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Author: slowlythere Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: of 3078  
Subject: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 12/31/2006 9:55 AM
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Recently I started to get involved and volunteer with a fledgling (few months old) crisis intervention organization. It's hard to describe them, but they are like a very loose, emergency shelter, transition facility for what is roughly put high-risk clients that have slipped through the usual cracks (including most who are mentally ill, or need therapy, psychiatric medications, or other, though mostly functioning). There are a number of local organizations similar to this, but this is one of the newer ones and I like the one-on-one feel with most of the other volunteer staff and clients here.

I picked this one mostly because it's less bureacratic than some of the other ones I've been considering. I had gone to a couple of others for information about volunteering, but decided on this one. The good thing about it is that they appreciate any and all help as they are clearly understaffed and struggling plus very open to whatever volunteers are capable of doing.

Now, the bad news. They are utterly disorganized, chaotic, and often don't know what anybody else is doing. Despite all good intentions, I find them very frustrating to deal with. There is no real accountability at all in more ways than one and it's rather disturbing as well as irritating in some ways. Granted, they are stressed out because it is the end of the year, but I'm hoping it will get better in even two weeks with the new year. Even then, I'm starting to have some fears/concerns that they may not be operating as legally or ethically as I think they really should. This is not to say there's any criminal intent here, just that there's so much gross incompetence that they may end up putting clients at risk in some (small?) ways, or they may jeopardize their very recent 501(c)3 status and finances.

Since my skills here are mostly (but not solely) administrative, a major area I'm involved with are donations. They haven't even *started* any files for donors and they could - literally - loose a piece of (scrap) paper and lose track of what $ came from who(whom). In fact, I am supposed to start this donor database for them, but they don't even have all the paperwork in legible and accessible form (scattered between different long-term volunteer staff who are bickering).

As much as I believe in this organization, I'm afraid they are not much more than a bandaid with no way of really helping the clients here to transition to any other facility, or independent living. They have no real programs or clear agenda about how/why they expect clients to "make it" from here.

Separate from this, clearly there are also some huge egos and power dynamics between the full-time members of the volunteer staff: It doesn't bode well to me. (I strongly suspect one of the full-timers has a mental disorder that deals with adjustment issues, but that's just speculation.) I want to help somewhat more, but an issue is not to step on toes, or offend. In total, I think the full-time (long-term) volunteer staff (who run the organization) really comes down to three people. One virtually lives there 24/7 himself and the others are there, or around, constantly doing things every spare moment possible when they aren't there physically. There's about another four who try to take care of things from home, or their jobs, though they come back almost daily. Three of these various have been ill (to the point of hospitalization) in the past month, possibly due to stress as well as general health issues.

I'm debating, after this initial transitional new year start (this current time frame and for another month is critical for them), leaving this small organization. I'm only technically part-time, but they've valued my assistance thus far. Of course, they are grateful to all the new volunteers so I'm not unique. For myself, I think it's possible to step out as I have mostly projects that I are finite and can be handed over to others fairly easily.

Anyone here can share their experiences with volunteering for organizations like this?
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Author: Odee Big funky green star, 20000 posts Feste Award Nominee! Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2891 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 12/31/2006 11:07 AM
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Any time a volunteer at any level allows their ego to get involved, it will affect the entire organization. BTDT and moved on to work with wonderful people who put their heart and soul into the groups.

You need to evaluate repeatedly if they are improving or sinking deeper. Volunteering is rewarding, but not at the cost of your health, attitude, etc.

I work full-time and work with three non-profits. At times I'm asked to slow down, even by those I support :) - I do allow down time and will back off if overloaded, recharge and resume. Sometimes when making calls, we have to explain we are all volunteers with full-time jobs; because sometimes those calls aren't returned "quick" enough.

We can share experiences, but only you will know whether to step away or not. Good luck with your decision.

Odee



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Author: amiablejak Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2892 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/2/2007 10:02 AM
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I picked this one mostly because it's less bureaucratic than some of the other ones I've been considering.
...
Now, the bad news. They are utterly disorganized, chaotic, and often don't know what anybody else is doing.


