Volunteers REALLY suck

(Random Aside: I am reasonably sure that the Featured Image for this post refers to the name of a Football team. There is a football team names ‘The Volunteers’. Really, they should put me on a fucking naming board or some shit.)

I am starting to feel like I am beating a dead horse. I get that way with this blog every now and again, and it usually starts to happen when I need a change of what is going on my life. I used to Kvetch about ESL students as long as I could, and then I tried to get away from that.

No, wait. I didn’t.


But as far as volunteers go, I well and truly hope that after this experience I am once and for all done. Because it has been a pretty bad experience over all. Since the last time I gripped about this, things have changed significantly because of the whole global pandemic that seems to never want to end. We moved on to making videos to post online in lieu of actually teaching real classes. This required more person-power than I had at hand, and so we (as an organization) reached out to online volunteers willing to make videos.

I don’t want to be mean here. People like to help, and I think that is awesome. I think the world would be a better place if this kind of altruism existed with a higher frequency. But I think the problem is one of organization. In that I was meant to organize these volunteers, part of the blame of much of what happened is indeed my own. But there were other frustrations that I don’t think I had a hand in, and were just things that came up because people, frankly, kinda suck.

There were a lot of cases of people who volunteered without really knowing what it was they were getting themselves into exactly. They had previous teaching experience, but none making video. We did everything we can to help them out and get them caught up, and in one case a volunteer did exceptionally well despite needing to be trained on a great many things. In some other cases, I kind of wish the people who weren’t all that willing to volunteer had not bothered. I am sure they could have volunteered to do other things in other capacities. But for us it didn’t work.

Most of the people I interacted with were pretty much all caught up to speed with the skills they needed to do the job. The problem were all with commitment issues.

If you volunteer, you should think of it as a job. Although I never got any kind of confirmation about this from any of them, I think most people I worked with saw volunteering as being much more akin to a hobby. They figured they could do it whenever they had time. The world was undergoing a lockdown at the time, and so they had the time. I understood that the excess of spare time the were undergoing was going to end at some point, and I would have been fine with these volunteers simply bowing out when their regular duties and life going-ons resumed. What must be understood is that while at the volunteer end you are simply giving away your free time, at the other end there is a serious obligation and in many cases a deadline that had to be met, with no compromise allowed. I saw the deadlines. But no one else seems to care. There was very little communications from the volunteers, and this wasn’t for my lack of trying. I would send weekly emails at the very least, and after a time this felt like me waving my arms frantically saying ‘PLEASE ACKNOWLEDGE ME!’ This was all largely for naught. I had at last three volunteers who simply dropped off the face of the earth without ever saying anything, leaving their assignments unfulfilled.

Others just took there sweet time with things. When we onboarded them we did ask if they would be willing to commit to about a video a week. I timed this for myself and found that it took me about ~4.5 hours to make a video from start to finish. This was not considering the massive computer problems I was having, but no matter how you cut it I could get the damn things done easily in a day. And yet despite this, most weren’t able to keep this up.

For me, this ended up meaning that I had to spend a whole lot of time working towards making videos to bridge the gap the volunteers were leaving me with. I pretty much found myself doing a video per week or more. Which sucked, because I had other responsibilities, and nowhere near enough time to get them all done.

This wasn’t the only type of problem I encountered. Most people were pretty unable to follow a lot of the basic instructions we gave them. I think many of them simply didn’t really read our emails or listen to what we were saying. For example, towards the end of the project we took on a new volunteer, and we made it very clear to them that the project was terminating at the end of August. We just needed a few videos from them. I assigned them a video, and they got to work. A week later I emailed them and they said they couldn’t work on it right now because they were camping with their family. A week after that, my email got no reply. A week after that they said they had done half the video, but wouldn’t be able to work on it anymore because their family was in town, but they would be happy to resume in September.


I get it, life happens. But I still have my obligations. Just bow out if you can’t keep going with your work. I understand, I promise I will. Another volunteer worked very will, up until she went on vacation. She didn’t inform me about the vacation, she just took the assignment and said she would work on it. Same song and dance with a bunch of email that never got replied until one, with her videos now overdo, telling me she was on vacation and would start working again next week. Two weeks go by, and she replies to another email to say that she extended her vacation. When she did finally get the videos to me, I realize that she didn’t read the assignment correctly and she thus made the videos for a different topic.

I wish I could say that last part was exceptional. It wasn’t. A lot of what I got did not meet the criteria we had set up. What was there to do about it? I couldn’t do the work all by myself, could I?

Maybe I could have. Maybe I should have. But other things kept on coming up.

I have been working in management now for about five years. That isn’t a wealth of time, but it isn’t nothing either. I have never, never in my life, encountered anything like this. Not even in high school.

I pray to never again work with volunteers as long as I live.

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