Over-extended

Another volunteer opportunity came up last week and it looked interesting and I thought maybe I’d do it. But I haven’t signed up.

I want to. But I haven’t yet.

Thinking about this over the weekend, I tried to come up with a clever description for this. Am I a volunteer dilettante? A volunteer junkie? A serial volunteer? Do I have the volunteer attention span of a kitten? Whatever, I like having a bunch of regular different volunteer things.

Cabrini Green Legal Aid is the closest to a regular, scheduled volunteer gig that I have. I try to be at the expungement desk for at least one shift a month, but I don’t always manage it (sometimes I manage an extra one) and it’s rarely the same time as last month.

473px-'VOLUNTEER_FOR_VICTORY'_-_NARA_-_515986My other efforts are more sporadic. When the National Lawyers Guild needs observers, sometimes I go, sometimes I don’t. When the Active Transportation Alliance needs people to count bike commuters, sometimes I’m available. When PPILAct needs people for events or tasks, if I have the time, sometimes I sign up. When the Red Cross circulates the schedule for workshop facilitators, I take a shift that works for me.

These are all catch as catch can arrangements which work very well for me.

In my job, I have to recruit, train, and monitor the work of volunteers. It’s been a little difficult this month, and so I wonder if my social butterfly volunteering is a very thoughtless thing. But many of my regular volunteer activities seem to be set up to encourage this approach to them–they send around emails with the dates and times and tasks they need volunteers to complete and you reply that you are interested. It seems to work pretty nicely. And the volunteer experience is very satisfying.

I don’t think my job can approach its volunteer needs in this way because our volunteers don’t fill a routine need. In my regular volunteer gigs, I do the same thing each time–I fill out the same legal paperwork, just for different people, with different case records; or I perform the same observation tasks, just for different marches or protests; or I perform routine event staff tasks, just at a different event. After training, with adequate supervision, I can drop in and out of the organization as my schedule permits.

Our volunteers, in contrast, work on discrete projects which require unique dedicated tasks over a short period of time–basically a requisite number of weekly hours over a period of months. It was ideal in the era of Big Law, when pro bono hours could sub for billables, or confer bragging rights, when Big Law staffs were huge and sometimes partners needed to find tasks for idle hands. Now that law firms are scaled back and stretched thinner, it’s harder for us to find that sort of intensive commitment from working professionals.

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