Can you help me navigate a conflict situation regarding differing expectations for my responsibilities as a volunteer?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I volunteer regularly for a small organization, teaching a specific skill. I've been a good and reliable worker for years now. The head of the organization would also want me to participate in the general decision making within the organization (meetings, planning, brainstorming sessions, future strategies, developing the organization, etc). I have explained that I don't have time for that, only for the training itself which I'm happy to continue doing. She's pissed off with me, and everyone else seems to think I'm a free rider.
Very long version:
I'm a pretty skilled, um, let's say "ventriloquist", and I've now volunteered for several years at the, um, Herzoslovakian Foundation for Animal Ventriloquy, training ventriloquist dogs. Everybody's always been satisfied with the work I do as a trainer. Also, there's a constant shortage of trainers willing to work for free, and many of the current ones aren't quite as experienced or competent as I am, so the Foundation should be happy to have me. Or so one might imagine.
A couple of years ago, the old chairperson left and a colleague, whom I've always been on friendly terms with, took over the position. She's quite the perfectionist - very ambitious, very competent (albeit stress prone), and takes running this entirely volunteer-based organization extremely seriously.
The Foundation's being run in a democratic, cooperative spirit, and even the smallest nitpicky details tend to get thoroughly hashed out, debated and subjected to vote in the frequent, chatty trainer meetings, which I rarely attend. Their outcome almost never really affects me - as a matter of fact, the focus is often on the practicalities of teaching ventriloquy to cats. (Should we provide the decorative stickers for the litter boxes, or ask everyone to bring their own? Pink or yellow safety goggles for the tabbies?) It gets very frustrating and tedious, since I only train dogs and have nothing to contribute or gain.
I've explained that I don't have time for meetings (although I sometimes briefly stop by if my input is needed for any specific topic in hand). In return I'm always OK with whatever decisions they make without me; I think it's only reasonable that if I choose to not participate in the process I shouldn't grumble about the results.
I already donate a good chunk of my scarce enough spare time for the Foundation as it is. I just want to train the dogs as best as I can, and that's it. I don't have time or energy to do more, but even if I did, I frankly couldn't be bothered to get more involved. (Although I'd never tell them so; I've only ever told them I don't have any time for it.) I understand why they would like me to do more, but I don't think they're entitled to it.
A couple of days ago I did attend a plenary session of sorts, and things got pretty bad. At one point the chairwoman launched into an anguished soliloquy, seemingly aimed at none of us in particular (although some people started darting their eyes in my direction). She was visibly upset and literally in tears, asking us why she should be required to do more than the others, how she always has to be the one in charge who gets to deal with all the shit and listen to the complaints (not really sure what she was referring to there), how she has no-one to turn to or confide in....
It was hard to watch and I do sympathize, but nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking (but didn't say it out loud): she sought the leadership position of her own volition (and gets financially compensated, although definitely not in any proportion to the amount of work). And I think (but didn't say) that the bigger issue is her own inability to prioritize, draw boundaries and deal with stress, combined with her ambition and vision, as well as this unfortunate insistence on everybody participating and agreeing on everything, which must be time-consuming and also frustrating in itself.
As to the attending fellow trainers, one or two remained noncommittal, but the rest all agreed with her, and there were a couple of other impassioned pleas for everyone to make it their priority to participate from now on. And then all eyes were on me, the bad guy who really, really doesn't want to.
In the end I reiterated that I just don't have the time (I even mentioned all the other things I've got going - work, studying for a college degree and small kids), at which point someone else angrily retorted with a fighty list of their equally numerous activities, and I just kind of shrugged and awkwardly left it at that to avoid a fight. The atmosphere remains tense.
I don't want to walk away from the Foundation - I enjoy training those dogs, but this whole conflict is sucking my will to volunteer. I don't want to further upset the poor chairwoman. But I also definitely don't want to budge. Last spring this same disagreement reached a point where I actually asked if they'd prefer me to resign (while quietly thinking that would be insanity because they have no-one to replace me as a trainer), and the chairwoman replied she "didn't deem it necessary for the time being". As if she was almost threatening me, with what? Not letting me work for them for free anymore? OK, I'm getting a bit annoyed, too.
How can I deal with this diplomatically? What should I say, or is it better to say nothing? There's no way to really make it go away, is there, but how to minimize the damage? (Today I had the impulse to send the chairwoman an email saying something akin to "btw, our disagreement aside, I think you're doing a great job", because I really feel pretty bad for her, hers is a thankless task and I suspect she rarely gets a pat on her back for all she does, which may actually be part of the reason she tends to get so upset. But in light of our ongoing tiff, I guess I probably shouldn't?)
Grateful for anything that might help me see things more clearly and/or figure out how to go forward. Throwaway email: firstname.lastname@example.org