Originally published, 11 Nov, 1996
It takes time to accomplish the approaches described in our bulletins and papers. Much of it is, of necessity, confined to those unpaid professionals who work in government agencies. I am not addressing volunteers who serve non-governmental agencies on an infrequent basis. The ARES mission of health and welfare traffic, for instance, does take a lot of people who serve VERY infrequently. They are separate and distinct from the type of unpaid employee who works in government, especially in an on-going capacity, albeit unpaid. Note that I studiously avoid the word “volunteer” because the majority of urban governments simply don’t like volunteers. That’s because they may never have had the pleasure of working with the type I am talking about.
Appearance is invariably the first step. I know it sounds trite (and even inflammatory to some) but it is a fact of life; most officials are too tactful to say it —- so I will:
If you don’t look like us, if you don’t talk like us, if you you don’t act like us, and if you don’t perform like us —- you are not one of us. Thou shalt not pass.”
To this a potential volunteer may reply, “Fine. You want me to be or do that? Pay me!” Our reply is, in essence, “I understand your feeling. However, our people don’t do that because they HAVE to — but because they WANT to.” This puts the shoe back on their foot to back out gracefully.
Some may call this a hard line approach. We call it a real world, practical approach. Once you let your employees (paid and volunteer) know what is the mission and standards of performance, service, appearance, behavior, etc., they know exactly where they stand and what is expected. This should be carefully crafted and stated right up front before anyone is hired or signed on. It saves a lot of grief down the line. I have seen all too often government managers report that their volunteer program(s) failed. In analyzing the reasons, the most common is their reluctance to state up front and in writing what are the expectations of the government (or business, etc.).