Every once in a while I decide to volunteer for something for selfish reasons – usually it ends up alright, but not this time. Since I work my friend K. into every blog post like she’s “Where’s Waldo?”, I’ll go ahead and mention that I signed up for this event (called Taste of the Nation) because of her. She didn’t actually do anything, but K. likes food and so I thought we could volunteer together at this foodie event and she could teach me a thing or two. Turns out she had other plans, which is probably where things started to go wrong. Well, I can’t blame it all on her…I did have a handful of other friends there with me.
So, let me explain – this event we’re at is all about food and cocktails, wine and beer, and looking fancy (at least if you paid the $95 to get in). If you’re a volunteer, it’s about a 6 hour shift with one (yes, ONE) greasy piece of pizza. I should rephrase – if you’re a good volunteer. Despite my pro-service intentions, sometimes a just suck as a volunteer. I started out alright – we were supposed to be clearing out dirty glasses and plates, but I soon felt like I was competing with other volunteers for who could take the trash out fastest. Not my favorite game. Instead, I found my old buddy B. who happens to own a brewery…that brewery just happened to be serving beer at the event. So, B. stratigically placed glasses of beer for us volunteers to “clear out”. I tried to control myself, I really did….but then I made friends with a bartender who insisted that I take a shot of bourbon…and then my friend A. took over the tap for another beer company. So, my day went: run, eat a granola bar, walk to volunteer event, eat a piece of pizza, clear trash for 5 hours while drinking,…. you can see where I’m going. Not enough food and too much free booze was not a good thing.
Now, other than coloring myself as a lush, what can you take away from this? First of all, let me point out that I wasn’t even the worst volunteer there. A handful of people clearly knew the scheme and strategically chose not to put on their volunteer t-shirts. They turned their volunteer nametag around and soon they looked exactly like all the VIP members who paid over $100 to get in. I pointed this out to one of the volunteer managers (he insisted they were VIPs) and then watched them eat and drink to their heart’s content. So – maybe you should insist on the dress code, or at least change the color of the nametags. I also noticed some crazy bartering system between the volunteer wine pourers and the chefs making food…but I think they were on to something. Second, give me more than one damn piece of pizza! There could be volunteer food tickets good for a couple food/drink items, then maybe I wouldn’t have been going on an empty stomach. Oh, and I want a break, too. Most waitresses would have made $300 that night…I on the other hand have a scraped knee from tripping over my own sorry ass.
Ok, I can’t blame the organizers completely. But I’m curious – how do you motivate volunteers at an event like this to do their job and not just sneak off to party? Are there ways to let them partake in special treats while still getting the job done? Or, is this how it is all supposed to go – some volunteers sort of suck and the others pick up the slack? Maybe I’ll investigate this situation next year (but I’m totally signing up as a wine pourer).