Do we, leaders of volunteers suffer from a tortured volunteer manager syndrome? Or, are all our frustrations something we made up?
The tortured artist syndrome loosely refers to an artistic person who becomes frustrated at the lack of understanding and appreciation for what they deem important-i.e., their art. And I’m convinced that what we, leaders of volunteers do is an art.
Does this syndrome sound like us? Are we frustrated because others don’t understand or appreciate volunteerism and all its beauty and complexities the way we do?
Here’s the crazy thing. All the volunteer managers I’ve worked with or spoken to are super creative people. We have to be. No, seriously, we have to be incredibly, artistically creative in order to succeed at our jobs. Sure, we need to be organized. Sure, we need to multi-task. Sure, we need to keep good records. But the bulk of our jobs takes an artist’s touch.
As volunteer engagement artists, our frustrations come from the perception of our jobs. Our jobs are generally viewed as desk jobs, as coordination jobs, as simply making a phone call to a willing volunteer who agrees to do organizational bidding. It’s like saying a teacher just grades papers.
And you know what? We most likely went into our jobs expecting them to be coordination jobs, because that’s what we were told. That’s what the job description said. That’s what everyone assumed. We were told that our jobs consisted of scheduling and keeping track of volunteers. In my first volunteer coordinator interview, I was asked if I could “get along with senior citizens.”
I was never asked if I could create complex programs, or if I understood deep motivations. I was never asked if I could inspire a person who was lonely or discouraged because they’d lost a loved one or a job or a place to be. I was never asked if I could listen intently to hear what was behind the desire to help someone else. I was never asked if I had the skills to match a person to a sensitive position. I was never asked if I could diffuse a potentially ugly situation between a volunteer and our organization. I was never asked if I could diplomatically introduce change to a seasoned volunteer team. I was never asked if I could explain the deep impact each volunteer role had on the mission. I was never asked if I could convince a volunteer that they were truly appreciated when it wasn’t overtly obvious. I was never asked if I could diplomatically answer probing questions or if I could balance organizational policies with volunteer needs. Nope, it was more like, “can you relay information and keep a schedule?”
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