Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Doing the job too well

Tonight I went to a parent's council meeting at Elli's school.  We were talking ahead of time about how it usually goes, that is a ton of people show up on the first month and then most of them discover that volunteering is a lot of work and it ends up being the same people as before but with a new face or two.  Unfortunately this time all the usual volunteers showed up, the folks who have worked really hard in past years, and only one new person showed up.  When it came time to volunteer for all the jobs that have to be done it was all the same folks as last year except for those that have moved on so now the work is just going to be divided between fewer people.  It is immensely frustrating to see how much has to be done and to realize that the people who are benefiting see no reason to help out.

A joke was made that if we really want a big turnout to a meeting we need to make something go really wrong the week before.  Cancel a bunch of normal services or a big event perhaps, or maybe bring some new and absurd rule into force.  That way we can get all the people who are willing to be outraged that things aren't working and channel some of that energy into getting things done.  Of course we aren't likely to do that but it does feel like the better job we do the less likely we are to get people to volunteer.  Everything is going just fine at the school, why bother getting involved?  Hint:  Because the people making things go well are going to burn out if you don't.

It is a tough situation because obviously everybody at the meeting was really interested in making things work but really didn't want to be the one shouldering the burden again.  Even if there had been three new folks willing to sign on for small projects I think it would have made a world of difference to the ten or so regulars because it would show us that somebody else is willing to step in and take some of the load.  Nothing gets a volunteer rocking like some new energetic people wanting to learn the ropes and nothing gets a volunteer down like the certainty that nobody else will come along and continue the work once they cannot.  Nobody wants to be part of an organization that is on a downward course.

It is nice to have a tight group that works together but it is hard when new blood is really needed and it isn't forthcoming.  Unfortunately I can't be the one to step in and make everything work - I have the time and expertise if it came to that but I have been down that road and I know where it leads.  It does not lead to happiness and suitable work/life balance when I try to save a struggling organization all by myself.


  1. I think this line is the key - "Even if there had been three new folks willing to sign on for small projects I think it would have made a world of difference to the ten or so regulars"
    Is there a parent mailing list or some way this could be communicated to the parents? I'm sure there are some people who won't help out because they are lazy or busy, but most likely there are a few others who think they might not be needed, or that you guys are doing such a good job that they don't want to step into an established group and mess it up. If they hear they will actually be appreciated/needed, even for a small job, more may step forward.


  2. We sent out multiple emails to every parent willing to give us an email address, made announcements through multiple handouts to each child, and announced it in person at the first meet the teacher assembly night. There aren't any more channels to go through unfortunately. They know, they just aren't willing to help.