You Can't Make Someone Volunteer

I'm going to start way out in left field and I promise we'll make our way back to my point.


I was a terrible child. I tell my husband stories of me as a child and he laughs and is horrified at how difficult I was for my parents. You see, even as a five year old child, I some how was extremely aware that no one could force me to respect them. No one could force me to do something that I saw no worth in. I believed very strongly, and still do to this day, that respect was earned.


Similarly, you cannot force someone to do anything. Yes, if someone is in a position of authority, over you, you can be required to do something. However, if that something is so repulsing, so repellant to you, if it violates your moral compass, you have the choice, the often very difficult choice, of leaving that position.


I went to school for technical theatre and worked in that field for nearly a decade. I languished in a job in that industry for nearly two years under a boss who absolutely and almost methodically wrecked my mental health. And I vowed when I left not only that job, but that industry, to never let a job ruin my mental health again and to remember my worth. When next I was stuck in a position with a superior who demonstrated absolutely no respect for me as a person, I stayed as long as I felt mentally comfortable, and then I left.


Now, what does this have to do with volunteering and what does volunteering have to do with the dog world? Over and over I see people at dog events bemoan the lack of volunteers. And indeed, there are not enough volunteers to go around to make events happen smoothly and easily. Often I see people preaching for newcomers to get out and join a dog club.


And then come the qualifiers to these statements: "Volunteer! (you shouldn't need incentive, you should devote your entire day to volunteering, you shouldn't complain, you shouldn't have opinions)." Or: "Join your all breed club! (But put in your dues, don't complain, don't question the status quo, and understand things aren't going to change)"


And here's the thing. Those qualifiers? Those qualifiers are aversive, not only to me, but to many other people. People want to matter, they want to have a say. They want to have some flexibility in their day. Essentially saying: "No, this is how it's always been done, so people just need to do it" is not at all inviting to the people you want to volunteer.


Yes, if there aren't volunteers, if there aren't new club members, eventually events will disappear. And it is often argued that this should be incentive enough for people. "Volunteer at shows or there won't be any shows." And I think what people don't realize is some, perhaps many, people will just shrug and say "That's a shame."


People should not be expected to forfeit their autonomy and dignity to make a show or trial or club happen. Just because someone is newer to something doesn't mean they don't have relevant experience. It doesn't mean they don't have intensity of experience obtained in a few years that many people don't achieve in a lifetime. A person who plans 50 events a year for a living and has been working for two years has many times more experience in many ways than the person who has planned one dog show a year for the last fifty years.


I understand that letting people have control, letting them have a say can be problematic. What if they say something that you don't support? What if they promote the club wrong and ruin all your hard work? Having an up to date website or Facebook page isn't that important...right? Why should you let a pro-handler do an Instagram takeover? What even is that and how might it help marketing? These are all new ideas, but they've been proven time and again to be effective marketing in other fields and industries. The dog world should be taking note but instead often they shy away from learning the new concepts.


Letting people in and have a say will do so much more to foster a community that saying: join us and do what we say. I understand that's how it's always been. I understand previous generations had to suffer through that system. But look at the world today. Regardless of how you feel about it, the world is beginning to stand up for their mental health, for their work life balance. People are beginning to recognize when they are being taken advantage of and not stand for it. And those changes mean things have to be approached differently.


If we have a shortage of volunteers and club members we should be looking at why. And I would argue that the number one reason why people don't volunteer is because they feel they won't be respected. Again, it is aversive to most people to say: you need to do this no questions asked.


Other reasons why people don't volunteer? Many people are too nervous or too new. Many people have no idea that volunteers are even needed. Very rarely do I see premiums with an obvious way to volunteer. Very rarely do I see posts from clubs asking for volunteers and that there will be the following incentives: lunch, free entry, raffle tickets, etc.


I want to share a relevant story of what happened to me very recently. Over six months ago, I offered to be an AKC Temperament Test (ATT) evaluator for an upcoming cluster of shows. It's been an enjoyable cluster for me in the past. I want to see the ATT offered more often. I'm qualified. So I was happy to volunteer my time, provided I could get my own dogs tested. In exchange, I would happily test the other evaluators' dogs.


This had been the arrangement up until a few months ago when we were told we would be paid for the work. That was an awesome bonus, I was happy to volunteer my time, but getting paid for work that, likely should be paid, was nice recognition. However, recently we learned that there would be no day of show entries accepted because of COVID regulations. No big deal. I asked if that meant we needed to enter our own dogs. I was told, yes.


Again, no problem. I went to the form and realized that payment had to be submitted with the form. However, I had agreed to be an evaluator provided I could get my dogs evaluated as the stipulation for me evaluating. I asked about this and was told that we were expected to pay. Less than an hour later we were informed that we would not be getting paid for our time either. 'That's too much. They shouldn't be paid as much as a conformation judge with twenty years of experience'. Is what the event organizer, who had gone to bat for the evaluators again and again with the club board, was told when she proposed paying the evaluators.


In relatively short order, I decided to withdraw from the event entirely. I certainly feel badly since I had agreed to evaluate months ago. However, I had agreed to evaluate under certain terms and as the club reneged on that agreement, I believe my choice was justifiable. To be an AKC Temperament Test judge you must fill out an application, meet experience criteria, and then pay AKC a fee. It is a position that does require expertise and we were told that for an entire day's work judging we would receive free lunch As I said before, I value myself, I value my work, I value my capabilities too highly to see all of that expertise treated with such disregard and the inability to follow through on an agreement.


A volunteer Huntmaster and two volunteers helping slip my dogs

Please note, I volunteer at nearly every event I attend. I've helped plan flyball tournaments, CGC/Trick and Temperament Test events, I've held positions in clubs, I regularly spend