what can we do about a rude volunteer coordinator?

A reader writes:

My wife and I volunteer extensively at our church, especially with the children’s activities. We have a small issue with the staff member in charge. We have been professionals for quite a few years, yet, this person treats us like high school students working at a fast food restaurant. For instance, we are early every Sunday to help corral kids to their classes. One Sunday we were planning to miss and emailed her. The response was something along the lines of “OK, but let’s not make this a habit.” I’m not sure if I took that response too hard or what, but my wife and I felt pretty small. We thought maybe that we had left her short-staffed so the NEXT time we had to miss, we arranged for a replacement couple (who also volunteer in the same role there, just less often) to help out. Her response was a curt, “I will take care of the staffing, thanks.” Well, that just pissed me off. It’s like I can’t win.

I recognize that organizations really want to treat volunteers differently than employees for the simple fact that the organization NEEDS volunteers to stay fully staffed and volunteers can be flaky and can be put off by the smallest thing and not come back. I guess my question is two parts: What key attitude changes do you make to manage volunteers versus employees? And how best do we give critical feedback to the staff member regarding her behavior?

This woman needs some remedial training in how to manage volunteers, because this is not how you treat them.

Anyone managing workers — volunteers or paid employees — should speak to them respectfully, but it’s especially true when a worker is donating their time for free. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when volunteers need to be corrected or talked to about a problem or even separated from the organization, but it does mean that you go about all of that with extra care and with the recognition that they are doing the organization a favor by working for free.

So what does that mean in practice here? Well, if missing a shift caused problems, it’s certainly appropriate for her to speak to you about it — but not in a curt email. She should have called you or talked to you the next time you were in, explained what she needed and why, and checked to see if that was something you’re able to give.

Her “let’s not make this a habit” email after one instance of canceling was incredibly condescending and unwarranted. She shouldn’t say that even if it had happened multiple times (instead she should have a conversation; see above), but it’s especially inappropriate in this context.

The same thing goes for the second incident: There are legitimate reasons for why she might prefer to handle finding a replacement herself, but again, that’s something she should explain to you politely.

It sounds to me like she’s not clear on the role of volunteers and how to best manage them — and the fact that volunteers are people who are doing her employer a favor.

I would do two things:

1. Talk to her. Say something like, “Jane, we really enjoy volunteering our time here, but we’ve had a couple of email exchanges with you recently that left a bad taste in our mouth. When you said X, it left us feeling like we’re not being treated as conscientious adults, and that there’s not much appreciation for the fact that we’re donating our time. I certainly understand and expect that you have standards that you need to hold volunteers to, but if there’s a problem, I’d rather you discuss it with us in a different manner.”

2. If she reacts badly to this, or if her behavior doesn’t change, I’d take it up with whoever manages her. This is the kind of thing that person would want to know about — because otherwise they’re going to start losing volunteers and not know why.

{ 142 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    Talking > email, but more important is tactful > rude.

    I agree that having a discussion–you know, talking–is the adult way to do things. But I also know that there are times when it’s not possible to do that in some volunteer situations. For instance, in a church, it’s often the case that the only time you see your volunteers is when they’re *working*, and it’s not possible to pull them away from their work.

    So the real problem I have in this situation isn’t the fact that it was done via email, but rather that the tone was curt and condescending. It’s just as easy to write, “Thanks for letting me know. We try not to make significant changes to our volunteer schedule, so if this will be happening on a regular basis, please let me know and we can adjust the number of times per month you’re scheduled,” as it is to write, “Let’s not make this a habit.”

  2. Elle Urker*

    Ooooooh! I’ve got this. Step aside AAM – born and raised in church and as a result I’ve met every kind of mean, nasty wolf in sheep’s clothing that misfortune ever placed in a position of power.

    The trick is to do all of this with a clock of faux humilty and LOTS of christian language. Don’t just say – she was rude to us and she is mean. Pull her aside and say that before taking communion, you want to resolve your anger in your heart towards her. Say her behavior didn’t edify you and maybe, in causing you to resent her, she caused YOU to stumble. Say you are concerned about her witness to unbelievers. Add that you are praying for her. If in doubt, lay down some 1 Timothy 5! She’ll know.

    Note, this is only intermediate level stuff. The advanced level would have been to reply to each of her emails with a bible passage.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is amazing! I can’t speak to whether this would work in all/most churches, but I do know that I am going to start telling people that I am praying for them.

      1. class factotum*

        When I was in sixth grade at a Catholic school, my friend Michelle and I decided to gather pecans from the very large yard of a house where we did not know the owner. She spied us out there and came outside to confront us. But rather than yell at us, she asked who we were and where we went to school. Then she said, “Girls, I am praying for you.”

        Saying you are praying for someone can be a highly effective means of shaming. We were mortified and never did it again.

        I will note for Elle’s information that the lady who was praying for us was Baptist and that part of the reason she was praying might have been because we were not Baptist.

        1. Anonymous*

          “I am disappointed in you” is such a powerful phrase when people, especially children, are expecting anger or retaliation. It seems like we brace ourselves for the worst and when it doesn’t come the guilt and shame are much more potent than they would have been. Probably because there is no room for resentment and it is hard to turn that around unlike heated arguments.

          I wonder if there are any papers on the subject…

      2. sam.i.am*

        In the Bible Belt, telling someone you’re praying for them is pretty much the meanest thing you can say to them.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          I’m kind of new to the Bible Belt, but if someone says they’re praying for me, I say “THANK YOU!!”. Of course, if anyone spoke to me like Elle suggests, I’d feel like slugging them (that’s pretty much the most demeaning and insincere thing I’ve heard yet). What I’ve found in the South is that anytime someone says “Bless his/her/your heart”, it means just the opposite, and something nasty & snarky is on the way.

      1. Heather*

        I was just thinking GCB when I read that! HILARIOUS! So sad that show got cancelled!! Oh and as a Canadian, there are just an many wolves in sheep’s clothnig in churches here.

    2. Henning Makholm*

      Excuse me, but that sounds like an extremely aggressive way of dealing with the problem — it’s a set of stealth insults phrased such that the recipient cannot openly complain about them, but she sure as hell will resent being treated that way anyway. What on earth is that supposed to achieve?

