Volunteering is overrated. I’m beginning to prefer selfishness over altruism.

A year ago, I was asked to serve on the board of our synagogue, a small Conservative congregation. I was completing the term of a man who resigned from the board. I got something out of the few months I served, mostly a greater understanding of how things don’t work, and the fervent drive to increase membership and programming. My term expired in April 2009, but the president asked me to remain. I struggled with my decision to serve again; in the end I relented and agreed to be nominated for another 2-year term. BIG mistake.

Last night’s 3-hour board meeting left me frustrated, unhappy, and dyspeptic. First of all, the synagogue president is inefficient in almost everything. I’m sure his picture appears in the dictionary under the term “wishy-washy”. He’s always late for everything. He never knows the agenda for his meetings. Worst of all, he maintains no control over these board meetings. He allows every old fart on the board to prattle on and on about nothing. The president is a lovely man who knows tons of people — wealthy people — in town, but he’s not a strong leader.

The president has a strong vice-president to support him. That’s good and bad. The vp gets lots of things done, but he’s pedantic and long-winded. No surprise since he’s a retired professor of English. Let me tell you, if I’d had him as a professor in college, I would have changed my major to engineering. The synagogue’s treasurer, usually a sane voice of reason, was absent from last night’s meeting. I missed him terribly. Also absent was a new board member, an attorney whose logic and wisdom are well-respected.

The synagogue secretary — you know, the position who is supposed to be present to take minutes, etc. — “appeared” by speakerphone at last night’s meeting because she’s up north at her summer home … for the next 4 months. She’s been the secretary and doing this for years, but this year she decided it was too hard for her to take minutes by phone. She corraled me into taking minutes for her. It does not make me happy, especially when she routinely natters on about nothing AND complains how we need a “corresponding” secretary because she is a “recording” secretary. Huh? Honey,  you’re the secretary; YOU handle the damn correspondence, you retired, dried-up hag.

I can’t believe I have another 21 months of this hell.

On the other hand, I love volunteering for the Snooty School’s annual book fair. I love helping plan the decor and decorating the gym. I love setting out the books. Most of all, I love working at the book fair, helping kids and parents pick good books to read. It is so rewarding to have a kid run up to me during book fair and say, “Mrs. Alto2! Mrs. Alto2! I started reading that book you gave me. I love it!” That makes it all worthwhile.

OK, I’ll amend my opening statement. 98% of volunteering is overrated. 1% is tolerable, and 1% is great.


5 thoughts on “Volunteering

  1. I am President of my community theater group and I share some of your thoughts. However, I have to admit to my experience being more like 75% tolerable, 20% great and just 5% a huge negative. I’m lucky that I am also an actor and director, so I’m sure that colors my experience.

  2. Hopefully it will get a little better. Is the president up for the same two-year term as you are? Sounds like some meeting management skills would help things a lot.

    In my experience, volunteering was about 75% positive, 15% boredom, and 10% highly annoying. I’ve put in my time in Junior League, though, and have officially gone sustaining, so I can concentrate on my graduate work. Now, I just get to show up for whatever interests me, rather than having any set responsibilities. Much better!

  3. And..well..you know MY feelings on the subject! Change “synagogue” to “pop warner” or “Baseball” and I’ve SOOOO been there for waaay too long!

    But truly, I am more annoyed with now because I know it is ending so I am letting the little things annoy me more, but overall it has certainly been a good thing and even after a break I will probably do something again.

  4. Amen, sister! I have vowed never to go higher in the Girl scout organization than plain ol’ troop leader. I’m convinced most of the rest is meetings for the sake of meetings and, worse, training for the sake of training. Like the day-long session I drove 2 hours to last summer that boiled down to, here’s a new book that the Scouts have published that we think you can use. The little bonding games we played in the break-out sessions were pointless; and the rest was the leadership reading sections of the new book to us, as if we couldn’t do that ourselves. BTW I took the new book to our first meetings and the girls thought it sucked.

  5. Of course, if you agreed to serve as Board president next term, I’m sure things would turn around quickly…

    –Virginia, who constantly struggles with how long to let the long-winded (but very smart) retired attorney on her Board run on before gently cutting him off.

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