Shadow's Essays

"Words are loaded pistols."Jean Paul Sartre ~ "The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say." Anais Nin

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Location: San Jose, Ca, United States

Thursday, November 29, 2007

For Love or Money

#12. For love or Money
Volunteering and the compensations we receive.

Essays on a life of P.E.
November 28th, 2007
by shadow

Over the last few years, as i have grown and moved through the BDSM scene in Western USA states, myself and a few friends have noted many changes.
Time ebbs and flows, technology makes things work differently, takes some hard jobs away, adds new jobs to our lives.
But getting the scene to function, making the parties happen, organizing the events, hosting the munches, advertising the classes, painting the play spaces, and a million other jobs, chores, and projects in the underground alternative kink communities takes volunteers. Not just your friends, but lots of strangers and acquaintances with helping hands and open hearts.

Volunteering seems to start with that splurge of happiness that many folks find when they arrive in public play. They are suddenly, magically, LIVING the fantasies they always dreamt of, meeting people that DO the things they have wanted to, talking to people about all those secret things, and the flood of goodwill often transmutes into the desire to help out.
Altruistic tendencies in people abound, and have been extensively studied.

Most kink groups promote volunteering openly and loudly.
Without the bodies doing the work, the great ideas behind events like Thunder in the Mountains, Black Rose, and the Master/slave contests would be only sweet dreams that no one could afford to pay for.
Without volunteers, there would be no TESS, no Janus- every group, big or small, depends on one or more people creating the dated events and publicizing them.

The creators in the scene are always desperately seeking those who want to help to come to them and offer time and energy, expertise and advice, so that their visions can become real, and their communities can be offered some new vision or event. They seek out people offering to help. They cannot live without them. We also know that happy volunteers are the best recruiters for others to come and help- having happy team members makes others want to participate.

But not everyone is cut out to be a volunteer-- and worse, not everyone or every group is mature and well trained enough to find the right people, use volunteers well and keep them around.

"It has become more important than ever to improve the way we manage this scarce and valuable resource.
Organizations depending on volunteers must make sure that those people already working with them want to
stay. They must also find ways of making assignments interesting enough to attract and involve others.
A satisfied volunteer is the best recruiter" *.

Dictums such as "our volunteers are extensions of the organization and will act as if they represent us", "they are just volunteers and shouldn't be held to any standards" and "well, what do you expect from people if they are not compensated" are just a few of the hundreds of attitudes that permeate the non-profit world. All of them are detrimental to the organization and create negative opportunities. ALL of them are quotes heard at kink events.

Most kink volunteers WANT to help out- and no one who ever gave of their time did so because they wanted to deliberately mess up, not do the job, or create more trouble than they were worth, feel abused, or feel that their time was wasted. Yes, sometimes it turns out that way, but their original intentions were never of that vein. Your volunteers want to be there so they can achieve many things, including:

Gaining a sense of accomplishment
Getting experience they do not have for future paying jobs
Giving back to the community
Getting recognition and being appreciated
Spending time with people they like or want to get to know
Meeting new people and gaining a sense of being "part of the group"
Being with other people and avoiding loneliness
Having something to do during the event when they are not occupied
Having some power and control over something they believe is important or or value

The number one reason that people volunteer for something is that they believe in the cause and want to help achieve it. Studies have shown that people who volunteer come from families that had volunteers in them and nurtured the spirit of volunteering.

The way leadership runs their group, treats the staff, and understands the volunteers is going to either make or break the organization over time. Many great groups have folded because they could not sustain the sheer numbers of helpers that they needed.

All too often, the leadership of any kink group has come about that position naturally through their own unique talents, as they have created the event or organization without conscious desire to do so, and suddenly find themselves in the position of having volunteers working for them. They usually do NOT have the training or skills to handle this, although they ALWAYS BELIEVE they have the skills to do this. Unfortunately, that often creates strain and problems with volunteers, and the management doesn't necessarily even understand their own shortcomings that might contribute to the problems.

