Feeling treated unfairly as volunteer worker


I prefer not post my question/answers to your site, would you please? Thanks. I work at meets as a volunteer at a sport club that my kid is a member. My club friends of the same ethnic group and I some times are treated differently that made us feel uncomfortable. We were interrogated like “What are you doing?”, implying that we were not doing our job even if they were not the supervisors of any kind, but simply a volunteer co-worker like ourselves. My friends and I felt so uncomfortable that we would not contribute any more than what was required. Still unhappy things happen. In the recent meet, I was serving breakfast while one woman who helped hospitality approached me saying that I was not supposed to be served at that time, but later. She said that I was to be after the officials and coaches as food was limited and she was there at the meet preparing the food since 6:30am. Actually at the same time, the meet announcer was inviting all the volunteers to serve breakfast and other volunteers were sitting at the table to eat a short distance from where I was. She came to pick on me. I got very irritated because I did not see the point of her stopping me when the food was already in my plate and touched by me. All I could see was her intention of bossing me around because she worked longer hours. So I threw away the food right in front of her eyes to protest. She selectively pick people to boss around and it happens that I heard of other complains about her in the same meet from my other friends of the same ethnic group. In the club, our kids are high performers. We were once very enthusiastic about contributing to the club, but our feelings got hurt so badly in different situations. My tolerance reached to the limit and I exploded, but felt I do regret to loose the cool. In what way can I let those people know that we diserve respect and equal treatment and our tolerance is limited when we are targeted to be picked by and bossed around?


Unhappy volunteer


Dear Unhappy volunteer:

There is obviously a need for a meeting between volunteers and coordinators and more effective communication by everyone! Volunteers are certainly needed in many groups, especially in activities involving children. But those who are officially in charge need to be strong in their leadership of the volunteers and those who volunteer have to be willing to focus only on the tasks given to them by those who are officially in charge. It sounds like that isn’t happening in the situation at your sports club. The most frequent complaints about volunteers are: 1. They start acting as though they are employees and do things they have not been given permission to do. 2. They fight among themselves and get their feelings hurt. 3. They only want to do what seems fun and enjoyable to them. 4. They are not dependable and aren’t always present when needed. 5. If members of their families are part of the work involved, they sometimes play favorites. 6. They tend to start thinking they know better how to run the organization than those who work there know how to do it. (Which may be true, but is irritating to those in charge.) Complaints about organizations that have volunteers are: 1. They don’t have clear directions, guidelines and policies for volunteers. 2. They only allow volunteers to do unrewarding, unenjoyable work that regular employees feel is beneath them or that they don’t want to do. 3. They treat volunteers like employees when it comes to piling on work, but like volunteers when it comes to giving credit or allowing freedom of action. 4. They forget that volunteers don’t have to be there, aren’t getting paid, and are donating their time and efforts. 5. They don’t provide enough oversight to help volunteers, and to help reduce conflict between volunteers as well as between volunteers and employees.

There are probably other issues, but those seem to be the main ones, based on what I’ve observed as a volunteer, as one who has been in charge of volunteers, and from the letters we have received.

Ask for a meeting with the person who signed you up as a volunteer, or whoever is your coordinator. Write up your problems and concerns so you can give that person a list. (Or copy the email you sent to us.) Say that you and your friends want to help, but that you feel there is a need for more clear directions about who is to do what. Ask if there is any part of your actions or work that the coordinator would like to see change. Be very open to that and make it clear you only want to help,not to make things more difficult.

Specifically ask about the role of the woman who talked to you about the food service. State your intention to ask for help the next time she starts bossing you in that way.

I think you know now, that is what you should have done the last time. Instead of getting angry and throwing food away, you could have said, “Please go get a supervisor so we can straighten this up. If you don’t want to do that,I’ll find him later and we can talk then. Right now I’m doing what I’ve been told to do.” Reacting as you did made it a fight between two volunteers and ended up not being helpful. However, you can make up for that by showing your desire to see an improvement in the volunteer force. Be a volunteer who is a model for others by supporting your coordinator and keeping your role in mind. Do only what is asked of you and ask permission before doing anything else. That way you will not be intefering, even if you are only trying to help. Do not get involved with improving the work of other volunteers unless it is so bad or harmful that you must seek out a supervisor for help. It is their sports club and if a volunteer messes things up, that’s for them to decide and act upon.

Do your best to get along with unpleasant people, and turn their mean behavior back on them by your pleasantness and your focus on what you are all there for–the children and the sports club that provides their training and entertainment.

Do the volunteers have regular meetings or written material, maybe a written newsletter two or three times a year? That would be a positive thing–but it should be done by the sports club, so their priorities and issues are covered, not by volunteers who may not have the same viewpoints. Or at least that’s my opinion.

Really, I think the biggest lack has been in the direction and guidance provided by the people at the sports club. If they have been watching as they should, this wouldn’t have developed to the point that it has. Look to them to make it better, and do your part to help.

Keep in mind that the other volunteers may have complaints they feel are justified too. They may feel frustrated over something you or others are doing or not doing–even if they aren’t correct in their views. If that is the case, they should talk to those in charge and ask that the policies be made clear to all. If you hear complaining, suggest that to them in a pleasant way. Put the volunteer program on the shoulders of the people responsible for it–the owners of the sports club who are hopefully benefitting from your volunteer work.

Remember this as well: If you don’t feel you can help and it starts being an unpleasant obligation, maybe it’s time to stop volunteering. That would certainly send a message, but it also would allow you to focus on something else in which you can feel more welcomed and useful.

Best wishes as you deal with this issue.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.