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Paul Burri: Being Chairman of a Committee of a Volunteer Organization

Expect to do most of the work, and don't wait for others to step up to help

At one time while I was a voluntary member of a local organization, I made a huge mistake. I offered a good suggestion.

It was a huge mistake because as the one who had offered the suggestion, I was immediately selected to be the chairman of the committee to implement the idea. After all, how could I refuse? By saying I thought it was a lousy idea?

So what’s wrong with being the chairman in an organization whose members are all volunteers? The problem is that nobody volunteers.

Wait a minute, you just said they were all volunteers. Yes, but all the volunteers did was to volunteer to join the organization; they didn’t volunteer to do any work within it.

So when you accept the chairmanship of an all-volunteer organization, expect to do 90 percent of the work, because that’s just the way it’s going to be. But if you thought your idea was worthwhile enough to have suggested it, you should be willing to do whatever it takes to implement it. So don’t complain about the 90 percent situation; just shut up, grit your teeth and get on with it.

And if you become disappointed and disillusioned over the fact that no one volunteers, change your tactics. Remember that a good percentage of your fellow volunteers are probably veterans of the military in which they learned never to volunteer. Do not ask for volunteers. Rather, do it the Army way and say, “I need three volunteers — Frank, Fred and Lewis. Frank, you will do contacting. Fred, you will be responsible for the marketing. Lewis, you have the job of coordinating.” Then be ready to do those jobs yourself if Frank, Fred and Lewis let you down — as they may.

But in any case, you don’t have the luxury of failing to get the job done because of the whiny excuse that nobody volunteered.

Lastly, get your satisfaction from the fact that you came up with the idea, you did everything possible to implement it and, hopefully, if it was a success, you may get some slight recognition. But don’t count on that last part too much. The satisfaction will be in a job well done — sadly, an obsolete concept.

And one more comment. Do not, under any circumstances, offer any kind of a reward to volunteers for good work done. There could be several reasons why people join any sort of voluntary organization. The primary one — in my opinion — is because the volunteer truly wants to donate his or her skills, experience, time and/or money to forward the goals of the organization. Of course, there could be other, less praiseworthy motives. Perhaps some people join an organization to be associated with the “right people” or to simply schmooze with like-minded people.

To my way of thinking, those are shallow and self-serving reasons, and I will continue to assume that if someone voluntarily joins an organization — especially a charitable one — their reward should be the satisfaction they get from the work that they volunteered to do. Nothing more.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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