      This is much more likely to lead to an irreversible escalation of ill will between the parties than to any kind of resolution that would be acceptable for anyone. If that’s really what you want, why not simply quit already?

        1. Henning Makholm*

          In that case, I respectfully think the humor offends me — in particular the underlying assumption that solely because the OP’s organization happens to be a church, all it is good for is as an ongoing who-can-be-rudest-without-breaking-norms competition.

          Sure there are churches that are really abhorrent hatemills — but most are not.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Henning, this might be a cultural thing that doesn’t resonate in Denmark. She’s making light of some (not all, some) church cultures’s tendency to couch complaints about another person in “godly” language.

            1. Anonymous*

              Agreed. In Canada, I can’t think of any church like that (at least in terms of mainstream churches), but I have enough exposure to US culture that the comment came across as humorous

                1. Anonymous*

                  I should add that, admittedly, this old be going on ‘behind the scenes’. I guess I was thinking more of the hellfire and brimstone variety

            2. Henning Makholm*

              Okay … but the message I got from it was “that’s what the OP deserves from involving himself in something as superstitiously oppressive as a church; those things are only good for finding nice-sounding ways to demean your neighbor. Get away while you can, and here are some Dawkins tracts you should read”.

              1. Ariancita*

                Wow, that’s not how it was meant at all. At. All. I guess it must be a cultural difference thing because I cannot fathom how this interpretation could arise from that post.

                1. Henning Makholm*

                  You don’t have to agree with me, of course, but please try at least to fathom.

                  Elle opens by saying that she is “born and raised in church and as a result I’ve met every kind of mean, nasty wolf in sheep’s clothing” (my emphasis). That looks to me like a pretty explicit claim that churches are in general places where one is particularly likely to encounter mean, nasty wolves in sheep’s clothing.

                  She then follows up with instructions for how to be a mean nasty wolf towards the volunteer coordinator. That again seems to assert that if the OP wants to hang around in a church, behaving like a mean nasty wolf is the appropriate behavior for him. In other words, when the OP chose to involve himself in organized religion, what he signed up for was to be surrounded by mean, nasty wolves in sheep’s clothing, and to have to become one himself in order to survive.

                  Does this not sound at least somewhat like Elle is implying that the foremost institutional function of a church is to be a place for bullies to congregate and bully each other and their neighbors, all while pretending to be doing a benevolent deity’s work?

                  It is, I know, quite possible that the church Elle was born and raised in was such a place; what set me off was the apparent attempt to tar the OP’s church (of which we know nothing; not even its denomination in general terms) with the same brush — and by extension every church anywhere.

            3. Snow Hill Pond*

              Having grown up in a small town church, I think that Elle’s “joking” post isn’t particularly funny. It’s sad.

              -1 to AAM for patronizing Henning. Playing the Denmark card is a new low.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Dude, he’s from another culture. It’s not surprising that culturally specific humor doesn’t translate. It’s not “playing the Denmark card.”

              2. TW*

                I also grew up in a small church loving town and for those reasons found her comments quite amusing.

                And this is not the first post or poster to have been confused by something cultural. It is not playing a card to point out that his interpretation was off.

              3. Charles*

                Snow Hill Pond; I’m with you on the “it’s sad” thing.

                There have been a few “mocking of others” in the comments here at AAM in the last couple of weeks. And I really don’t know why!?

                Mock the “wrong” group and you’ll be tarred and feathered. Mock certain other groups and some folks think it is the bee’s knees. The culture wars are alive and fighting!

                Some folks really don’t know how to show respect for those who are “the other.” That really is sad.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not mocking to point out that something doesn’t translate culturally. It’s just a statement of fact. I’m sure I wouldn’t get plenty of humor from other cultures.

                  I think you’re referencing the comments about “older white males” that were made on a different post a week or two ago. I don’t want to reopen that debate here, but that of course is tied up in issues of privilege that are emotionally laden for many people (on all sides of the discussion).

                2. Charles*

                  AAM, I was not referring to your explaining that it might not translate as mocking.

                  I was refering to the mocking of “churches” that Elle did above. Although, I am not a church goer, I did find it to be tasteless and yes, it was mocking.

                  “Old white dudes” was only a recent one (and yes, as an middle-aged white male I took offense); but there have been too many others recently.

                  Is it the bad economy that is causing folks to be a little “rough” with those who are different from themsleves? Is it the upcoming election and each “side” is afraid that they will “lose”? Is it a full moon? (can’t be that it has been happening longer than one lunar cycle)

                  I don’t really know why; but it does detract from otherwise thoughtful posts and thoughtful comments when someone, anyone, is marginalized by rude comments.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Thanks for following up and explaining more.

                  I’m not noticing an increase of this type of thing, but do think there will always be some on any blog with a healthy commenting section. I think all you can do is decide whether or not you trust the judgment of the person moderating (in this case, me) to make sound decisions about when to step in and redirect conversation and when to let it go. You probably won’t always agree 100% of the time in those cases, and that’s normal, but I’d say to look at how you feel about it overall.

                  To me, I think of the discussion here as being akin to a discussion happening in my living room. I step in when I think something would be out of bounds for that context. Everyone uses a different standard, of course, but that’s the one that feels right to me.

                4. Jamie*

                  I have to say, I think this thread kind of shows that there is more respect here than is being credited.

                  On much of the internet the mere mention of religion will set of hate filled and intolerant posts from all sides. While it’s never optimal for anyone to feel offended or disrespected, there are rarely flagrant violations of that here, imo, and when they rear their heads they are generally refuted quickly.

                  Certainly there are posts which resonate with some people while causing some others to bridle. I think it would be below what is expected statistically for such a diverse readership.

                  When you think about it there really isn’t a common thread amongst readers aside from an interest in workplace and hiring matters. Just from reading the comments we encompass demographics spanning gender, religions, race, nationalities, economic status, industries, positions, and rank within companies.

                  This is one of the least homogeneous groups out there – so in fact since we’re so different we’re all “others” in some way – depending on the topic.

