Sex, Love, and…Volunteer Managers?
This weekend I curled up with an unusual new light-reading book. Crystal Hickerson’s novel, The Volunteer, is a fictional account of hospice volunteering and one of the major characters is – yes! – the manager of volunteer resources. In fact this VRM is a handsome, divorced guy (well, this is a fantasy) to whom the young, single heroine volunteer is quite attracted. The feeling is mutual and, without being a spoiler, the twists and turns of the story lead to many places, including sex and love. (This may do wonders for our image as goody two-shoes!)
Wait! I know what you’re thinking. I, too, was skeptical, especially since most mass media depictions of volunteering are so off the mark, but I was pleasantly surprised. And even the most serious specialist in effective leadership of volunteers deserves a little amusement now and again. Give yourself a break and see how volunteerism can be successfully portrayed in a story.
Hickerson is well-versed from personal experience both in volunteer management and in hospice operations; she delivers a realistic world for her characters to inhabit. She introduces us to three main story lines: that of Jenna, a young woman who becomes a hospice volunteer after caring for her late mother; that of Samantha, a young woman enrolled in hospice with a terminal illness and a hostile mother, who becomes Jenna’s first assignment; and Matt, the volunteer resources manager, coping not only with the daily challenges of dealing with volunteers, staff, and patients, but who learns that major changes and cutbacks are about to occur from the corporate home office. (None of us can relate to that, right? Wink wink.)
While not a mainstream bodice-ripper or thriller, The Volunteer engages the reader in the intertwining lives of its characters and I ended up caring about them. The book definitely spotlights hospice services, demonstrating the impact of volunteer involvement on both the dying patient and on the volunteers who befriend them. It presents heart-warming moments but also the problems present in this type of service, showing both caring and uncaring staff.
For me the power of the book lies in what Matt goes through. I felt this was a genuine, realistic portrayal of the challenges of volunteer management.
Matt is juggling all the demands of a complex environment with serious client issues, devoted long-time volunteers, newbie volunteers, and a staff with a wide range of personalities. The common theme is an institutional lack of understanding as to what it takes to support and deploy volunteers effectively. Witness this exchange between Matt and a co-worker after a difficult incident with an angry client:
“So why can’t you get a volunteer out there?” Karen asked.
“Because no one, as of yet, has responded! I learned of the volunteer’s illness this weekend. He sent me an email on Saturday. He told me he would call me today, Monday, to let me know if he felt well enough, and he doesn’t. In fact, he feels worse and is headed to his doctor today. He did call and inform the patient’s wife, also.”
“This prompted her to call the weekend staff to ask for a volunteer for Tuesday?” Karen asked, clarifying.
“Correct. So I immediately sent out a notice to the volunteers, even the ones in the other sites, to see if anyone would be willing to fill this assignment for tomorrow. No one has responded yet.”
Karen made a face of confused doubt. “Out of all those volunteers, no one has responded? Come on!”
“Look, it takes time for people to get the message, check their calendars, think about it and get back to me. This is the process!” Matt told Karen.
“Well, your process is not working. Don’t you have people on standby or on call?” she asked.
“What do you think this is, a temp agency? You think these people are just waiting by their phones for a job? They are volunteers! Key word: VOLUNTEERS!” Matt was yelling again. With each word he was getting more and more upset because he had to explain himself to her.
I was amazed that this sort of problem was being presented – in a context in which the reader is definitely meant to identify and sympathize with Matt. The hospice in which he works is part of an enlarging, merging system and the powers that be are not at all convinced of the value of volunteer management. Matt is faced with being offered a major promotion away from working with volunteers and we watch him grapple with his devotion to volunteer engagement. Ultimately, the last chapters of the novel are a primer in how to champion volunteer involvement to one’s executives – reason enough for the readers of this blog to be interested!
You may not pass The Volunteer around among your non-volunteer management friends, but it is unique and you’ll want to add it to your professional volunteer management library, if only for the conversations it might start! Order from Amazon here.
Type of News: