The “Oh! by the way” trap

I couldn’t help but have that knowing smile of “been there” when I read this story on an article by Thomas McKee.

Lauren was recruited to work as a helper for her daughters’ girl’s club. As a parent she felt obligated and really wanted to help.“What can I do? I would be happy to be a helper,” were her responses. She was eager and felt that she would be happy to bake cookies, drive, stuff envelopes, attend activities and anything else, as long as it was behind the scenes stuff. That is Lauren. The leaders said, “Great. We are excited to have Sabrina and Savanna in our club, and we would love to have you volunteer to help.” Lauren went to the first meeting and said, “What do you want me to do?”

The leader handed her a huge manual and said, “Oh, by the way, we ask all volunteer leaders to read this.” Lauren took it home and started to read it when the phone rang. The leader said, “Oh, by the way, we are giving a test on the manual. We want all our leaders to know the philosophy and what we expect from our volunteers.” Lauren said, “I’m happy to read the manual”–she was being polite, “but I’m more the behind the scenes type of person. Can I be a helper?” The leader then said, “Well, we really want the parents to be leaders. Oh, by the way, we are having an eight-hour training session next Saturday and want all our leaders to attend.”

Lauren is conscientious and wanted to be a support. After all, her girls were taking part, and she felt that she should help. Lauren had a big decision to make, and it was troubling her. Should she quit, feeling guilty that she had not kept her commitment, or should she continue, hating every minute of it and feeling duped by the continuous “Oh, by the ways!

Intentionally or unintentionally, a lot of times organisations have their volunteers trapped in a “Oh! by the way…” situation. So many times I have had to pull back from a volunteer role due to lack of clarity during the initial meetings resulting in the classic “Oh! by the way” situation later on.

I once came to know about an organisation that runs after-school classes for poor kids. The organisation was close to my college and I felt I could easily volunteer there after my college hours. I went to meet the coordinator. She was super happy and after a little conversation asked me to come the next day.
The next day, I was excited that I would soon start. I went in and she says “Oh! by the way I forgot to give you this form to fill in before you can start volunteering with us.” That was fine. They would obviously need my details but this one had essay type questions “Why do you want to volunteer with us?” “What do you wish to learn from this role..” etc etc.. Took me about an hour to fill it and by that time the extra class for the day was over.The next day, I again went, thinking now I will start but the coordinator goes “Oh! by the way I forgot to mention we need to get a background check on you before you can start volunteering with children.” With that I was given another form to fill in and then the police check will take about 3 weeks!
By that time I had somewhat lost my interest. Then she goes again “Oh! by the way, while you are waiting for the police clearance, why don’t you help us with our social media”. I agreed and soon realised that there was no one person who needed help with social media, but every employee had access to the organisation’s facebook page and they posted as and when they had time. So when I volunteered to help with the social media, I actually volunteered to do it alone!

Thomas McKee, in his article, “Oh by the way!  (The four words that Volunteers hate to hear)” lists down some of the classic “Oh! by the way” situations non-profits create and how these tend to discourage volunteers.

Volunteers are more likely to engage and appreciate the role if all cards are placed on the table. And what are the rules of “all cards on the table”? Read on his original article here:

“Oh! by the way” on Volunteer Power.

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