                  It’s hard to learn from universal agreement, so it’s good that we rarely find that here. Even being able to say something and hear that someone else found it offensive or insulting is a learning experience. It’s easy to be myopic and see things only through our own prisms so the diversity of opinion, including on what is and isn’t offensive, is really educational.

                5. TheSnarkyB*

                  Charles, I know you’re frustrated and I do not mean to compound that, but I really have to point out something problematic that I’ve seen happen a lot. You mention mocking “the wrong group” and the right group, and I have heard way too many people get confused about how this type of oppression and “joking” works. Often, dominant and privileged groups are mocked as a way to subvert cultural norms that perpetuate racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. That is why it isn’t as taboo to mock straight white men (Scalzi’s take: http://tinyurl.com/cngqk4h) as it would be to mock black women for instance.
                  My point is, it isn’t just randomly chosen and maligned groups, it’s groups that have enjoyed unjust and disproportionate privilege and can probably take the joke

                6. Henning Makholm*

                  Well, over here people who involve themselves in churches are not a dominant and privileged group that is an Acceptable Target for mockery. To begin with, they are quite a dramatic minority, and not particularly privileged or influential as a group.

                  Or perhaps I should say “we” … myself I visit the church on Christmas, and perhaps one or two random Sundays during the year for hymns, communion and a homily. That one or two random Sundays make me a frothing fanatic compared to most everyone else I know. And though I probably wouldn’t qualify as a “churchgoer” by your standards, I am enough of one that I felt targeted by Elle’s joke.

                  I did find it genuinely strange and shocking that churches can apparently be an acceptable target for mocking by outsiders. Perhaps the greater frequency of churchgoers in America can explain it, though.

                  Sorry for the confusion.

          2. Kelly O*

            I’m thinking there’s a cultural difference with this one too, because I was rolling when I read it.

            And even in the most amicable and well-staffed churches, there is always one who takes her job WAY too seriously and makes volunteering in her group miserable. (I say her, it could be a him too.)

            At least this one is acknowledging she’s in charge. My personal favorite is the one who loudly proclaims she does not want to be in charge, and then proceeds to run over everyone else to do things her way.

            1. Stells*


              I think the misinterpretation comes from possibly not being ina culture where church activity is, for all intents and purposes, a social requirment. You see more of it in smaller communities where there isn’t a myriad of other social organizations for one to participate in, so people tend do all of their volunteering and such through their church.

              As a result, the nastiest power tripping people can be found in these tighter-knit churches because that’s the only place they can find to exert their power over people. And since everyone is in those communities are raised to show “Christian attitudes” to others, it creates a NASTY breed of person when you find them.

              They are not in all churches, but the ones that pop up in church communities are some of the meanest, because it’s done in the disimissive way that Elle exemplified. The reaction she got is exactly why people (a) find it hilarious when someone makes fun of them and (b) find them so frustrating to deal with in real life.

              Elle’s comment was funny because sometimes the only way to get them to stop treating you that way is to give them a dose of your own medicine.

    3. Josh S*

      LOL. I think I’ve heard each and every one of those at some point in my life. (Either to me or toward another person in my presence.)

      IMO, those of us who volunteer/serve in a church ought to be good about managing people, because we’re supposed to be about relationships. Too often though, people in the church think, “We’re all part of $Religion, so we *have* to get along,” and use that as license to do whatever crappy things we want to each other. It’s shameful.

      Oh well, if there weren’t hypocrites, there wouldn’t be a need for redemption, now would there?

      1. Vicki*

        But aren’t workplace managers and HR folks etc also suposed to be all about relationships? They’re not. My guess (Granted, I don’t _know_ is that the staff has no training in managing volunteers and the volunteers have no training in anything but the basics, i.e. you corral children, you hand out bulletins, you greet people on the way in.
        We tend to assume that managers know how to manage people and schedules and everyone knows how to manage their time and their relationships, because we’re people. But most of us are really bad at managing relationships.

        1. Long Time Admin*

          I gasped when I read your first sentence. Your second sentence explains the first. And, unfortunately, you’re right.

          My company has had 4 layoffs in the last year. During the last series of all-employee meetings, one of the staff said “in sports, when a team doesn’t do well, they don’t fire the players – they fire the managers”. (We do have some of the worst managers and HR staff here that I’ve ever seen.) My guess is that her name just went to the top of the next lay-off list, but what she said went viral around our company.

          1. Josh S*

            Good on her. In most companies that are seriously trying to use layoffs as a restructuring/focusing tool, middle management is the first to go. They flatten the hierarchy and keep the folks that actually *do* the work.

            If your company is firing front-line people but keeping layers of management, it’s a sinking ship and you can’t start looking for another job quickly enough.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For what it’s worth, I think plenty of people (including some management consultants) would dispute the statement that managers and HR people are supposed to be all about relationships. They’re supposed to be all about getting things down and furthering the business’s goals. Often this does mean knowing how to relate to people … but in some businesses, the shortest path to turning a profit doesn’t actually require that (think of many call centers, for instance).

          The purpose of a manager is to get things accomplished. Having good relationships with people is usually a means that supports that end (although not on its own), but there are contexts where it’s less valued.

    4. Anonymous*

      When I went to Catholic school, the usual response would have been “That’s not the Christian thing to do.”

    5. KT*

      If in doubt, lay down some 1 Timothy 5! She’ll know.

      This made me laugh out loud and is officially my new favorite quote!

    6. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodWebDev*

      Wow these super long indented threads are hard to read, makes my eyes cross. And so much wasted space to the right, after the two columns run out of text. Couldn’t we end the right col divs and let the main col flow out over the page…or put the tags at page bottom and lose one of the right columns…and yes I get that it is not my choice. lol

        1. YourFriendlyNeighborhoodWebDev*

          AAM, I think you should work with the template rather than not nesting threads. The nesting works, it’s just when it gets jammed into two words per sentence it’s tricky to read. The template you are using looks like you had it customized by someone (?)…they should be able to fix it. They probably did not anticipate this problem.

