I’ve read that the best blogs are those that are honest and reflect the real experiences of the blogger. So, in that spirit, I’m going to share some events that I have experienced in my own life during the last few weeks, related, of course, to the non-profit world.

My three children belong to a local competitive swim club. There are about 120 kids, ages 6 to 17, on the team.

I believe that our organization is having a problem with managing both our volunteer needs and our volunteer expectations.

The swim team has an official 501(c)(3) status. I am not on the board of directors, but I do volunteer and am regularly involved with team activities.

Basically, our situation is similar to what many other non-profits face. I’m not just talking about swim teams, but any group that requires significant volunteer participation. No one with any non-profit experience will be surprised, but in our organization, like many others, most of the work is done by a very few people.

In our particular case, running a swim meet is a very labor intensive endeavor. Without dozens of volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to pull one off. However, getting parents to commit to regular unpaid service can be a real challenge.

As a parent who is involved with the team, my knee-jerk reaction is to be a jerk. I want to grab every parent who drops their kid off at the curb and never comes into the pool by the collar and toss them in the deep end. That’ll show ‘em.

Well, on second thought, maybe assault and battery isn’t such a good idea.  So, for me, the first thing I have to do is come to grips with the problem.

Getting enough volunteers is hard. Why?

Well, here’s an excuse we’ve all heard a million times: Everybody is busy.

I know, I know. I choke on that one, too. But, the thing is, there’s some truth in that statement- everybody is busy. There’s work for the parents, school functions and homework for the kids, maybe a few church activities thrown in, and possibly another sport for an older sibling. If both parents are employed from 8 to 5, life can get swamped in a hurry. People are exhausted. Who has the time or the energy to sign up for a regular volunteer commitment?

However, I really don’t think that when mom drops her kids off at swim practice, she is secretly going out clubbing, do you? I mean, she’s probably at the grocery store, squeezing in some shopping while she can.

So it’s pretty hard to get mad at the parents. Most of them are just doing their best to keep their heads above water. Just like everyone else.

So then, why do some parents always seem to make it to practice and volunteer at the meets? Aren’t they too busy, too?

Well, in my case, I’m passionate about my kids’ swimming. Nobody had to talk me into volunteering. I’m just nuts about the sport. Therefore, I’ve made swim practice a priority for our family. I’ve worked it out where shopping, doctor’s appointments, and even writing for this blog are fit in around our swim schedule. I know it sounds a little crazy, but I’m not the only parent on the team like this. There are a few of us Looney-Tunes.

Some families have one stay-at-home parent, which also helps a great deal in making time for volunteering. I’m not saying that stay-at-home parents aren’t busy, by any means; it’s just that there’s often a little more flexibility in this kind of life-style.

But, nuts people like me and the stay-at-home parents are in the minority. Most folks fall into the category of being incapable of jugging six balls at once. And that’s ok.

So, what else? Why can’t we get more people to sort out their schedules and make volunteering for our team a higher priority?

As I have been thinking about this problem of getting more people to volunteer, I have realized that blame also rests with the team leadership and the fact that we haven’t built a very good mousetrap.

Could we be the reason why more parents don’t volunteer, and we don’t even know it?

To be continued… For the second part of this multi-part series, please click here.

Photo by: bgottsab

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Posted on 01 February 2011

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