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This DoubleTake advice column offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector .

I have lost the desire to help out my local nonprofits. How do I find a charity or organization that appreciates my hard work?

Dear Kathryn,

I’m so frustrated with volunteering! For the past three years, I have volunteered at several local charities and the result is always the same: disappointing.

Here are the five problems I have encountered:

  1. Lack of formal, relevant training that brings me up to speed as quickly as possible. I often spend my volunteer hours trying to find something to do or waiting for instructions that never materialize.  And my initial volunteer "training" was inadequate, to say the least.
  2. Poor communication: either too little or too much regarding upcoming volunteer needs or events. I’m either barraged with reminder emails and texts, or it’s "crickets."
  3. Constant requests for donations. I am donating my time, which is all I have as a student. In the future I would donate money, but not to any of these charities! And, again, I am slammed with emails from these nonprofits (and my in-box is already over-crowded), asking for contributions.  I just don't have the time, money or inclination to financially support these nonprofits.
  4. An overall sense that my time and and the care I am donating is not utilized in the best possible manner. I just feel appreciated for the skills and time that I can contribute!  The thanks are too few and the sense of accomplishment is nil. And I don’t want my name read out at a gala — just a simple acknowledgement that I am there and trying from the executive or volunteer director would be fine with me.
  5. No one seems to try to make me even a small part of the team. I care about the missions of these organizations, but I also volunteered to become part of my community. I’ve felt like an outsider at all these charities, and I’m friendly and easy to get along with.

When I hear that local nonprofits are seeking volunteers, I am no longer so eager to sign up. And I have friends who have had similar experiences. I wish you would pass this feedback on to nonprofits. They need to change their ways.

Kathryn says ...

All the nonprofits out there that work hard to train, support and recognize volunteers are cringing right now. This is one of their worst nightmares and most nonprofits diligently try to meaningfully include volunteers in their organizations and in the greater community.

The truth is that building and maintaining an excellent volunteer program is intentional, well planned, carefully (and dare I say, lovingly) executed. It takes time and commitment. It comes from a deep respect for what folks like you are giving and a clear understanding of what you deserve in return.

It’s not a question of size — I’ve seen the smallest of nonprofits excel at volunteer management and the largest fail and vice versa. It comes down to making that commitment to volunteers and making it happen.

I am so sorry that you have had such negative experiences. My advice?

Take a break and try again. You’ll find that great nonprofit who cares about and supports their volunteers. There are great volunteer opportunities out there. Do your research, look at the record of accomplishment of the organization and talk to others who have been part of the organization before making a final decision to be involved. That way, you will have a higher likelihood of not being disappointed.

You may be pleasantly surprised to encounter one of the most rewarding high points of your life in helping to achieve social good for a cause about which you care.



The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.




Co-founder and CEO of MissionBox, founder and president of MissionBox Philanthropic Fund, founder and past CEO of Community TechKnowledge


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