I have a story I would like to share that I thought might generate some interesting discussion. Just a little background: I volunteer for many of my kids’ school and extracurricular activities. I do it primarily to be around my kids, because I like to socialize with other parents, and I like to take on leadership positions. My motivation has never been for kudos or thank yous. I volunteer because I enjoy it. This tends to make me think of it in terms of what I am getting (a chance to see my kids having fun) instead of what I am giving (my time.) It doesn’t mean I think my work shouldn’t be appreciated. It just means that because it feels like I am doing something for me and/or my kids I never notice when I don’t get recognition. This explains a bit why the following anecdote sort of “woke me up” so to speak.
Another mom (Shelly) and I volunteered to lead a Brownie/Girl Scout troop starting when our girls were in kindergarten. We met at least monthly and for special activities. The other parents were minimally involved. This went on for about 8 years with participation trailing off during middle school. The girls choose to no longer meet regularly but occasionally did group activities. We still communicated with parents and girls regularly. One of the moms (Jan) worked near my office. During that last year, I ran into Jan and she asked about troop activities. When I told her that the girls hadn’t decided on future activities, she pointedly said that she was going to look into finding another troop for her daughter (Tara) because we don’t seem to be doing much, etc, etc. Now that is TOTALLY fair and if Tara wanted to do that I would have been completely supportive. She’s a great girl and loved Scouts. What stunned me were the additional “etc., etc.” remarks. I can’t remember her exact words but the message was clear: she suggested that Shelly and I had let the girls down and said that because we were not doing our jobs as troop leaders, she had to find Tara another troop. Luckily, my dumbfounded brain chose to focus on her comment about a new troop, so I just sent Tara good wishes in finding a new troop and let Jan know that Shelly and I would keep in touch. I’m not the queen of thinking on my feet, but in retrospect, I think my reply was a good response.
On the way back from to my office, I started to question myself: “HAD we let the girls down? Should we have tried to keep them together longer?” As I sat down at my desk a thought hit me like a lightning bolt: not once in 8 years (that I could remember) had Jan ever thanked Shelly or me for being Tara’s troop leader or even complimented us on a job well done. In fact, I was shocked to realize that it had never occurred to me to even expect it. Leading a troop was something I was doing for my daughter; that it benefited the other girls came with the territory. Plus, had I even thought about it, I certainly wouldn’t have guessed that any parent wasn’t happy with the time Shelly and I had spent with their girls. Jan’s thoughtless remarks had suddenly made it obvious that she hadn’t appreciated what had been given and what she expected was to be given more. Shelly and I had been Tara’s leaders for 8 years: taken her to camp 5 times, helped her get her Bronze Award, went on numerous field trips, and had hosted many, many meetings. And according to Jan, that was not enough. Could I have misinterpreted her meaning? I don’t think so—she made the same intimation on a subsequent occasion and has been chilly to me for the last several years. In fact, I just saw her at a local coffee shop and she would barely acknowledge my greeting and inquiry about Tara. I just inwardly shook my head and resolved to keep further interactions to a polite hello.
In the end, Jan’s remarks really opened my eyes. It hasn’t deterred me from volunteering. I’ve never come across a committee that I didn’t like LOL–but I do think about volunteering and volunteers differently. I still don’t notice when I don’t get a thank you but I sure as heck notice when someone else doesn’t! My wonderful co-leader Shelly was an excellent mentor to Tara specifically. Jan should have thanked Shelly profusely. Instead she said, “gimme more.” I don’t know how she justifies this in her head.
I think it would be interesting to hear how other people handled similar acts of un-appreciation and what they think the best way etiquette-wise it is to deal with the “entitled” in this type of situation. Or maybe some nice stories about appreciation? It is the season! Thanks in advance for sharing your stories. 1207-15
In any volunteer organization, 10% of the people do 100% of the work. I see this in church all the time. A few are super servers while others ride on their coat tails. What really irks me is when someone complains about the lack of a certain service ministry to which I respond, “Get off your duff and start it yourself.”