Well, sadly, the bureaucracy comes about from attempts at organization. The reason you have to fill out 3 forms and check with 5 people is to ostensibly avoid the confusion and chaos you are finding at this place.

It's a trade off you will have to make a decision on.

jak
personally, if I was in charge of keeping track of donations for a poorly run 501C3 - I'd be gone. No sense in getting in personal legal trouble for their disorganization. Then you won't be any good to anyone.

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Author: slowlythere Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2893 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/2/2007 10:28 AM
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Greetings everyone!

Odee, thanks much for your thoughts and experiences: it sounds like you've been through this more than a few times. I can only imagine what I have in front of me, but I'm glad you haven't lost the faith in volunteering. I'm questioning whether or not what I do is really meaningful at all, for myself or for anyone else, beyond the unintended lessons I'm learning. I know I'm learning about my own tolerances and priorities along the way.

amiablejak,

Well, sadly, the bureaucracy comes about from attempts at organization. The reason you have to fill out 3 forms and check with 5 people is to ostensibly avoid the confusion and chaos you are finding at this place.

It's a trade off you will have to make a decision on.


Yes, now that I'm in a place like this, "bureaucracy" certainly sounds like a good thing. Problem here is that some people don't seem to have even basic common sense. In other situations, it seems a total lack of experience and awareness is lacking. Not that I have a huge reservoir of experience and awareness, but I think my impact here is because I have experience from other vaguely similar non-profits. Most of what I'm doing is posing them what I hope are smart questions (issues) for them to consider.

Even then, they are too tired, stressed, or confused. They express vague desires, but unwilling to make any decisions or take literally five minutes to consider a course of action. Separately, I also think they waste a huge amount of time and energy because they can't/won't consider the implications. (Along with the "waste" I'm also aware that it seems they will/are wasting funds along the way.

Otherwise, some of the donations they've been receiving are via donated professional (legal, computer, health, other) services. I don't even think they've considered how to account for such, yet. (I've seen the invoiced donations at other agencies.)

jak
personally, if I was in charge of keeping track of donations for a poorly run 501C3 - I'd be gone. No sense in getting in personal legal trouble for their disorganization. Then you won't be any good to anyone.


I'll mention this: they don't even seem to remember what my full name is, never mind anything else. I've never signed anything, seen a *clear* (only implied) mission statement, don't know who the board of directors are, etc., etc. I'm even uncertain if they keep any updated, written records on the clients that come in and out, or attendance. (Which is/was an issue at other parallel facilities.) It's possible that one of them transposes such data to records elsewhere (I think most of the long-term volunteers keep records in their own homes: they don't have a real office), but there's no guarantee they are keeping the relevant data for legal and accounting purposes.

Yes, scary. I really don't think I want to stick with them at least on the legal aspects. No irony that I've been telling them for two weeks that they MUST have legal counsel, or have their documents and related reviewed legally. They either dismiss, ignore, or just confused when I bring it up.

Thank you for letting me vent,
ST

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Author: Diablo2Queen Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2894 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/2/2007 10:41 AM
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Yes, scary. I really don't think I want to stick with them at least on the legal aspects. No irony that I've been telling them for two weeks that they MUST have legal counsel, or have their documents and related reviewed legally. They either dismiss, ignore, or just confused when I bring it up.


You might want to write them a letter telling them this (and keep a copy for yourself) just to help cover your behind in case there's ever any question about stuff that's gone on (with other people there) while you've been involved.



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Author: slowlythere Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2895 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/2/2007 7:25 PM
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You might want to write them a letter telling them this (and keep a copy for yourself) just to help cover your behind in case there's ever any question about stuff that's gone on (with other people there) while you've been involved.

Just sitting down and catching up a bit, now. Thus far, I haven't actually spoken to the grassroots org today, but not rushing it. I am also trying to do some separate research by attempting to find some names and contact info. for people in similar, but better established, organizations for some perspective.

