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October 2007

Volunteering for the local arts organization

Dear Harriete,

I have volunteered to help organize other volunteers at a local arts organization. The volunteer position was presented to me by the organization as an 8-hour a week obligation.  In reality, the work takes at least 15 hours a week – far longer than I have time for or am willing to give.  How do I back out of my agreement without losing too much face and without burning my bridges with the organization?  They asked me for a commitment of 12 months and I have only given them 3 months so far.

Sincerely,

Backed into a corner

Dear  Backed into a Corner,

Looking at the whole situation, either the organization is unaware of the true amount of effort required, or you are doing more than the organization expected to be done.  Your sense of obligation to fulfill your commitment is admirable and doing a great job is paramount. You should fulfill your commitment.

In addition, communicate with the organization leadership about the position’s time commitment or ask them to evaluate the position and clarify what you can eliminate to reduce the time invested in this position. If the organization is willing to do without some tasks that you have performed, then your time commitment can be reduced.  If the organization agrees that more volunteer time than originally estimated is needed, then ask them to help find some help. Ask them to help recruit or assign an assistant or co-volunteer. Another option is to ask if you can find someone to help. In either case, communication and full disclosure is the key.

Prior to your talk with the organization, I would recommend that you itemize how you break down your tasks and the time required and suggestions for dividing the job with an “assistant.”  This may take a little extra effort, but well worth saving your good name.  Try to make your proposal into a win-win situation for everyone, and keep in mind that they may have some time-saving suggestions for you as well. They will appreciate your thoughtful consideration. You might try recruiting an assistant volunteer on your own, but communication with the organization is likely to be the most productive path. Ultimately, doing the job well and fulfilling your commitment for the remainder of a year will preserve your reputation for a lifetime.

PS.  For the rest of us, if asked to volunteer for a position, try talking to the person who previously performed the task for the real amount of effort and time involved and their suggestions.

Signed,

Harriete