    7. khilde*

      Bwaahaha. This is hilarious. Do you read Jon Acuff’s blog? Sounds like your humor would totally fit right in :)

  3. Kelly O*

    In all seriousness, I might consider speaking to the staff member in charge of this volunteer group privately about your concerns.

    Because I’m reasonably sure if you talked with Jane about this, she would give you a fairly long sob story about how difficult it is to get people to volunteer for whatever it is, and how much of a hardship it puts on her when people don’t show up, and next thing you know she’s standing next to Stephen himself in line for a martyr’s crown, and you’ve not gotten anywhere with your complaint.

    Either that or you will hear from her fellow life group (or small group, or whatever your church calls them) members that she suddenly has a need to pray for those who cannot keep commitments, or some urgent, unspoken thing.

    (And if I sound overly cynical, it’s just that I know I personally have been prayed over for “lack of commitment to Christ” because I took two weekends off coffee and doughnut duty to visit my family back home. This was a couple of years ago, but I will not forget hearing about it when we got back.)

    1. Kelly O*

      I said staff member, I meant clergy. I just realized that sounded odd, since it’s the staff member causing the problems.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    I guess I have to disagree with AAM a bit, simply because this is a church, not a secular organization. The key points of church are redemption and restoration. So I’m going to take some points out of the “employee manual”. It actually has very specific proceedures for these circumstances.

    1) Pray. (1 John 5:16) This reminds us that we aren’t perfect either and also gets us in the right attitude for step 2.

    2) Speak to the person gently to bring them back to the right place (Galatians 6:1-5) This person could be really bad at writing e-mails, or you could be one of those people that are easily offended. Or both. A discussion with the emphasis on problem resolution is needed. This is your sister.

    I would also ask the OP to reflect – just why are they in this ministry? Is it to be a servant unto the children? If that is the case then you shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes you won’t get treated right. That happens with servants. And may I remind you that our servant-in-cheif was treated quite badly. There should be no surprise if you experience the same.

    I would also like to recommend a great book – “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. It talks about all the methods Satan uses to create offense between church members. That way they are so busy fighting each other that they won’t fight him.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Btw, I just wanted to add one thing. The above does not apply for sustained serious abuses. But in the case of the scenario above, I believe it is appropriate. After all, the tone of an e-mail (and I believe it is important to note that it is e-mail) can easily be misconstrued.

    2. Ask a Manager*

      I know nothing about churches. Is this universally applicable regardless of the church? (Wouldn’t it depend on how your church operates?)

      1. EngineerGirl*

        That is how Bible believing churches should operate. I’m not saying that is how they DO operate. But yes in that it is independent of denomination.

        1. Jamie*

          I wasn’t going to touch this topic, but terms like ‘bible believing churches’ can be devisive. Different denominations have views of themselves and others which may or may not agree.

          There are as many different operating styles and church politics as there are churches – some are organized across more traditional business methods and some are less formal and have their own rules both written and unwritten.

          Alison’s advice is excellent as it addresses the issue without getting mired into what nuances would work in a specific environment. What Engineer Girl suggested may very well work in some settings, but I’ve never seen that kind of communication in Catholic volunteerism.

          I think the crux of the issue isnt faith specific. OP and his wife are donating their time and talents and deserve to be treated with a bare minimum of civility. The advice given addresses how to politely require a degree of courtesy and this can be applied to any similar situation.

          1. Kristi*


            Many of us know someone like this volunteer coordinator, most likely at work. A difficult control freak who more often than not is simply not going to change. Just who they are and who we have to work with.

            I recently worked at an office with two people like this. While I pretty much had to work with them because it was my job, I can’t tell you how many volunteers we lost because of them.

            For the OP and his wife, the volunteer coordinator sounds like the worst choice of personality to work with volunteers. Its hard enough enough to recruit volunteers, let alone keep them coming back. An experience like this is perfect example of what not to do. My guess is other volunteers have had similar negative experiences with the volunteer coordinator. Ideally, her supervisor/manager would do everyone a favor and rotate her to another role for a while.

      2. Elisabeth*

        I like what EngineerGirl has to say (and appreciate the book recommendation). Talk to the volunteer coordinator first. If need be, then the pastor or whomever is in charge of the coordinator, and perhaps meet with all three of you so there’s an intermediary.

        If it’s a United Methodist Church, they (should) have a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee/Staff-Parish Relations Committee, if needed. I’m not sure about other denominations. The PPRC/SPRC is there to help in situations like this, if it progresses that far. I pray that that’s not the case.

      3. Joy*

        Honestly, I think Engineer’s advice is the same as yours AAM with the addition of praying before having the conversation. Her definition of “bringing them back to the right place” is in effect speaking to the person, letting them know how you feel, which is what your advice was too.
        On another note, I disagree with the ‘servant’s sometimes don’t get treated right’ take in this situation. It’s not an unchurched heathen treating OP bad, it is a leader of the church. Church leaders are supposed to be above reproach (which I know they aren’t always) But I definitely wouldn’t sign up to serve somewhere expecting to be treated poorly. Since I really like to assume the best in people though, I’m gonna say the leader just doesn’t realize how she is coming across and an open conversation will probably make things better.

    3. Anonymous*

      I take issue with this a bit. The OP doesn’t need to question his ministry, and just because they are “servants,” doesn’t mean they get treated like a doormat. Maybe in this case, a child can have discipline problems but not with an adult.

      However, I do agree that the OP should go into the discussion without accusing but rather looking for a possible reason as well as a solution.

      1. Ariancita*


        Also, I would imagine that the OP wrote in to AMM because they were also looking for a secular perspective.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        Someone that is all- in with the kids wouldn’t be so deeply offended over something do silly and small. They actually wrote in to AAM instead of going to the offending person or the pastor. The OP does need to reflect on why they are so offended.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d be offended by that. You don’t treat people who are donating their time that way.

          I understand that in your church, you’d expect this to be handled differently, but we don’t know anything about the OP’s church or religious domination or faith, and we can’t and shouldn’t be judging any of that.

