The Volunteer Cry: “I Don’t Get No Respect”

Rodney Dangerfield was famous for saying “I don’t get no respect.”  He wasn’t talking about volunteers….but he could’ve been.

If I could tell tell organizations that seek volunteers in any capacity one thing, it would be:  “Respect volunteers and let them know you value their efforts.” Help them assimilate to whatever workforce they enter and enable them to perform more efficiently.

Most who volunteer sincerely want to help (they don’t want to become a hindrance), but often what happens is: They just give up because it’s too hard.

Case in point:  Years ago I wrote columns for a local church (for free) and I loved doing it. I got to track families and individuals, find out the interesting things they were doing, and shine a spotlight on them, crediting them for their work (sort of what I try to do with Biddy.)

Even more astounding, I was getting top placement for those columns (my stories appeared on the Editorial pages–a major coup for anyone.) Naturally, I needed to check in with the church Pastor to make sure my information was correct before I submitted it.

Since I worked as a realtor in the heyday of sales, I usually just stopped by, to catch him on the fly, to doublecheck a “fact.” But he treated me as if I were an annoyance, interrupting his day. He put my spontaneous practice of stopping in to a screeching halt, insisting, instead, I make an appointment to see him.

So I did.

When the day/time came, I arrived and stood in the hall, outside his office.  Since his door was open, I overheard him chatting amicably with one of the church powerhouses, a man whom I knew and respected. I waited patiently…5…10…15 minutes.

By 20 minutes, I poked my head in and asked, “Excuse me, Father, but do we have an appointment?” It was like I did the unthinkable. He stopped and glared at me. The important parishioner acknowledged me with a nod, smiled,  and said he “was just going.”

The priest then lambasted me for interrupting, while I said:  “It didn’t appear there was anything serious going on (as in ‘funeral, debt crisis, etc.’) and I had an appointment.” That’s when he really lit into me:  “You have no idea WHAT we were talking about (yes, he was shouting.”) All the while, he  wagged his index finger, repeatedly, in my face, as if I were a two-year-old being scolded by a parent.

It was then I countered with:  “Stop pointing your finger in my face.  It appears you don’t really value what I’m doing here (in writing the church news), so I think it best I not continue.”

He said, “Fine….no one reads that rag (of a newspaper) anyway.” I left, hearing his bruising assessment of what I did ringing in my ears.

What this man failed to realize is that everyone reads the hometown newspaper…in fact, I’ll argue that more people read that over other newspapers. Why?  Families, love following the activities concerning their town… their kids… the schools… the sports programs.  But this Pastor didn’t know that.

Then again, I was performing a free service.  As such, I believe he devalued me and what I did.

But the entire episode got me to thinking:  “Why are volunteers treated so poorly?” (in the grand scheme of things.)  Is it because we draw no salary and therefore have no monetary (ascertainable) value?

Maybe, collectively, we can change that.  In an economy of limited resources and vast pools of talent (the recently retired with extraordinary skills), wouldn’t it make sense for volunteer agencies to determine how to go about getting… and keeping… volunteer help?

Maybe workshops could be given (by volunteer agencies) to train potential businesses and agencies to awaken their sensibilities to assimilate volunteers efficiently.  It’s worth a shot.

Please help in this discussion…we need your input. The question:  “Have you been devalued as a volunteer?” or conversely and delightfully, “Have you had a great experience?” (name the good business so that we might reference it  as a model of one who ‘does it right’)?  Tell us, too, how you think the volunteer experience could be improved.

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About admin

A lifetime teacher and realtor who's now a published writer, Colleen Kelly Mellor is a humorist first, ever aware of the thread that connects us all. Her works have appeared in the WSJ, Providence Journal, and CNN and NY Times-acclaimed medical blog,, to name a few. All material on this blog is exclusive property of the author and cannot be reproduced without this author's express written consent.
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