The volunteer orientation was doomed from the start. I’ll admit that it was partially my mistake – somehow I decided that it started at 6:30 (rather than 6pm). I had enough warning from K. to know I was late, but it was still a shock to show up and find all the ground level doors to the building locked. I sneaked into the side door behind a maintenance guy and hopped into the elevator, pushing the 7th Floor button. Actually, I pushed 8 on accident and then started hitting all the buttons, so by the time I got to the 11th floor I was shouting that the damn thing hadn’t stopped anywhere. A woman got on and kindly told me that I needed a key to get to the correct place – something she didn’t have. Somehow I found someone who could get to the 8th floor, so I got off and promptly locked myself in the stairwell. Thank god for cellphones.
Anyway, that was just the beginning. More than half an hour late at this point, I was surprised to find my friends asking questions of other volunteers like “What is this race, again?”. Pretty sure the format of the race should have been one of the first things we learned. The Tour de Cure is a bike ride that benefits the American Diabetes Association – about 1000 riders troll around Kennebunkport, Maine in support of research, prevention, and some other part of their mission that has already slipped my mind. We were planning to volunteer at registration early on race day (coming in June) after a night of camping. Despite the numerous emails and time spent on the phone with ADA staff confirming our assignment (thanks to K.#2), it turns out that we are going to be helping out with lunch…we think.
This volunteer “orientation” consisted of other new volunteers trying to figure out what the hell is going on. We spent about 45 minutes discussing who was leading the meeting and what we all were there for. At first, I honestly thought about bolting, but with such a small group of us, it didn’t seem too appropriate. But, as the meeting progressed, it got better and better. Here we were, a group of volunteer managers drilled in the ways of best practices, listening to people who truly had no clue what a volunteer orientation should look like. That being said, the volunteer leaders were passionate, detail-oriented, and incredibly nice (they even offered their yard for our camping adventure). I figure that there is something to be said for enthusiasm in volunteer activities – maybe even more than professionalism. I was about ready to sign up for the 2am pizza cooking shift just to help out (who needs sleep, anyway).
The end of the meeting was even more absurd than the lack of leadership, planning, or direction of our orientation. They were giving out stuffed teddy bears for us to answer simple questions about the ADA. But it happened twice. No, seriously. They had us in one room and asked us what the acronym SAG stands for. Then, they took us into another room and asked the same question for the same cheesy stuffed animal prize. And, no, I don’t remember what SAG is.
Lessons learned? Train your staff. Don’t call a planning meeting an “orientation”. Have project planners communicate before sitting down with other volunteers. Tell people that the doors lock at six and which elevators to use. Don’t waste my time with lame trivia questions. Oh, and I’m a sucker for nice people…so I’ll forgive you for everything else if you keep them around. And, I might be a little jealous that you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing, especially since I can already tell that the race is going to be a blast.