I was ready to quit.
A few years ago, when I was 15 years into volunteering for the Rotary Club programs through their various young leader programs – Interact Club, Rotaract Club, and RYLA – I found myself at a crossroads where I was ready to quit the Rotary organization, all because of one bad interaction I had. That year, I was going through a chapter in my life where I was refocusing heavily on growing my business, and with the limited free time I had, I spent most of it still volunteering with Rotary at the district and international levels – but I had stopped showing up to the club meetings at my home Rotary club. Without any phone calls or attempts at a 1:1 meeting, one day in January I found myself reading an email in my inbox. This email from the club president alerted me that I was on the brink of being kicked out of the club due to lack of attendance. It told me that to be a good Rotarian, I needed to attend the meetings, which I was not doing.
I am sharing this story because I was faced with a crossroads that month: do I quit a volunteer organization I loved but felt unappreciated, or do I find a way to move past that moment? With so much of my spare time spent supporting Rotary projects and working on district committees, I felt so disheartened.
By that time, I had seen incredible people join the organization but also leave within only a few years. I had also seen leaders who had been involved for over a decade, suddenly just leave the organization. From the conversations I had with these individuals, I have found that the primary root cause has been the same: feeling unappreciated or under-appreciated.
In a volunteer organization where the leadership changes every year, it takes only one club president to have a profoundly negative impact on even seasoned members. It was that month that I realized that if even someone who had been so involved in the organization could feel a profound sorrow of being unwanted and unappreciated to the point I was willing to quit, then someone newer would easily exit the organization at that point.
This experience made me ask the question: how can we prevent the likelihood that members who experience negative incidents will leave the organization?
I kept coming back to making people feel appreciated. Yet so often does the act of appreciating others comes from the top-down. The problem is that in a volunteer organization where the top leader at every level changes annually, you get inconsistent experiences. A solution I would recommend is to create a core group within your organization whose sole purpose is to appreciate your volunteers and members. This group can operate independently of the club leadership but still work closely in collaboration with the club leadership. They could be comprised of a mix of seasoned members and current club leaders, willing to step up to consistently and regularly appreciate members and check in on them.
I ended up staying in my club only after confiding to other members about what had happened to me. These friends who I had known for years were surprised by my experience, and all gave me encouragement to stay. But I made the initiative to reach out. I am confident that if I had a group actively reaching out to me periodically to thank me for all I do, and the pro bono services my company was donating to the club, that incident from my club president would have not impacted me as loudly as it did.
Institutionalizing redundancies for member and volunteer appreciation should be a step all of our organizations take. Too often are our top leaders too busy to have the bandwidth to think about appreciating everyone regularly, and sometimes you run into leaders who are not as proficient in it as you need them to be. The more organized groups within our organizations that are set up to appreciate members, the stronger our community will be.