An open letter to every volunteer on behalf of every organization which relies on them.


by  Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. In this punk economy, the nation’s 1,000,000
charities, non-profit organizations and eleemosynary institutions are hard
pressed to do all that must be done for the good of so many. To achieve
their admirable goals, they need volunteers… and lots of them. But volunteers
who don’t know how to be good volunteers are, in fact, a drag upon an
organization’s limited resources. Thus this article from an old hand in the
volunteer business. Whether you are a recruiter of volunteers or a public-
spirited person looking for suitable volunteer options, this article is for you!

For the music to accompany this article, I have selected perhaps the greatest
recruiting song ever, “Indian Love Call.” It was first published as “The Call” but
became instantly popular in the 1924 operetta-style Broadway musical with
music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stohart, with book and lyrics by Otto Harbach
and Oscar Hammerstein. They made it good…. Nelson Eddy and Jeanette
Macdonald in the 1936 film “Rose Marie” made it great. If there is a drop of
blood in your body and a heart that still functions, you cannot help but respond
to its soaring lyrics:

“When I’m calling you will you answer too?
That means I offer my love to you
to be your own.”

Go now to any search engine. Find this celebrated song. Put a box of
tissues where you can easily get access. Turn it on… and be prepared to call
your favorite charity when finished. You are about to give of yourself for the good
of others. “You’ll belong to me. I’ll belong to you.” With this article in hand, you
will soon be the best volunteer this organization has ever seen.

It’s a Job.

The first thing you must realize about any volunteer position is that it is not just
like a job; it IS a job… and must be treated accordingly. Sadly, too many volunteers
think that because there is no paycheck that they have the right to be frivolous and
cavalier about the business at hand. Nothing could be more wrong. This seriousness
starts even before you are engaged as a volunteer.

What you need to know, and what either the executive director or designee must
tell you, is exactly what your duties and responsibilities will be. In other words there
must be a clear understanding of what the organization expects from you and your
ability to live up to these expectations. Naturally, both parties should expect to put
all this in writing, so that both parties are clear… and so that they remain clear throughout
the volunteer’s involvement. Here are just some of the things the volunteer must be
told and the organization must be clear in informing:

* clothes. What you’ll be doing will guide your selection.

* name and contact information for person responsible for assisting the

* available training materials and where to find them.

* exact duties and when, where and how they must be done.

* how to report progress and/or where and how task-related queries should be

Note: new volunteers are in need of constant hand-holding and TLC. Expect to
provide it.

Introduce the players.

New volunteers must be assigned a mentor, someone who will show them the
ropes, a person like the Artful Dodger in Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” . His
song in the 1968 film perfectly sums up the relationship between mentor and mentee.
“Consider yourself at home. Consider yourself one of the family. We’ve taken to you
so strong. It’s clear we’re going to get along… Consider yourself one of us”. Exactly.

Mentors must be friendly, knowledgeable, accessible, “good people” willing to extend
a helpful hand and (above all) gifted with a sense of humor and an ability to live by
the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “to do the best you can, with what you’ve got, where
you are.” In short paragons of astonishing virtues and skills.

Is there more to learn? Of course there is… there always is, if you want to be one of the
best volunteers ever.

* Stay informed about the organization by promptly reading all organization emails, ezines,
etc. Do not allow yourself the luxury of falling behind.

* Action everything requested in a timely fashion. Do not make your mentor or other
organizational contacts chase you for the information they need to do their jobs.

* Ask for and listen carefully to constructive criticism. Properly handled and considered
it becomes a fuel for improvement and advancement.

* Be proactive. If you see a problem, bring it to the attention of your mentor. This is the
way to show your mentor that you are “with it,” loyal, thoughtful, a self-starter… in short
just the kind of person this organization needs and must have.

Still more tips.

* NEVER criticize what you see. Ask why it is that way. Never come across as a
pompous know-it-all.

* If you cannot keep a scheduled job assignment, let your contact know as early as
possible. Remember, something you cannot do must be done by someone else.

* Always be prompt and keep your excuses to the barest minimum.

* Solve all pc and other electronic device problems as fast as possible. Don’t burden
your contact with a boring “blow-by-blow” description. Don’t discuss the problem. Solve it.

 Three more key points.

* When you see a problem you can solve, solve it. Organizations rely on people who are
willing to do more than their share, and gladly. This is the most important person of all.

* Work to make the CEO’s life easier. CEOs are people with more on their plates than
can easily be processed. In helping them you help yourself; for the more you are able to
assist without adding to CEO burdens, the faster you go up in the organization. Never forget

And, finally,


Never look upon what you do as drudgery, beneath you, something to be done with as soon
as possible so that life’s fun and games can begin. Work properly understood is, as Sigmund
Freud knew, one of the two pillars of the successful life, the other being love. Treat this
opportunity for constant growth and development accordingly. Then reach out to other
volunteers, newer than you, who’ll be glad to hear how you got started and why everyone in
the organization speaks so well of you!
About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc. at, providing a wide range of online services for
small and-home based businesses.

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