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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 9:06 am | Fair 41º


Paul Burri: When Not to Volunteer or Make Suggestions

There is truth to the adage that no good deed goes unpunished

I’m reminded about how we did things in the Army — hugely different from a civilian volunteer organization. Our sergeant would stand before a formation of men and say, “I need three volunteers. You, you and you.” They also used to say, “I can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do, but I can make you damn sorry you didn’t.”

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

Yes, they could. There were always onerous duties to be assigned, such as guard duty patrolling a motor pool at 3 a.m., KP washing hundreds of steel mess trays and digging “practice” fox holes in 110-degree weather, just to name a few.

Here’s some advice based on personal experience and that’s not intended to show bitterness or rancor. Rather, it’s another lesson to be learned from experience. If you’re ever a member of a volunteer organization of any kind, and you have any kind of a bright idea, do not — I repeat, do not — offer it as a suggestion. The reason is, if your idea is deemed to have merit, a committee will immediately be formed to implement it. And guess who will be named the chairman?

Being the chairman of a committee within a volunteer organization — especially one made up of a bunch of experts, and especially retired experts, and especially retired experts who were the CEOs of their companies — is harder than herding cats. Why? For one, each of the expert committee members will have strongly held opinions about the goals of the committee and how it should be run. Second, if you were to find yourself in the position of having to demand performance from a laggard volunteer member, what could you threaten them with? Firing? Withhold their pay?

Aside from whatever problems can and will arise within the committee, there will inevitably be suggestions from other organization members who didn’t volunteer to be on your committee but who will have any number of suggestions about what or how to do something — almost always too late to act on them. Not to mention criticisms of something the committee did or did not do — always after the fact and without that person ever having been involved with the committee’s meetings or decisions.

You will find organization members who will send a note saying something like, “I will help you in any way that I can.” It sounds great until you translate it. Translation: “I will help you in any way I can, except when I am out of town, on vacation, have a golf date, have something else I’d rather do, there is something my wife wants me to do or if I don’t forget that you asked me to do something.”

I hope my readers don’t take all this too seriously. I strongly believe in volunteering and using one’s experience to “pay back” their community. It can be the most rewarding activity in life.

— 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. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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