I am cautious about the idea of writing them a letter, for this reason: about ten years ago, I was only peripherally involved with some combative former partners in some situations. I ended up unwillingly becoming a temporary mediator between them. At one point, one of them asked me to write down an explanation of what I knew and related until that point, how/why I was involved as well, because it would have helped her to 'understand' some aspect, in the form of a standard letter (including signed, dated, etc.). She said she thought it was a good idea and that it would 'protect' me, the other party involved, plus herself, so she said. I consented to do so and told her she'd have that letter (plus other activities accomplished as part of the informal 'mediation'). As we were hanging up, she also mentioned casually that her lawyer (?!) also concurred that it would be a good idea. That got me suspicious and I contacted my own lawyer (who I had retained for completely separate, personal matters to date) who literally screamed at me on the phone, "NO!!! NEVER PUT ANYTHING DOWN IN WRITING WITHOUT MY LOOKING AT IT!" If there's anything indicative to me is having an otherwise sane (relatively speaking) lawyer suddenly shriek at me on the phone. Once he calmed down after a pause, he said it should be a red flag whenever anybody else says that their lawyer 'thought it would be a good idea.' It's always about protecting their interests, not mine. He said even a simple written statement that I knew of anything whatsoever, no matter how innocent or benign, could make me party to a lawsuit. He then basically gave me simple instructions that - as it stands - I can/should still forward the materials discussed, but not put anything in writing. He said it was also okay if I called to let her know, but to say little else. Subsequently, I sent the items/materials as such, called that person, and when she insisted again on whether I'd include the 'note,' I subsequently cursed her out (okay, not okay-ed by my lawyer), and we mutually terminated the call. Nothing happened from there.

Since then, I never put anything down in writing until I know exactly why and how it's supposed to 'protect' myself versus unintentionally implicating myself. Any situation in which I'd fear that degree of complication (especially in writing), I'll consult a lawyer if necessary.

At this point, though, I don't anticipate that they'll go to such lengths, especially since they literally don't even know my proper name (despite my attempts to correct them, at least in the first several days, weeks).


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Author: Diablo2Queen Big gold star, 5000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2896 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/2/2007 8:06 PM
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That got me suspicious and I contacted my own lawyer (who I had retained for completely separate, personal matters to date) who literally screamed at me on the phone, "NO!!! NEVER PUT ANYTHING DOWN IN WRITING WITHOUT MY LOOKING AT IT!" If there's anything indicative to me is having an otherwise sane (relatively speaking) lawyer suddenly shriek at me on the phone. Once he calmed down after a pause, he said it should be a red flag whenever anybody else says that their lawyer 'thought it would be a good idea.' It's always about protecting their interests, not mine. He said even a simple written statement that I knew of anything whatsoever, no matter how innocent or benign, could make me party to a lawsuit.

Good point. Listen to your lawyer instead of someone on the internet. :)



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Author: slowlythere Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2897 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/3/2007 8:49 PM
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Good point. Listen to your lawyer instead of someone on the internet. :)

Hi, I really hope you didn't take offense by my reply? I'm very frustrated with a lot of what I've been doing of late and beginning to second-guess everything. If I had offended, my apologies: I certainly didn't want to do so.

An oft-repeated maxim comes to mind now: "no good deed goes unpunished."

My reaching out to this particular non-profit recently was a step to hopefully provide support and comfort in some small fashion. Your reply (and all the other replies) to me was clearly in the same vein. Sometimes it seems, though, when we reach out - or do the unexpected, unnecessary, and perhaps respond instinctively - we get bitten. Good deeds sometimes come back to haunt us. That situation of my attempting to mediate between two combative former partners 10+ years ago (and some others as well) nearly put me at potentially significant legal (and financial) jeopardy because I was trying to (even if not completely voluntarily) smooth things out and "make nice" between people. It wasn't a good feeling to try and help others only to find out we seriously jeopardized ourselves in ways we couldn't have initially anticipated. It's happened to me many times in mostly small or subtle ways.

