I received some comments yesterday on my volunteer fundraising goals. While I am fairly sure the commenter was well intentioned, they ended on a sour note and I haven’t been able to shake it. So, for my own sanity and to maybe dispel some misunderstandings I decided to post about my personal volunteer experiences and goals for the future.
Over the last three and a half decades I have done quite a bit of volunteer work and paid work for non-profit organizations. I have worked with NGOs, municipal organizations, charitable non-profits, educational non-profits, and trade non-profits, not to mention small groups just trying to do good work for the community.
In all this time working with a wide range of organizations I found that there are three basic types of organization. The first type is well organized with trained leadership. This kind of organization is very good at communication, internal and external. They train volunteers for the tasks they want done and provide trained leadership at every level. They have concisely documented policies and procedures. You still run into a wide range of personality types with these organizations, but the policies and procedures ensure that the intended work still gets done.
The second type is the Old-Boys club or Clique mentality. Too much time is spent on ego stroking and back slapping to actually accomplish very much work. Organizations with lots of politicking fall into this category as well. When you need to schmooze the right person or play political games just to get your job done, this is not efficient and the served-community is not served as it should be.
The third kind of group is just poorly managed. There is no cohesive plan of action, communication is poor at best and often spotty or non-existent. There are usually some good ideas, and people who genuinely want to serve, but the organization is just not up to the challenge of getting things done well.
I have worked with all three of these types of organizations. Surprisingly I have found all three types in various scales. The size of an organization does not necessarily place it in a category. I have worked with an organization of thousands of people involved that falls into the third category and small organizations of a dozen or so that fall into the first category.
In my experience, the first category is the rarest. They are hard to find but well worth seeking out. There are of course blendings of the three, usually first/second or second/third and they tend to lean more towards one end or the other in the mix.
So what does this have to do with me and my goals for volunteering? First off, when I plan on volunteering with a group I do some research, first to find out If I think it is a good fit from my perspective, then I look at what they need from their volunteers (time, equipment and training.) I also look to see which of the three categories they fit into. When I find an organization that looks like a good fit, I try to prepare ahead of time to minimize the incoming transition period so I can hit the ground running. It helps to actually meet the organizations requirements before signing up. It’s a courtesy thing.
I have worked as a grunt, a board member, and just about everything in between and at this time I have no inclination to fix a broken organization. A lot of my volunteer history and most of my paid non-profit work has been in doing just that, fixing broken organizations. What I want to do is spend some time doing actual volunteer work.
There are specific things I am interested in doing as a volunteer; in the short-term participating as a Volunteer Examiner for FCC Amateur Radio service licenses, and actively participating in multi-mode HF/VHF/UHF traffic handling nets. In the long-term I want to extend these to teaching test preparation classes and participating as a traffic net control.
To these ends I have been certified as a Volunteer Examiner and connected with a VE group. I am scheduled to participate in my first exam session as a VE on March 21st. In preparation for working traffic nets I am now actively studying and practising CW and participating in local VHF chat nets, though nether of these are volunteer work, they are skill builders.
The specific nets that I am interested in participating with appear to be organizations that fall into that first organization type and they have specific standards for operators and the equipment they use. I don’t have the equipment needed and it will be years before I will be able to build what I would need to participate. This is why I started the fundraising project, to get a stable multi-mode station up and running to meet the requirements of the nets I want to participate with.
Are there other things I can do to volunteer time? Sure, of course there are. I have spent the last year and a half looking at local groups and opportunities. I have extended offers to volunteer to several groups and projects, only one responded, and that was several months later and less than two weeks from the event. I am looking into another club meeting tomorrow. I am hopeful that this one will work out.
Am I being picky? Absolutely. My time is valuable and I have many valuable skill sets beyond radio. I am willing to share and use them, but I am not going to throw myself at random opportunities just to say I did X number of hours of volunteer work. I want my efforts to go to a worthy organization that will have beneficial outcomes for the community. This is why I am being specific about who I volunteer with, and how I give my time.
Over the years I have seen peoples valuable time squandered away by organizations that for whatever reason were ineffective. Some of those people took this waste is stride, others did not. I am choosing to avoid this in the first place.