I do not normally get up early on a Sunday morning but I have a business meeting to attend By “business” I mean I want to discuss a matter of some importance which is my potential contribution to a philanthropic community-based organisation which started in one country and has now spread to many countries. I met my friend at Marylebone station and after a brief sojourn at a local restaurant where we had a poor quality breakfast we decided to walk round Regent’s Park away from the noise and the traffic and see what we could do.
When someone has an idea, you never know what it’s going to turn into. Most ideas do not turn into anything significant but others have – unbeknown to the person who is inspired – arrived on the planet at the right time and so the universe supplies the fuel to grow the organisation. As we say, there is nothing so powerful as an idea that has reached its time. This quote was made by Victor Hugo who actually said no one can resist an idea whose time has come nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come. Armies cannot stop an idea whose time has come. No army can stop an idea whose time has come. Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come… and so on with various re-phrasings and combinations. I think we get the idea.
The venture that I was asked to participate in this morning started in one country in about 2005 and rapidly spread to others. The founder of this particular venture had a problem. He was a good visionary, researcher, anthropologist, but a bad administrator and hopeless with money and I’m afraid rather a large ego. There is a very great temptation to try and hold on to the reigns but if it is not accompanied by expertise and professional humility, it is something that is doomed to failure. In his defence, he had no idea how the thing will grow. It’s a bit like trying to hold onto a dozen balloons filled with helium and in reality asking too much of one person.
The second problem with an organisation that relies on voluntary labour, no matter what form it takes, is that it can order someone to do something when you are not compensating them. Basically, the organiser or founder has to take the people who offer and the trouble is or can be that the volunteers are those who want the world to be a better place but are essentially using the potential glory and notoriety of working for big organisations to escape from matters that impinge on a personal level. I regret to have to give such a massive generalisation here but that’s often the way it is. With this particular venture, I found a common denominator of people who volunteer but who are already stressed through giving of themselves without the financial backup and thus are unable to provide a stable reference point for those who will be making demands of them. I hope you get the picture.
The third problem is the temptation to build castles in the sky. This means that before you make plans for expanding you need to make sure that the existing workers know and trust each other. Without this essential stage, the organisation will sooner or later fall apart or at the very best fragment into factions. I have recently come across the venture at a point where there are three or four websites controlled by different people, mailing lists which lack intellectual integrity, and people doing things without discussing it with others. On the face of it, a hopeless situation. However, I feel that there is hope because the people involved are such a nice bunch, well motivated if unrealistic and keen to move forward together to make the world a better place.
I shall be offering my services as an editor of a homely fortnightly or monthly newsletter which would introduce the personalities from various parts of the world and allow everyone to see how other people are thinking. The good thing about using a client such as Mailchimp is that the first 12,000 or so mailouts are free per month so it is possible to do useful work without actually spending any money. The problem is of course time which many people do not have. In order for me to offer my services we are not going to jump in and try and tell people what to do but simply to state the conditions under which I can work albeit on a voluntary level. I’m not expecting any sort of recompense on the financial level.
The conditions are that everyone agrees that a homely newsletter is a good thing in the cause of building a community spirit and that the existing communications are altered to run happily side-by-side with the normal websites which described the growth of the organisation, various events, the philosophy, and so on. If I don’t get the alignment, I will not even start. it is I who after all have to live with my decision.
So, never mind the detail of the above which I agree will not be of gripping interest of everyone this applies to all voluntary work. If you want to volunteer for something I need to know exactly what is involved and if possible meet the people who are the organisers. Go along with certain specific questions such as if travel expenses are paid or indeed any form of payment is given. The National Trust could not exist without volunteers so the system has to be clear I admire them enormously and I’m sure without volunteers the National Trust annual membership will double at least. It is the same with many other organisations today. I could go on at great length about how to treat volunteers. Basically, many of them are not kept in the loop and just regarded as workers to be taken for granted. Secondly, continual training is necessary at which they can meet other volunteers. Thirdly, there must be a way of expressing concerns and complaints. overall, there are an estimated 15 million people volunteering at least once a month in the United Kingdom so this is a precious resource without which the country could not work.
In my particular case and at my age, I don’t have much to prove except myself of course, and I don’t want to take on a voluntary job that will grind me down and make me frustrated. The key thing when problem-solving is to look at the job from the outside and not to be overwhelmed by one dissatisfied person or another or to be over impressed by people who say that the organisation is the best thing since sliced bread. It is a great challenge to the maturity to say no outright but I’m not going to follow that course, I just have a list of things that I require before even offering my services because in my view once you start something you don’t back off at a whim but do the job in such a way as to bring joy to other people and changing the personnel every 5 minutes is of no help to man or beast.
There are few things in life better than this.
Off to Tate Modern. It is now so vast, having doubled in size in the last year that there is no way you can cover everything in one visit. Apart from the images, there are many movies and documentaries about various topics and you can easily be detained for an hour in one gallery. The new section, the Switch House opened on 17 June 2016 is much less crowded than the original Boilerhouse. Claustrophobic visitors beware.
Finally, the feet have had enough so off we go to our grand hotel.