The thing that sucks about all this: I'm losing faith in my ability to help others or that my actions really make a difference, or mean anything. Maybe it's really a difference of learning to not overextend myself, correcting my altruistic ambitions, or simply not getting involved unless there's clear self-interest involved. Since I had such a lousy New Years Eve and New Years Day (and not just regarding this non-profit), I'm thinking it's a propitious indicator that maybe I should be more "selfish" in my direction this year. I really think I need to - as someone said to me when I mused about this current situation - setup my own clear mission statement for altruism/philanthropy and not deviate from that anymore.

Otherwise, not much of an update: I haven't contacted the non-profit in the last couple of days and just thinking about things at this time. I'll probably contact them by the weekend if I haven't heard from them and, then, predominantly to (hopefully) wrap up the primary project that I'm still working on for them. The result of the previous weeks, I'm nearly exhausted from chasing them down in trying to ask them what I can do, etc. The upside: *if* I do further volunteer work, I'll stick with better established and structured organizations from this point in time. My thoughts remain with their clients: I hope that they'll receive (find) suitable alternatives to this program.

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Author: AlisonWonderland Big funky green star, 20000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2898 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/3/2007 10:07 PM
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The upside: *if* I do further volunteer work, I'll stick with better established and structured organizations from this point in time.

That makes a good deal of sense -- at least to me, but I tend to be a follower rather than a leader. You know, tell me what you want me to do or where I need to be -- I'm just not cut out (or comfortable) to be in charge of something.

The thing that sucks about all this: I'm losing faith in my ability to help others or that my actions really make a difference, or mean anything.

A better-organized group may offset these feelings. OTOH, sometimes we need to take a break from things. Sometimes it takes time to refocus on what needs doing and what we need.

An oft-repeated maxim comes to mind now: "no good deed goes unpunished."

Or "virtue is its own punishment."

~~ Alison

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Author: amiablejak Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2899 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/4/2007 10:18 AM
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The upside: *if* I do further volunteer work, I'll stick with better established and structured organizations from this point in time.

I sure hope you don't stop volunteering. You seem to be a genuinely caring person who does want to help people.

It doesn't hurt to take care of yourself, either. I've started finding a balance, and sometimes the two combine.

I volunteer for an organization where I'm helping people who can't do what I do for themselves. That feels good, but sometimes it's draining.

I started cycling last year and really enjoyed the physical fitness, fresh air and sense of accomplishment.

A few of the rides I got to go on were fundraisers for charities. I was able to combine some volunteering with an activity I was doing for myself.

Anyway - I hope that you can extricate yourself, re-focus, and move on with more gusto and joy!

jak

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Author: slowlythere Big red star, 1000 posts Old School Fool Add to my Favorite Fools Ignore this person (you won't see their posts anymore) Number: 2900 of 3078
Subject: Re: Frustration with grassroot orgs Date: 1/4/2007 12:31 PM
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Thanks everyone, yet again! This afternoon, it's dawned on me I'm doing nothing, but wallowing and complaining about this situation. My apologies! I'm embarrassing myself, but it's well earned? I do appreciate the graciousness you've treated me with.

Meanwhile, I think I'm going to stop trying to spread myself so thin and go back to basics, meaning focusing on my own problems and priorities. Unwittingly I've become too dependent volunteer work and socializing there for emotional satisfaction and it's a bad habit: I'm responsible for myself and need to act accordingly. I'm complaining about them for not helping me with my own subconscious emotional needs when, theoretically, I'm there to help them. I've misplaced my expectations. When I know what I really need and what I can handle, then it's safe for me to volunteer again. This isn't to say I don't want to help, but when I find myself being counterproductive to stated goals, then I think it's good if I step back and, at least, take a break and reassess.

Update: Received a phone call this morning from the lead person, but I didn't speak with him. There's some good progress and updates in some areas. They've received a few more volunteers offering to help in different areas and I may be able to work with them on the projects I'm working on at this point. (There's two key projects I have: one is very time sensitive, the other is just generally urgent, heh.)

Thank you,
ST
Will find the old running shoes and hit the gym tomorrow


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