Becky Says...

January 2003

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January 29

There are a lot of reasons why asking faith-based groups to run government-sponsored social programs is a very bad idea. Leaving aside the biggie, that thing about separation of church and state, let's focus on the fact that most faith-based groups are staffed by volunteers.

Before all who are actively volunteering hit the submit button on hate mails: I think volunteers are a marvelous thing. I have done volunteer work, through organizations and in private settings, most of my life. So why is it I think volunteer staffing of these programs would be a bad thing?

Well, one reason is that volunteers come in all shades of commitment. Some of them will show up barring all but the gravest emergencies. Some will come when they can, but will not put themselves out to do so. And some will show up if they remember, and anything else in that person's life takes priority.

Another thing is that volunteer programs attract control freaks. A couple of examples from my days working at Non-Profit Agency #2, where I was in charge of newsletters. The printing method we were using was mimeograph. The feed mechanism on mimeograph machines was not as precise as one might like, so to be safe it was best to print more copies of something than one thought one should have, to take care of blank pages and ink slops, etc.

After I did my typing and printing of the newsletters, they were collated and sorted for bulk mailing by a squadron of volunteers. Most of these people were wonderful souls, who really enjoyed the camaraderie of the collating sessions and didn't cause trouble. But there were two who nearly drove the staff to insanity.

There was one who got quite upset over the notion of extra pages. She would pick up the five or ten extra sheets of paper and take them to my supervisor, with the comment that again I had printed too many copies of these pages. Wise man that he was, and very familiar with mimeographing, he would graciously thank her, tell her (again) that it was all right and we could use the extra pages for in-house information, and as soon as she was out of eyeshot, ceremoniously throw them in the recycle bin.

Then there was the label lady. Our labels were printed on long strips. Before the strips came to the volunteers, we had already separated them into ZIP Code (postal code) segments. As long as the segments were kept separate, it really did not matter what segment was done first. To anyone except the label lady, that is. She would complain if she was given strips for a higher ZIP Code before those for lower ones. We finally solved that one by making her in charge of handing out the segments. Then she could do them in whatever order she damned well pleased.

I think you see my point. While a lot of volunteers are wonderful, the ones who aren't really aren't. And I want my tax money spent on something other than mental health support for those who have to deal with the bad ones, thanks.

Text � copyright 2000-2003 Becky