          Since the OP wrote into a workplace advice columnist rather than seeking advice from a pastor, I’m going to assume he wanted advice from that perspective — so let’s try to stay there rather than getting into religious elements of volunteering.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            I hear what you are saying. I’m not saying the email writer is in the right, or that it is OK to treat people badly.

            Unfortunately, the OP really should not have taken it to a secular judge. It is supposed to be resolved within the church. 1 Cor 6:1-6

            1. Jamie*

              Referring to a secular judge whitewashes those verses. That really sanitizes the reference.

              This is a secular forum and I actually find the reference insulting to Alison and the commenters, quite frankly.

              I’m not disparaging anyone’s beliefs, but referencing those particular versus here is just really inappropriate, IMO.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh, just looked it up and read it. Yes.

                Let’s keep such references off this site; I respect your beliefs, Engineer Girl, but this isn’t the place to refer to others as ungodly, etc. :)

                1. Ariancita*

                  Had to look it up too. Um, wow.

                  Comments are on fire tonight! Hope we don’t end up with another post with closed comments.

                2. Ariancita*

                  Might I recommend the one you promised about connecting via LinkedIn to folks with whom you’ve interviewed? :)

                3. Jamie*

                  You can always do a comparison of the awesomeness of calibri vs the boringness of times new roman.

                  Kind of hard to split into factions over font.

                4. Kerry*

                  I hope Alison’s advice is to reply to Times New Roman users with “I’m praying for you :)” in Calibri.

                5. Josh S*

                  Jamie: “Kind of hard to split into factions over font.”

                  Seriously? Have you seen the signs made with Comic Sans or Papyrus?!

                6. Jamie*

                  I happen to like comic sans – it’s cheerful and fun.

                  The again two of my favorite things are Hello Kitty and lolcatz…so I’m not the standard bearer for sophistication.

                7. Josh S*

                  See, and that’s where you’re wrong, Jamie.

                  Comic Sans is a blight on all that is proper and good in the world of typesetting.

                  See sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/comic-sans-the-font-everyone-loves-to-hate/ or bancomicsans.com/main/?page_id=2 for more information on why.

                  (And now we’ve already split into factions!)

              2. Anon2*

                Eh, I think the spirit of that verse was simply to say that perhaps this employment blog wasn’t as good a forum for this question as one within the Op’s religious denomination. If the Op’s issues were of a religious nature then I would agree with EngineerGirl but I think this issue is simply one of communication and courtesy. I can see why the Op brought it to Alison. Plus, if they brought it to someone in their church, the issue could be blown out of proportion and/or spread to others which would not be ideal. Ultimately, these 2 encounters ARE fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things but …. they could also be signs that this person should not be in charge of volunteers.

        2. Jamie*

          I would absolutely be offended by the email, in any environment.

          My boss has never been that terse with me and he signs my checks. The OP is doing this person a favor by trying to address it because many would just leave and find another place that appreciated my time. I would.

        3. Anonymous*

          Someone that is all- in with the kids wouldn’t be so deeply offended over something do silly and small.

          I don’t think that’s logical. Working with children takes a patient person, and when this person’s patience is being tested by someone, that offending person should be called out on it. Maybe this woman at the church has some issues in her personal life or maybe she is frustrated with other more absent volunteers. That does not mean her attitude should translate over the other people she supervises. If she can’t, then she should step down.*

          They actually wrote in to AAM instead of going to the offending person or the pastor.

          I don’t know if you are insinuating that this is a sign of weakness from the OP, but I think the OP was on target to ask for advice from someone who is not in the situation whatsoever. Then, the OP can approach the situation properly, with a level head and with the right words so no one is hurt in the discussion. Sure, they can pray and maybe keep the Bible verses you’ve picked out, but this is absolutely something that the OP needs to meet head. If they believe they are being mistreated, then they should speak up. Otherwise, this woman will be doing it to others, and eventually, the church is going to have some serious problems due to the lack of volunteers. The church, with this mindset, needs to think secular.

          It might be easy now to blame the OP for being too easily offended, but we don’t know what else has been said to others. How about those who have become absent?

          *Question for the OP Is this woman a paid employee, such as a secretary at the rectory or manse, or she a volunteer as well?

          1. Anonymous*

            Just a clarification – As I was writing my response, I saw you had mentioned 1 Corinthians about keeping it within the church. I still stand with what I said. He just needs someone to talk to so he doesn’t make a mistake or think he is overreacting. Maybe he doesn’t want to bring it to the pastor’s awareness so he doesn’t taint the woman’s reputation or have her fired. I think he is trying to think of everything in the full picture before taking action.

            I just don’t believe that the problematic person gets away with causing trouble, and the person who is the victim/innocent party gets the blame for having a problem. Religious institution -> Wall Street -> Mom ‘n Pop Grocery Store -> Personal Life. No matter where.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              I’m not saying that what is going on is OK. It absolutely needs to be resolved. But I am picking up words from the OP’s post:
              “I’m not sure if I took that response too hard or what”
              “I felt pretty small”
              “Well, that just pissed me off”

              So here’s my perspective. Just this week, the church in Tehran was notified that they will no longer be allowed to preach in Farsi… or else.
              The churches in Somalia are being burned down…with the parishoners inside of them.
              A friend of mine (who shall be nameless) now sports huge white keloid scars on his beautiful black skin. They tried to chop his head off for being a pastor.

              So from my perspective I’m thinking “Oh, sweetie. This is small stuff. Just blow it off”. Sure, talk to the person and try to resolve it. You need to do that, because if you don’t things can build and explode. But in the scheme of things, it just isn’t worth it to get angry over THAT.

              1. Anonymous*

                It isn’t logical to state:

                A. there are things happening in religious communities that the OP is not part of, and

                B. because of A, OP has no right to complain

                They are simply unrelated statements, and it is unfair to the OP and his spouse to declare that they have no right to feel slighted. It would be akin to stating that since many people have actually died for their religious beliefs, your friend has no right to complain about his (admittedly horrible) ordeal. See where this is going? Unfortunately, there will always be something rated as “more” horrible… it’s all relative. I know of no easier way than to make someone feel like a child than to tell them that their feelings are not valid.

