Thursday, April 2, 2009

The importance of good Volunteers

There have been some emails about starting a TNRM programme flying back and forth. It's a really admirable idea and would be fantastic if it worked out - the only problem is the lack of volunteers.

For various reasons, no one can helm the project. The feeder there is only able/willing to feed and doesn't seem very committed. As a result, I was telling one of the people involved, I think it's better to scrap the project.

Of course the cats can and should be sterilised if at all possible, but to start an actual programme, get the management in on it, and then to have no volunteers means it'll fall apart. What that also means is that you're likely to confirm that TNRM doesn't work - and when there MAY actually be good volunteers in the future, they're going to have a really hard time convincing the management to let them restart. Sometimes a good project should be shelved because there just isn't anyone to run it.

It makes me think about the importance of responsible volunteers again. First of all, chances are your pool of volunteers is going to shrink as time goes on, whether it be due to circumstances, or that people realise this isn't what they want to do/is more work than they envisioned. So to hope your volunteer pool will grow, is hopeful, but idealistic.

Secondly, it isn't an excuse to say that someone is 'just a volunteer' and hence shouldn't be expected to do what they have promised to do. I was reading some guidelines about a food bank and they are very strict. You have to commit a certain number of hours, you have to turn up on time, and be dressed a certain way. If not, they 'fire' you. I remember Otterman also being similarly strict with volunteers - and when he asked some volunteers to help out at a Spay Day, they were some of the best volunteers who ever helped out.

Yes of course, volunteers have jobs and other commitments. Sometimes they really may have an extenuating circumstance that prevents them from doing what they were supposed to. That's just life and is understandable. However if someone is consistently not performing, it may be better to drop the project, or ask the person to leave. There are a couple of reasons why I think this is so.

One of the reasons is that you may be volunteering but other people are relying on you. If you fail to do what you have promised to do, it means someone else has to do the job in addition to their own work and these people are volunteers too. It isn't fair to the rest of the group and is actually pretty inconsiderate. Other people also have their own obligations to manage as well and they aren't any less important. I remember one adoption drive, the volunteer in charge of bringing the cats and litter pans down decided she didn't feel like turning up the next day. So several people had to scramble around, contact other potential fosters, and get the various cages together. We never did hear any apology from this person.

Another reason is that it inevitably happens that if one person continues repeatedly not to do what he or she is supposed to do, that it affects group morale. Say you have X number of people, and one person is constantly not fulfilling the work they are to do. The ones who are working will wonder why they are working so hard if others are coasting by doing little or no work. It eventually leads to a lot of resentment as well as most people uniformly doing less work.

On the other hand, when you do find good volunteers, treasure each other. Good volunteers are the ones who put in the time and effort despite the fact that it's often a thankless job. They don't ask 'why should I do it?' but do it because it needs to be done. If you have one or two of these volunteers, your project can work - better to have one good volunteer than twenty lackluster ones. If you are in a volunteer group, support each other and work together because it is always about the welfare of the cats after all, and not personal glory.


Singapore Community Cats said...

Lately I have been following up emails between the officers of two town councils and caregivers who did a lot of ground work to resolve complaints and one particular hardworking group of caregivers even brought together neighbours who have NOT spoken to each other before, to sit down and talk and collectively resolve a commununal problem.

I have yet to see a town council replying with a simple "thank you" or simple words of appreciation. It is only SILENCE!

Isn't this rude and an utterly lack of professionalism on the part of the town councils!?

The caregivers are doing what Mrs Grace Fu lamented that there was a lack of communication amongst HDB residents....communication is an important step to neighbourliness!!

Dawn said...

I think it is :)

Anonymous said...

Many cat care-givers do not go for holidays for yrs & yrs. Do not start a management project if you cannot commit long-term (like remaining in neighbourhood) and has back-up helpers if you fall ill/go away for work.

Dawn said...

Yes - backups are very important!

Ivan said...

Well said, Dawn; this is an issue faced by every volunteer-driven movement or project in Singapore.

I sometimes think about how certain projects and activities are run by only a small group of individuals; these volunteers sometimes eventually become so important and essential that if they are unable to participate for some time (or even permanently), it is likely that the entire system crashes.

Dawn said...

Yes - the difficult part is how to 'grow' the group to the next level sometimes.