Having employees (and volunteers ARE employees the most precious kind) that are not feeling supported, appreciated, and who do not feel that they are noticed means that those people not only will not continue to help- but they will openly speak badly about the group and push others away. Volunteers that do not feel supported by the organization or have to do work that they did not sign on for become dissatisfied and hostile to the very organization they once wanted to help.

Coordinators of volunteers should be aware that volunteers might simply fade away from an organization rather than tackle the source of their discontent.

Leaders that are too busy to pay attention, who are overwhelmed and heap work on new assistance, or who do not understand the abilities of their volunteers are in for trouble.
It is important for organizations to provide volunteers with the opportunity to achieve something — however minor — by matching the volunteer with the job that is likely to provide the kind of results the volunteer is looking for. Kinky group leaders should take some time to talk with their new friends about what those folks are looking for, what hours they have available, and what they expect or need to feel successful. Just 10 min. with a new person asking them about their desires and needs can make or break a good outcome.

Kinky groups also tend to burn out volunteers with work that they volunteers did not want to do or do not like- meetings seem to be one of those issues. Volunteers, by and large, want to BE DOING, and NOT PLANNING or REPORTING. They often feel that their time is precious enough that it should be spent in the acts they wanted to accomplish, and if they do not see a sincere need for the meetings or reports they will neither buy in to the idea nor participate as needed.
Aside from "distractions" of the job, there are other turn offs that drive away your volunteers.
Disorganized management can waste a volunteer's time. Anything from making folks stand around to assigning other people to work that volunteers have already begun can trigger resignations. Not guaranteeing the right materials or the right amounts also creates conflicts.
Lack of board support or organizational support is widespread. If you only pay lip service to what you need but do not spend the time setting up jobs properly and providing PROFESSIONAL feeling support, your volunteers will feel that they are invlived with amatures that do not understand the skills they have and cannot truly appreciate their work.
Indifferent staff attitudes, including not having everyone "on board" over where volunteers are working and what their jobs are creates tension and conflicts between volunteers and the people they work with or report to. It also means that volunteers duties should be respected- having someone in charge of a job while others are either doing it for them or jumping in to "help them' when they have no asked for it leads to resentments and loss of volunteers.
Limited training and orientation undermine the best efforts. Your people need to KNOW whats going on and feel that they are part of the loop- or they will walk. Making sure they have been given all the information they need to carry out the job- up front while they are in training rather than piecemeal when crisis's strike- is essential to having happy volunteers that feel included and not abused.

Lack of contact and support creates tension, isolation, and feelings of loneliness and abandonment in people. Keep your volunteers connected with lots of information, positive feedback, and regular chances to interact with others in the organization.
Volunteers need to be matched up with the right assignments as well, so asking people what they like doing, or offering them choices and then checking in frequently to make sure that the long term feelings are still positive about their jobs is important.

Perks are no big deal, unless they're withdrawn! Insufficient supplies or withdrawal of perks gives volunteers the impression that the organization does not value them because it did not allocate sufficient resources to manage them properly.
By and large, volunteers don't make a big issue of getting something in return for their efforts. However, when something has been offered by the organization, like free coffee, and then it is withdrawn, sparks fly.
Conversely, the volunteers that will offer their time ONLY because of some specific perk- discounts to the event, free items or hotel rooms, chances to meet celebrities or stars- will then focus ONLY on achieving those free items and will put in the minimum amount of work required to receive their free gifts. This does NOT make for good volunteers or a happy organization, and creates a revolving workforce comprised of those who do not care about the job and those who MUST volunteer if they want to get in to the event at all.
Neither is the optimum mindset of a great volunteer.

Great leadership remembers that what attracts people initially is not necessarily what keeps them around, and they nurture the people that want to stay with the organization. They pay attention to volunteer fears, which often include fear of spending out of pocket unnecessarily, fear of loss of autonomy, and fear of being held accountable personally for the rules or actions of the organization. Good volunteer management sees those possibilities and works hard to minimize them.