                1. Anonymous*


                  To Engineer Girl: I think it is dead wrong to say these people (the OP and his wife) have a problem because they can’t deal with how the volunteer coordinator wrote a couple of emails, and they can’t voice their problem because there are people around the world who have bigger issues with their respective religions. That’s comparing apples to oranges.

                  Like I have stated before, we don’t know how much damage this woman has done to other volunteers and the church in her mistreatment. How many other people have given up volunteering for the church? Or even how many have quit this church and gone elsewhere? And maybe they didn’t say anything because they didn’t want to cause waves and be viewed as the offending party because they are feeling slighted for what may be a petty first world problem.

                2. EngineerGirl*

                  I have **never** said that these people can’t voice their problems. In fact, I have repeatedly, yes repeatedly stated that they should try to correct the situation. But please remember that the letter is written from the OPs viewpoint. It may not contain all the info, and it could be that the coordinated is inept at emails. Yet people are demonizing her based on incomplete information.

        4. Laura L*

          Not really. People who work with children deserve to be treated with respect, too. Being passionate about working with children doesn’t mean it’s okay to be treated like crap.

    4. Josh S*

      Hi EngineerGirl. Sorry you’re catching some flak for the Biblical references. As a Christian myself, I appreciate them. But this isn’t really a forum that emphasizes those sorts of things, so I’m not particularly surprised that things aren’t flying the greatest.

      More toward your point, I think AAM was actually quite Biblical in her approach (unintentionally, I’m sure ;p). Matthew 18:15-17 talks about approaching people directly to resolve conflict (followed by an escalating scale of dealing with issues). Which seems pretty much what Alison suggested.

      Nonetheless, I think it is appropriate to address this issue. Simply because those who volunteer within the church are serving a higher purpose and acting as servants does not give those in leadership the right to treat them poorly. Consider Ephesians 6:5-6 (and really, all of the mutual submission in Ephesians)–if masters are to treat their slaves with respect, shouldn’t volunteer coordinators do the same with those who volunteer their time?

      Yes, there is opportunity for forgiveness and redemption to abound. But that requires direct interaction. Your advice seems to be akin to “you’re a servant; suck it up,” which seems to be entirely outside the scope of Scripture from my perspective.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        The intent was “you’re a servant, don’t be surprised when this happens to you”. Also dont get overly angry, as it isn’t worth it in the long run.

        1. Josh S*

          I hear what you’re saying, EngineerGirl. I don’t get surprised by much in life at all any more, but it doesn’t mean I don’t react to try to make things ‘right’. :)

        2. Anonymous*

          The intent was “you’re a servant, don’t be surprised when this happens to you”. [sic]

          Why should it be the accepted norm that if you are a “servant” (which I don’t think many people view themselves as when volunteering) you will be treated poorly?

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Because imperfect human beings are involved?

            I’m not saying its acceptable, but it is utter foolishness to think that everyone in a church behaves perfectly all the time. So don’t be surprised when someone messes up!

            Also, servanthood is for ministry. That is one thing that makes it different than normal volunteering.

  5. Anonymous*

    I have a pin that I wear at events I volunteer at. (in my case, those events are dog shows, and we have more than our fair share of “alpha you-know-whats”). My pin just says “Don’t yell at me, I’m a volunteer”. When I am favored with helpful instruction from someone, I just smile and point at my pin.

  6. Another Job Seeker*

    To the OP – thanks for all that you and your wife do with your church. I am a product of both children’s ministry and youth ministry. The seeds that the youth leaders planted in me early help me even now – years later – in my walk with Christ. It really does make a long-term difference in people’s lives.

    I agree with EngineerGirl’s suggestion that you pray. Might it be beneficial for you and your wife to pray together? For yourselves, for the ministry, and for the volunteer coordinator? I have seen prayer change people (it has changed me on many occasions). I have never read “The Bait of Satan”, but it sounds like an excellent resource. Just stay encouraged. You are impacting the next generation for Christ, and satan doesn’t like that. He’ll try to hinder your efforts, but he can’t stand against the Word. I like to meditate on Isaiah 26:3 and Isaiah 54:17 when things get crazy. God bless you and the lives you touch.

  7. sam.i.am*

    I agree with all of Allison’s advice, but I’ll add this — use this conversation as an opportunity to discuss what’s expected of volunteers. Honestly, it’s ridiculous that taking one weekend off elicits this type of response — you’re volunteers! You get to take a day off if you want! This is also an opportunity to discuss how she wants to be notified of your future availability and how to handle the Sundays you might miss.

  8. JustAQuestion*

    OP, should you have a desire to give your time to a food security nonprofit, I know of at least five places that would absolutely love to have you!

    From what you describe, you’re among the rarest of the types of volunteers (a metaphorical unicorn of consistent time-giving). I know, as a volunteer coordinator, I always greatly appreciate people letting me know their availability prior to the event, which is what you kindly did.

    Also, I have been trained, at two different organizations, to show repeated thanks toward volunteers. Such displays include handwritten cards, lunches and other events, and having children make cards and write letters of appreciation. It’s a shame you aren’t receiving those things, especially with your frequent participation in the children’s program.

    Your desire to continue volunteering, despite this time of discomfort with the church staffer, is truly fantastic. I applaud your dedication and encourage you to take Alison’s sound advice and get some resolution.

  9. JessB*

    Wow, Alison is bang on the money about this – as always! I love to volunteer, at my church, at the museum and wherever else I can. Occasionally, I will come across someone who is just as unpleasant as the volunteer coordinator in the question, but not for long. When someone is this rotten to me, I take action.

    You should definitely talk to this person’s supervisor, as often they have no idea exactly what is going on at this level. And it’s not right for anybody to be treated like this, no matter whether they’re staff or volunteers, or what the organisation is.

    Good luck with it, and God bless.

