I felt genuinely bad for her. Here was a generous person that had done a great deal to contribute so much and now, as supposed to feeling excited and positive about re-connecting, she was worried. As someone who was now living out the experience of being both a volunteer and professionally working as a volunteer manager, it was a helpful wake-up call.
My experience was a helpful reminder that as volunteer managers we need to stress some "golden rules" for volunteering. In other words, let's be sure we're treating our volunteers exactly as we'd want to be treated if we in their position. I believe we can do that by ensuring that these messages are being delivered by our words and actions:
Our door is always open and you are always welcome: Volunteers will come and go - that's simply a reality of this work. It's going to happen due to time, other commitments, priorities - or anything else. Our role is not to judge the validity or soundness of those reasons. One of my best mentors had a statement that fits well here: If it's true for you, it's true. In other words, the reason your volunteer stepped away was important to him or her. Therefore it's important. Our role is to welcome them back to the fold and celebrate their re-connection with our work.
Every contribution matters and is valued: The subject of thanking and appreciating our volunteer's efforts has been well covered by many others (and me in some other blogs). But it's worth saying again. Any offer of time, resources, and energy that can help your organization move forward should be valued no matter what. No matter what.
There are no "shoulds" around here: Volunteering should be voluntary (obviously) and not the result of thinking or feeling that they "should volunteer" out of some implied obligation. Our job is to create an environment that encourages a spirit of giving generously. It should be one that helps us create relationships with our volunteers that enable us to understand what they can and want to offer and how we can best connect them with the needs of our organization.
Please don't take this to mean that we as managers of volunteers should ask nothing of our volunteers or worse yet, be doormats for the occasionally badly behaved volunteers (you know they're out there). On the contrary. I do believe that by practicing these Golden Rules you have the opportunity to create a truly collaborative and authentic partnership with your volunteers.