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Volunteering? Not with First Night Alexandria

Posted by quirksalight on December 18, 2009

Hey, looking for something to do on New Year’s Eve? Don’t go to the First Night Alexandria events. Seriously.
I’ve volunteered for them in the past and had signed up this year to do so until an issue with a promotional event made it clear the concerns of the volunteers (who staff the event) are irrelevant to them.

Not only did I go out to volunteer in a promotional event in the crappiest day of the year (yeah, you remember when it was snowing and crapping ice and rain all day), but to no avail. Drove around up and down the street looking for the volunteers (because they weren’t where they said with said banner and balloons) and calling, leaving a message and getting no response for half an hour before giving up. Two days later, still no reponse, so I e-mailed asking what happened.

Then it gets interesting. First it’s, “Oh, the event happened. Didn’t you see us?” And the classic passing the buck “I wasn’t the coordinator for this event.”
Hmm…. You’re the only contact on the e-mail. You’re also the Volunteer Coordinator. The e-mail for the event had your name on it and was sent from you. So who’s the coordinator?
So I requested, again, restating my issues with the event organization and a clarification of what happened, an answer from someone who was in charge of the event.
And the final response I get from the “Volunteer Coordinator” is a “sorry you feel that way” and “oh, I guess you don’t want to do this”. Gee, great coordination there. Oh, and thanks for getting back to me oh so quickly. Taking a week to respond to a volunteer’s complaint and then summary booting her is going to be great PR for your organization.

How about a “sorry, we made an organizing mistake”?? Or stating anything that actually takes responsibility. None of that actually is in any of the e-mails, which you can see here.

The e-mail I sent to the Events Coordinator is posted below. Her response will be posted tomorrow.

———————————————–
Ms. Dorman,

As a recent press release for FNA states that you are in charge of coordinating the events for FNA, I wanted to bring to your attention a concern regarding the Volunteer Coordinator that has resulted in the discontinuation of my involvement with these events. My goal in notifying you is to ensure that this feedback is known to others within the organization and addressed to ensure that other current or potential volunteers are not treated in the same manner.

I recently volunteered to promote First Night at the Scottish Walk event on Dec. 5. This was an event for which the First Night volunteer coordinator, Lauren Smith , only solicited for volunteers the day prior to the event. The email that Lauren sent stated a specific meeting time and place for the volunteers and indicated that she was the contact person. Regardless of the short notice, I responded that I would be able to help and received a confirmation from Lauren. When I arrived at the designated time and place, there were no banners or other First Night volunteers, as expected per the email. After calling Lauren several times and leaving messages, I attempted to locate the group on my own but to no avail. My voicemail messages were not returned. I contacted Lauren via email to find out what happened and why my calls were not returned. She responded that she simply did not hear her phone at the time and was not responsible for coordination of the volunteers at the Dec. 5 event. The latter excuse is contradicted by her own email which stated that she was the person to call if there were any questions, and no other First Night representatives were cited as contact people in the email requesting volunteers. Her response to my subsequent comment stating my disappointment and wariness of volunteering with First Night in the future prompted no apology or even attempt to acknowledge or address the underlying lack of accountability. Lauren’s response effectively indicated that my time (or even paid attendance) at First Night events was no longer welcome. Included below is the email chain showing the correspondence between Lauren and me.

While I hope that my experience was an isolated incident, I believe that First Night can address these concerns simply by holding volunteer coordinators responsible for their performance, ensuring that those coordinators understand their responsibilities for the event (i.e. if they are the stated point of contact, then they are responsible for being available via cell phone or otherwise to handle questions from volunteers), and soliciting and monitoring feedback from volunteers on both positives and negatives of First Night events that could help to improve the volunteer experience at future events.

In the past, I actively recruited friends and family to volunteer and attend First Night events with me. However, this recent experience has changed my view. I am highly disappointed that my desire to volunteer was met with such a clear disregard and lack of appreciation. I hope that as an organization that relies heavily on volunteers, you will seriously consider these suggestions to hold Lauren and others who coordinate First Night events accountable. Their performance and professionalism (or lack thereof) reflects directly on the organization.

Please feel free to forward this e-mail to other appropriate organizers or Directors of FNA.

Sincerely,
BJL

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One Response to “Volunteering? Not with First Night Alexandria”

  1. Doing some browsing and noticed your website appears a bit messed up in my K-meleon internet browser. But fortunately hardly anyone uses it any longer but you may want to look into it.

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