  10. Meghan*

    I had a rude volunteer coordinator situation as well recently. I attempted to volunteer with an organization that does work I believe in and was looking for help in an area I have work experience in. Since I am currently “underemployed” I am looking for experiences that will help me continue to learn, eve if I am not getting paid.
    I got in touch with the contact person by email. At her request, we then talked on the phone and even made plans to meet up at the site when she was in town (she works on the east coast, but the organization is in the midwest and all the work needed to be done would take place in the midwest) to talk face to face. During our phone conversation, she promised to follow up with me the next week to let me know what I could do specifically. I never received any contract from her, although she had my phone and email address available. I sent her an email. No response. Two weeks later, I sent her another email, even including something to the the effect of “If circumstances have changed and you no longer need my help, could you please let me know so that I can move onto other opportunities?” Again, no response.

    Finally, I called the organizations main office and spoke to someone (I’m not sure who. the organization is pretty disorganized) who promised to get in touch with the woman I had been working with before and find out what was going on. Regardless, I was promised by the person on the phone, someone would be in touch with me. Needless to say, I never heard back from anyone. Finally, several weeks later I emailed their general email address expressing my frustration with the situation, particularly that someone couldn’t just take 5 seconds from their day to email me and let me know that things had changed or where I stood with volunteering.

    Later that day, the woman I had originally been in contact with emailed me a one sentence email “apologizing for the miscommunication.” I’m not much for euphemisms, and this experience was far more than a “miscommunication” in my book. It was more like outright wrong information followed by a lack of common courtesy to simply respond to my requests for information. When I responded to her email, especially explaining that I was frustrated by the fact that I had emailed her twice, and she couldn’t be bothered to respond, she again stated something about a “miscommunication.” I live in a city about an hour and a half away from the organization’s headquarters and, not owning a car, would have had to make transportation requirements to meet with this woman but I was willing to do so.
    I’ve worked for organizations that rely on volunteers to run. Granted, often times non-profits have TOO MANY volunteers, but I know from experience that you never know which volunteers will really pull through (at a former job, we had one volunteer write a book about the organization that sold well and was good publicity for us) , which ones can also be generous donors (at that same organization, our board was comprised of lawyers, successful business owners and others who had started out as volunteers), which ones will work hard to pull off successful events, and which ones will simply show up as promised to do a good job.

    I still find it hard to believe that this woman I had to deal with is a long-time professional in the non-profit field. Needless to say, I have no interest in working with this organization again in any capacity. I’ve considered reaching out to their founder, who is pretty accessible, in regards to this woman’s conduct or his wife, who I often see at events for this organization. I wouldn’t normally advocate going straight to the top, but since the organization is small and the president is pretty active in the community, it makes more sense here.

  11. OP's Wife :)*

    In response to questions, yes, she is the Children’s Minister which is a paid position and not a volunteer herself. She is young (27) and has been at this job for 4-5 years now.

    I am actually “in charge” of the children’s check-in section my husband mentioned (a.k.a. corralling kids :P) – “Jane” herself has made me the manager, whatever that means. She still prefers to handle scheduling of other volunteers, training, etc, but I’m the go-to on Sunday mornings when there are technical issues or volunteers have questions, so it’s not like I don’t have the training I need to do the job.

    These events (which were actually text messages) came on the heels of other issues related to the children’s ministry, both Sunday events and our VBS program…they were by far not the first time we’d been left feeling small related to volunteer activities. Some of these other conversations happened both in person and via telephone calls, so not all of it was written communication where tone of voice, etc was subject to interpretation.

    I believe very strongly in what we’re doing – what OP and I were looking for here was an outside opinion on the best way to approach the issue. It is further complicated by the fact that Jane and I are friends. However, we would NOT like to see this affect other volunteers in a negative way, and she IS a good Children’s Minister. Just looking for some direction as to the best way to help her get better in this one area without burning a lot of bridges or causing unnecessary strife (obviously some correction/strife will likely occur, but how do we approach it in a ‘constructive criticism’ manner?). Go to Jane directly or talk to her “supervisor” (the associate minister)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Thanks for providing these additional details!

      I would start with Jane if you can. You can frame it in terms of “I know you’re busy and stressed out, and you probably didn’t realize this.” If that doesn’t work, then you’d talk to her supervisor about it.

    2. Jamie*

      Can I just say it cracked me up to see you refer to your husband as OP?

      I totally want my husband to write in with an AAM question just so I can call him that.

      Sorry – I’m easily amused. I have to say both you and your husband have a remarkably cooperative attitude toward this problem and resolving it will benefit not just you both, but the coordinator, and the program. I really hope you post once this is resolved and let us know how it went – I have a feeling it will be one of the better success stories.

      1. OP's Wife :)*

        lol Didn’t even think about it – just better than calling him “hubs” :-) Glad I could make you smile. :-)

    3. Josh S*

      Go to Jane directly (at least to start). It’s the adult/professional way to do things, it is likely to directly address the problem with the person best able to fix it, and it also happens to be the ‘Biblical’ way of going about it (Matthew 18).

      It’s hard in a church, I know. I’ve been there. Thank you for your service, on behalf of all the parents who get a short break from the kiddos to listen and worship. :)

    4. Anonymous*

      If she’s much younger than you, it’s possible that she’s trying to establish her authority, and doing it in a particularly ham-handed way. I know this in and of itself doesn’t help you to tackle the issue, but maybe it’ll give you a different way to approach her. As a church youth whatever, she probably doesn’t have lots of positive ways to assert herself over long-time volunteers so she might be reverting to techniques that work on establishing authority over the children.

      I’ve seen new teachers and new parents lapse into this occasionally, and usually a gentle and compassionate reminder of more appropriate ways to discuss things will remind them that you’re an adult and not a child.

    5. EngineerGirl*

      You might want to look at “crucial conversations” by Patterson, Grevy, McMillan &. Switler. A lot of good advice for handling delicate conversations

  12. Rana*

    It sounds like the issue’s been resolved, so this is more of a small, add-on request, and I hope it doesn’t sound too petty.

    It’s this: I noticed that a lot of the posters here immediately leapt to the conclusion that this must be a Christian organization, and offered advice reflecting that assumption. As a member of a minority religion, I just wanted to remind the community that not all churches are Christian, and these are not issues unique to Christian churches. If I’d been the OP, it would have made me uncomfortable to be given advice on how to address the problem in a Christian way, as, well, I’m not Christian.

