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VAT: Jul/Aug Volunteerism's Newsletter Vintage: 1997

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X-Rated Organizations, Expandable Professionals and a Modest Proposal

Dr. Ivan Scheier  . 

From the Midwest, Southwest, and just about any other region comes news which is not news at all: volunteer administrators tend to be last hired, first fired; over- worked and under-appreciated; not given enough time or support to do the job; sometimes, after years of skillful and devoted service, summarily replaced with untrained neophytes. Nor, as Sue Vineyard has pointed out, were we 'at the table' at the recent Volunteer Summit - and Sue told us why, too. In any case, and with due regard to some shining exceptions, we cannot escape the verdict that - it pains me to say this - we are all too often a disposable profession. It's been going on for 35 years that I know of and is, if any- thing, worse today. Nothing tried thus far has worked.

Let me suggest two things that might:

  1. If you love working with volunteers but the system doesn't support you sufficiently in doing so, prepare to get out of the system. This year, in these pages, we've explored possible career tracks for working with volunteers outside the system, principally as consultant/producer for entirely volunteer groups. Very recently there is actual precedent for this role, but full development is still a few years away.
  2. Meanwhile back at the human services delivery system, here's a second proposal. On the model of influential rating systems for movies, restaurants, etc., we could rate organizations on their support for volunteer programs. We would make these ratings widely public for volunteers (in newspapers, radio, TV, Internet, etc.) and for volunteer clearing- houses and anyone giving guidance to pools of prospective volunteers in corporations, churches, schools, etc.

Gasp if you will, but it's do-able. In fact, many communities have the kernel of it already in "volunteer program of the year' awards, for which the organization receives due credit. AU we'd do now is also recognize a goodly number of runners-up "volunteer programs of the year," perhaps at several levels of excellence. The judges could be the same team that does it for Volunteer Program of the Year, e.g., the volunteer clearinghouse, DOVIA, some widely experienced community volunteers, etc. If overly worried about subjectivity and the amount of time it would take, we could concentrate on "objective" indicators such as:

A reasonable point system could be developed out of local needs and priorities. In my view, it wouldn't have to be nationally standardized. Nor would there need to be negative ratings. To be sure, some organizations' treatment of volunteers should be X- Rated. But the absence of favorable ratings should be effective enough, if anything can be, and is anyhow safer. Some will say the kind of organization that "rates no rating" probably doesn't value volunteers very much anyhow so it won't feel the pinch of fewer volunteer recruits. True enough, in the main. But even if a 'non-rating' doesn't embarrass the organizations towards positive change, it will at least warn off volunteers who might otherwise betaken in by sweet talk and exploited. It's true, too, that in all but the largest cities, volunteers will already have a pretty good sense of an organization's reputation with volunteers, via the volunteer grapevine, and so not need the rating system. Still, it would be another validation and, for newcomers to town and to the field of volunteering, it might be the only information available. In any case, the rating system still has the potential for encouraging organizations to treat volunteers and volunteer coordinators better.

I seem to have convinced myself of the do-abilty and effectiveness of this idea. Let me know if I've convinced you or not.