Earlier this week we discussed some creative ideas for how to avoid getting roped into excessive volunteering. If you missed it, click here to get the low-down. It’s mandatory reading for anyone who wants to protect their free time and learn new ways of saying “no.”

Here are some highlights to help you review:

  • Expect that you WILL be asked to volunteer.
  • Be mentally prepared for these requests and have a well rehearsed way of saying “no” (or “no thank you,” or “AW HAYLE NO, Beeyotch!”).
  • Avoid eye contact with anyone wearing a name tag or carrying a clip board.
  • We all have a right to say no. Flex those “No Muscles!” Saying no gets easier the more you do it (so I’ve been told).

I can tell by all the wonderful comments from my last post that this topic really touched a nerve. So glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with this issue!

Today, let’s continue the conversation and address some specific strategies people use to trick or coerce us into volunteering. Knowledge is power, my friends! If we can spot a manipulation tactic in play, we’ll be better able to flex those No Muscles and make a speedy getaway.

The most prevalent strategy of course is guilt. If you have a Jewish or Catholic mother, you are already well aware of this time-honored tactic. It works. Volunteer coordinators are experts at making others feel sorry for them and/or ashamed for not doing enough to help. Learn to recognize a guilt trip when you see it so you can protect yourself from being manipulated.

Some typical mannerisms associated with guilt-trippers include heavy sighing, slumping, and a general aura of disappointment or disapproval. They like to play the victim role. Woe is them!

Don’t buy into it! Or as my Mama says, “Not mine.”

Sadly, easier said than done.

The other day I was attending a meeting (mistake numero uno) at one of my kids’ schools when into the room burst Valerie Volunteer! She was clearly under duress. She had that look… like a cross between a deer in the headlights and a ticking time bomb. Crazy like a fox, that lady. So there she sat, lip slightly quivering, a catch in her voice, and asking for volunteers to please help her facilitate the upcoming Fall Festival. I know I should have averted my eyes, or looked busy, or pretended I just sharted, but I was completely glued to the unfolding drama.

Long story short: what has a filthy kitchen floor, unwritten freelance assignments, two gigantic thumbs, and spent two hours last weekend wrapping 32 shoe boxes to hold silent auction raffle tickets for the Fall Festival? This gal:

Live and learn, eh?

The next volunteer manipulation tactic we should be on the lookout for is flattery.

This one is tricky for those of us who are starved for attention and praise. Volunteer coordinators know this! Nine times out of ten, if someone praises you, it’s a red flag that you are about to be ambushed into volunteering! Put your feet in the ready position…this is a fight or flight scenario, folks.

I recently received phone calls from the leaders of two ministries at my church who were seeking my involvement. I can’t prove this, but I suspect there’s an underground Vatican-based training for church ministry leaders because their approaches were absolutely identical:

1.) THE COMPLIMENT: They told me how impressed they were with my ______ skills. (Insert whatever works here: writing, child-wrangling, chainsaw juggling, whatever.)

2.) THE NAME DROP: They casually referenced someone of importance: “Father Felipe and I were talking and your name came up as someone who would be great on our committee!”

3.) THE LIE: They told me the time required to participate in their ministry would be nominal…”whatever you want to make of it!” or “no more than 45 minutes once a month.”

4.) THE APPEAL TO MY SENSE OF DECENCY: They asked if I would join their committee/ministry so I could share my ______ talents with our parish. (underlying message: don’t be selfish!)

5.) THE STAND-OFF: They stopped talking and simply waited for me to fill the awkward silence with my inevitable guilt-ridden “YES!”

Evil. Genius.

Both times, something deep and primal within me wanted to say “Sorry, but no,” or even “OMG, Gotta go! My hair is on fire!” But both times, I was so surprised and flattered by their attention that I caved like a California mudslide. They wanted me? ME? Iris Beard? The notorious recreational canine scat enthusiast?

The phone calls caught me by surprise, the flattery lowered my defenses, and my No Muscle was flabby. It was the trifecta of doom.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to the newest member of the Stewardship Council AND the Unit Leader for my daughter’s scout troop!

Any you wonder why I drink.

Look. I’m not saying NEVER volunteer. What kind of world would we live in if everyone only looked out for themselves or their own families?

All I’m saying is choose your volunteer duties wisely, don’t get pressured into over-committing yourself or doing tasks that suck the life out of you, and remember to put the needs of your own family above the needs of others.

And don’t worry. The work will get done without you.

Did you ever hear the one about two friends walking in the woods who come across a bear? One friend turns to the other and says “I don’t think we can outrun that bear!” And the other friend says “I don’t have to outrun the bear. I just have to outrun YOU.”

That’s the attitude you need to take when you are faced with a high pressure volunteer situation. You don’t have to outrun the chick with the clipboard, you just have to outrun all the other people pleasers in the room.

Lace up those running shoes, bitches.


PS – Have you voted for The Bearded Iris yet at Babble.com’s list of the Top 50 Mom Blogs? I’m gaining on the top ten! Help me get there and I’ll do all your chores for a month.


© Copyright 2011, The Bearded Iris.