During this summer’s torrential downpours, heat, and humidity, I have experienced both the privilege and the pain from working with several hundred volunteers. I have been privileged to work with some amazing, motivated people who truly wanted to and did make a difference to local charities and their clients. Conversely, I have suffered from some unprepared and late people who have toed the line of doing more harm than good.
Savvy charities are aware of these potential outcomes. Fortunately many have been pleasantly surprised when they’ve hosted typical PMD projects with 100% attendance and less than 10% tardiness (thanks to our cancellation policy of calling at least one day before a project and our stressing taking personal responsibility for arriving on-time or early if one is unfamiliar with an area).
Preparedness and punctual participation are major factors. Volunteers who dress and otherwise prepare as recommended for safely performing planned tasks (e.g., painting, assisting with kids’ crafts, improving trails) arrive ready to work, as are those who show up reliably on-time. There is nothing more frustrating than those who disregard specific directions and dress such that they would risk their personally safety or who do not want to ruin their couture by volunteering.
Every volunteer counts. Volunteer projects are in trouble when even 10% of expected participants do not show up on-time. Though this may arise due to frustrating, slow public transit or the recent Big Dig tunnel closures and resulting traffic, it almost automatically means that the group will be unable to accomplish everything the charity needs in the designated time. This can have a significant impact, such as when clients we strive to serve do not have the ability to wait out delays.
Luckily there are a small handful of extremely dedicated volunteers who will work harder as well as stay later than planned to compensate for any staffing shortages. I also try to recruit 10% more volunteers, to create “back up” lists of potential participants, and to allocate extra time to accomplish tasks. The challenges are that sometimes there are not enough participants and that accomplishing new tasks for new recipient charities may take longer than expected regardless of prior experience and advance planning.
Since you can prepare as directed and control whether you’re on-time by planning your exact route in advance and by departing with ample time to arrive, do these essential things when you volunteer. And I’ll do my best to help the recipient charities be fully prepared for your on-time arrival.