Another large gap in the kink world is when we do not take advantage of offers the first time. Volunteers are PRECIOUS, and yet all too often, people have to offer their services 2,3,4 or more times to more than one person before they are given an opportunity to help out. Getting back to people in a timely manner on the FIRST offer is important, and failing to do so is a sign of poor management skills. Then, matching them to the right assignment or job will take care of 75% of the problems that might otherwise crop up.

Few people that want to help out want to run the ship, and with good reason-- most folks find it tedious and more trouble than it is worth. They are not excited by the larger management issues of organizational goals, effectiveness, strategies, structures and facilities. Most volunteers are content to do their assignments and leave larger organizational issues to others. It is possible that one reason for their reluctance is the sense of freedom that they value about their direct service work. For others, it is a time commitment, and for many it includes not wanting to deal with too many petty internal politics and cliques fighting behind the scenes for power in larger organizations. Some volunteers blind themselves to those issues and the complain bitterly when they rise in the group to a place where they are suddenly within the loop of communicaton where those power struggles are taking place. Others only work with small groups or with organizations with one strong leader. Many others just refuse to get involved at all after they have been exposed to negativity- and their input and expertise are lost.

Great leadership can easily be judged by how well people who were not friends describe the experience of volunteering and how smooth recruitment drives go for groups. Having communities that appreciate the need for volunteers, that rally round the organization when large events approach, and that speak well of the experience afterwards are benchmarks of leadership that cares and understands the people that give of this precious commodity.

Years ago, i worked hard for a large local club, often putting in 50-60 hours a week during the final days before our big events, and usually working closely with 15-20 people over several months, year after year. The fiscal equivalent was probably close to $30,000.00 per person in what we were given of their time and skills.

We got to know each other intimately, and, as my best friend in the group put it, "lived in each other's pockets" for days at a time. Some of us got along in smaller spurts than others, and, as is wont when people are thrown together, there were invariably clashes and hard feelings over time- sometimes building over years.
Each season, the leadership- the 2-4 top folks and the 10-12 section leads- would put off our "after event" meeting for a full 30 days just to "cool off"- some folks were just not able to work well together until after we all had a long break and a chance to step back and see the event with some perspective.

Having such strong feelings that we needed a 30 day breather was taken as a 'given evil' and we all understood that while we might strongly want to throttle each other, we none the less worked *well* together as far as promoting and creating the event, and for several years in a row the same "usual suspects" worked at various positions, with a few new faces replacing the 2-3 drop outs each year. Between us, we had over 100 volunteers working with us, as well as at least 3 separate contracts negotiated by 3 different leads for work to be handled by 3 outside businesses. Overall, the 'team' handled about 130 people over the course of a 90 day period working up to, and including, the event itself. Not to mention the 300-400 attendees.

It was a daunting task, and one that showed quickly who had skills and who didn't in personell issues. Those leads that could work well with others had returning volunteers every year (not just their personal *friends*, but others that only had contact with them for volunteer time), had repeat contacts over contracts- and had contracts that got BETTER, cheaper, and smoother as the years went by. Most telling was that the organizations founders had LOTS of us that wanted to keep coming back. One in particular, a natural leader, impressed me most with his sincere desire to make sure that no matter what the job, the problem, or the feelings, that we were having FUN.
That same natural inclination was part of my Owners philosophy as well- "We're Havin' Fun" became our group's motto and one we still live by. No one should ever give of themselves and then feel unhappy or unappreciated- no one should have a bad time!

Offering your volunteers a fun, rewarding experience with support, engaging work that exploits their natural skills and empowers them to the level they are comfortable with is not something just anyone can achieve. Possibly the most important job in any group is the volunteer coordinator. If you are a group leader or convention manager or party planner, there is no excuse for not understanding and appreciating those who come to you and want to help.

Other sources include:

Copyright shadow, Nov. 28, 2007
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