What follows is a draft of a letter or op ed piece I am working on. I would love to have your comments, thoughts, and additions.
Every organization I have ever belonged to has the same problem. Not enough volunteers to hold club offices, chair events and and do the hands on grunt work that keeps a group running. The same 10 to 20% of the group are always the only people that will commit to doing anything and they are tired and on the verge of burnout. Why is this so pervasive and what do we do about it?
Expectations guide our choices.The basis of behavioral science is that people tend to repeat tasks that are pleasurable and avoid those that are unpleasant. If we hear people talking about how difficult their job is and saying they will never do it again,we choose not to put ourselves in their shoes.If we do something once and don't enjoy it or don't feel needed and included, we don't repeat it. If we hear people talking about how much fun they have, we are inclined to join them.If we know other members are inflexible we may not wish to work with them.
Uncertainty keeps people on the sidelines. What will the duties be and how much time will it take are questions that need to be answered up front. How many meetings and how far from home are they? Are the requirements streamlined and actually necessary or are they just the way things were done last year? How married are we to the way things have been done before? What features of the event are actually written in stone and which ones are flexible?
Will volunteers actually have responsibility or will every decision they make be reviewed and debated ? In most cases a board needs to know if an event is on time, on budget, and if there are unmet needs. They don't need to know what color the tablecloths will be and how that was decided. Meetings should have agendas based on these simple standards that actually delegate decisions and accept that committees can change things to suit their best judgement. This would cut meeting times considerably.
Everyone needs to recognize that events planned and executed by volunteers will never be perfect and that you can't have everything the way you want it. Accept that people are tired and stressed and may act that way. What really makes a task thankless is people that don't remember to say thanks to the folks who do the work. If what they did was not all you thought it could have been, thank them anyway, they showed up and made the effort.
Finally, we all need to lighten up and relax a little. We generally join with groups of like minded people to have fun, not to pad our resume or prepare to run for office. If things stop being fun we need to make them fun again or stop doing them. Like voting, if you don't volunteer don't complain about those who do.