    As I say, this is a small thing, especially since the OP and his wife don’t have a problem with what was said, and I’m not wanting to make a big deal out of this. I’m just asking for a bit of thought before assuming that our own experiences are the same as others’, particularly in areas as personal as religion.

    1. Anonymous*

      I didn’t particularly getting a Biblical lesson from some other people. I have mixed emotions about quoting the Bible.

    2. Ariancita*

      I wondered about this too. My first thought upon reading the Bible verse replies was, “How do we even know the OP is talking about a Christian church?” But knowing little to nothing about Christianity, I figured maybe churches only refer to Christians, like Mosque does Muslims, and shul (spelling?) does Jews. Thanks for confirming. (I’m wondering if Baha’i use church or temple and also Zoroasterians use churches?)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m Jewish and I’ve always said temple, but recently my sister told me that that’s controversial for some reason and I should say synagogue. Further confirmation that I will never be appropriately Jewish enough for her standards.

        1. Ariancita*

          Heh, I’m not Jewish but I’ve heard it called Temple and Shul by Jewish friends. Never heard them call it synagogue, but of course, my sample size is relatively small. :)

          1. Jamie*

            My sample size is almost my entire childhood, with few exceptions – and I had always heard temple and synagogue used (it seemed) interchangeably.

            I’ve never heard Shul.

            But I also just assumed Church was Christian – so what do I know?

            (Although to be fair, at least in the US calling it a church and specifying that it took place on Sunday mornings – a betting person would certainly put money on it being a Christian denomination.)

              1. Laura L*

                I think it is too. It’s mostly used by Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jews and their descendants. The vast majority of American Jews are Ashkenazi, so it gets used here a lot.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Weirdly, I am an eastern European Jew and have never heard anyone say “shul.” I’ve always thought it was used mainly by Hasidic Jews, but then again most of my knowledge of Judaism is speculation.

                1. Laura L*

                  Hmmm… I’ve heard the Jewish side of my family use that before and they are mostly Modern Orthodox or Conservative. I assumed it was an Eastern European thing because I think it comes from Yiddish.

                  But, I could be wrong. Like you, “most of my knowledge of Judaism is speculation.” (Love that line!)

                2. Anonymous*

                  So interesting, because I do believe it’s Yiddish. I’ve heard it A LOT here in nyc and in New Jersey. (I also hear a lot of Yiddish terms.)

                3. Anonymous*

                  Have you ever heard of or read “The Jewish Book of Why”? There are two volumes and it goes through some of the customs and traditions, giving explanations for them. I had studied Judaism (I’m Christian), and my Jewish friends think it’s a good resource.

          2. Ariancita*

            Now that I think about it, Parsi’s use temples, I believe. And those are the only Zoroastrians I’ve ever known. So clearly I have no idea. :)

        2. EngineerGirl*

          I had one deeply Jewish person correct me and tell me that temple was THE temple in Jerusalem (currently non-existant). The other buildings were synagogues. I’ve never heard of Shul.

          1. Anonymous*

            Interesting because there are Jewish places near me that are called “temple.” And my boss, who’s Jewish, says he is going to temple (he’s conservative, if that makes a difference between orthodox/conservative/reform).

            1. Jewish Anon*

              Conservative and Reform Jews are more likely to refer to synagogues as temples. Orthodox Jews don’t, for the reason mentioned by EngineerGirl. Ashkenazi (European) Orthodox Jews are more likely to go with “shul” (yiddish). Sephardic households will typically go with the French or Hebrew terms. Synagogue is safe and neutral for pretty much everyone, though, so that’s what I would recommend to anyone who’s unsure about the right word. (I am [Modern] Orthodox and use “shul” in personal life, just because it’s the shortest, but “synagogue” if talking to co-workers or non-Jewish friends.)

    3. Laura L*

      Out of curiosity, what non-Christian religions call their houses of worship churches? I’d always thought that was a Christian thing?

      1. Ariancita*

        I think Zoroastrians call their places of worship churches. I *think.* I’m not sure.

        1. Rana*

          (And, yes, many of us are not Christians, not in the sense that Christians define Christianity. I don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, for example, though I respect him as a holy person and admire some of his teachings.)

        2. Laura L*

          Sweet! I was going to write a long thing about UUs, because I thought that’s what you might be referring to, but scrapped it in case I was wrong. I was half-raised UU (we started going when I was 12), so I know this is a thing that comes up a lot. I had to explain this exact same thing to a friend once. It’s always an interesting discussion. Particularly when you have UUs who were raised, say, Jewish, or Muslim, or Hindu, or something, and attend a UU church, but don’t consider themselves Christian.

  13. Bvanco*

    I read this post with interest.
    My older son volunteered for a non-profit. He was a diligent and dependable teenager. One day he was late by few minutes (he was still early for his schedule) because of traffic and the coordinator was really rude and she told him exactly the same thing “OK, but let’s not make this a habit.” My son felt pretty bad about this reaction.
    Today, my second son had a similar experience from the administrative assistant of a volunteer coordinator at MAYO CLINIC. The application forms at Mayo website for young volunteers says the deadline is March 15th but their website lists a totally different date. My son had sent in all the papers except one which he was going to send in by the application deadline of March 15. But they sent him a rejection dated much earlier than the closing deadline. When asked about the inconsistency in their website and application system, the office assistant was rude. She raised her voice and started arguing about the importance of keeping deadlines. Even in prestigious places like Mayo, the volunteer office do not treat the young people well.

  14. Carolyn Hopper*

    It ‘s tough at times to be a volunteer. It is fun and freeing to be able to pick and choose activities that mean a lot to us. Hey, the cause is often the thing. Unfortunately, the paid folks, Staff, as they’re called tend to see volunteers as staff, their staff. E-mail messages need to include the occasional ”please” as opposed to a quick “Contact me”.
    Maybe some of this si a generational split, but if the staffer is smart, he’ll figure that barking directives and pretending that he’s Chief of Staff on The West Wing doesn’t cut it. Sometimes volunteers are so passionate about the cause that we accept a little too much nonsense. Thanks and please let me know if you’ve been through some of this…and how you handled it.

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