients would trust him to do the job they had hired him to do. The lack of trust and additional demands that were requested of him made his experience of working with the charity rather unpleasant.