Looking to volunteer for a non-profit organization? Watch out for these 4 red flags that can signal a bad match
Ideally, retirees thrive by combining their passion with volunteer activity. They love the idea of improving their community by harnessing the skills they have learned over the course of their lives. Plus, they can meet people and socialize.
What can go wrong?
In looking for the right volunteer position, they can fall into a pit of frustration. Their boss can be upsetting. Stress can mount. And the work can be disappointing or unrewarding.
To identify the right place to volunteer, do your due diligence. Be wary of letting your enthusiasm take precedence over your discernment when evaluating whether a particular opportunity meets your needs.
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“Retirees know how precious their time is, probably better than most,” said Meg Moloney, chief operating officer at Points of Light, an Atlanta-based volunteer service organization. “So ask questions and do your research.”
She says in many cases a friend or acquaintance will ask a retiree to volunteer. Amidst all the excitement (“This is such a wonderful agency doing an amazing job!”) And flattery (“You are perfect for this role!”), It’s easy to get carried away.
Instead, dig for the details. Ask questions such as:
-What is your role in the organization? How long have you been involved in it? How has it evolved during this period?
-To what extent do they support volunteers? Can you give some examples?
-How many volunteers are they currently using? Can you put me in touch with a few of them?
Your friend may emphasize the growing demand for your expertise and the pressure on the agency due to budget cuts, declining donors, or other factors. Red with guilt, you can agree to lend a hand on the spot.
“It’s best to research the organization first,” Moloney said. She suggests online tools like GuideStar (for financial data) and Glassdoor (for employee reviews).
For now, put aside your eagerness to volunteer; instead, wear your detective hat. Look for four red flags that raise concerns:
1. “You are alone. “ While large organizations can employ a volunteer coordinator to oversee your efforts, nonprofits of all sizes should nominate someone to introduce you and define your role. But if you feel adrift from the start, that’s a bad sign.
“Lack of responsiveness to your calls or emails can be a problem,” Moloney said. “Many nonprofits are understaffed, so you have to take that into account. But they should still get back to you ”quickly enough to answer your questions.
2. “We are trying to stay safe, but it is difficult.” Retirees who volunteer are not immune to occupational injuries or illnesses. If you find yourself working in cramped spaces or lifting heavy boxes, you may be exposed to risks that you were not aware of when you first started out.
“They should have information ready on their security protocols, especially the Covid protocols,” Moloney said. “They should be very familiar with them,” don’t look in a back drawer to find them.
3. “We’ll keep you busy. “ The organization should describe what you are going to do and why it is important. Specificity is great, but even a general overview (“It can be chaotic here, but your three priorities are …”) is better than a vague and blunt comment (“Oh, don’t worry. Our volunteers are always busy. “).
“You want to figure out what you’ll do and if the roles appeal to you,” said Tobi Johnson, president of VolunteerPro, a global consulting firm serving nonprofit organizations.
4. “We are in transition.” There is nothing fundamentally wrong with an organization that is undergoing a leadership change. A new executive director can bring new ideas and renewed meaning to the team.
But if you spot any signs of agitation in the brew, proceed with caution. Examples include a restless board of directors (note any recent resignations) or a sudden increase in staff turnover.
“The board has the governance and the fiduciary responsibility of the organization, so you’ll want to take a look at it,” Johnson said. “And during the interview process, ask to speak to other volunteers” to get their perspective on the internal dynamics of the organization.