Volunteers Behaving Badly in Business and at Work

Starting in my teens until present day, I have volunteered my time, talent and income to support a number of nonprofit organizations whose vision and work I admire.

My first volunteer gig was as a nurse’s aide (a.k.a. Candy Striper) at Helen Hayes Rehabilitation Hospital in West Haverstraw, NY early in my high school years, where my mother worked as a medical transcriptionist.  At the time, I was interested in medicine as a career.  My volunteer work consisted mostly of making beds with flat sheets – to this day, I can still, in a pinch, make a tight bed with crisp hospital corners using only flat sheets.

As an adult volunteer, I treat the organizational boundaries of the recipient nonprofit organization with the same regard as I do with both clients and employers:  the paid and unpaid leadership (e.g., the Executive Director, the President of the Board of Directors, etc.) run the strategic and the day-to-day functions of the organization, and I work for them.

However, when the organizational boundaries are blurry on both sides, volunteers with power and financial issues can take unfair advantage of their volunteer roles, and produce more harm than good for these vital nonprofits.  Some recent and distressing examples:

  • Irate volunteers unhappy with the new Executive Director at a nonprofit set up an anonymous Facebook account and page to trash the Executive Director in social media. Really?  At least have the courage to publicly assume the role of a Social Media Troll.
  • A volunteer with a specific agenda for budget spending took it upon themselves to go to each employee of the nonprofit, asking them to forego their respective raises without the knowledge / approval of the Executive Director and the President of the Board of Trustees, so the volunteer could fund their own budget agenda.  That same behavior by a paid employee would be subject to at least a formal reprimand.

And always distressing:

JOHNSTOWN, N.Y. (AP) – A 46-year-old woman has admitted to stealing nearly $20,000 from an upstate New York youth soccer club while serving as the organization’s treasurer.

Local media report that Sandra Yost of Gloversville, New York pleaded guilty Tuesday in Fulton County Court to felony grand larceny.

She was arrested in October and charged with stealing funds from the Fulton United Soccer Club. Prosecutors say as the club’s treasurer, she had sole access to the group’s funds. (Emphasis mine.)

Authorities say she stole more than $19,000 from 2007 to 2011.

As part of her plea deal, will be sentenced to 60 consecutive days or 60 weekend days in jail if she repays the money by July. Her attorney says she will be able to repay the money.

Nonprofit organizations who use the resources of unpaid volunteers need time, talent and money – not time-sucking aggravation, morale-downers and thieves.  Many nonprofit organizations have adopted volunteer policies and accounting controls similar to for-profit organizations, in order to protect their assets and their talent.

How will you protect and lift up the nonprofit organizations you support with your time, talent and dollars, in business and at work?

Candy Striper Hat


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