Viewpoint: Treat volunteers with respect - or risk losing them

Charities need to stop treating their volunteers like children if they want them to stay the course during induction sessions, argues Ellie Leveson.

I recently tried to volunteer as a children's mentor for a small charity. I was aware that it would be a big commitment - volunteers are asked to give up between two and four hours per week to be with the child, and have monthly supervisions with the charity. After a long think, I decided I was at a time in my life, with flexible working hours and no dependants, when I would be able to offer this.

However, I was a little surprised when I was asked to attend a training course taking place on three consecutive Saturdays. Three days seemed pretty excessive to cover the relevant child protection issues and the workings of the scheme, even taking into account the 'get to know you' games that featured in all the voluntary sector training I have ever done.

I don't believe any intelligent adult enjoys these games, but it's something I can get through with gritted teeth if I think the training itself will be worthwhile. But it's not possible to grit my teeth hard enough to bear what took place on training day one: spinning around to wake ourselves up, spending huge amounts of time discussing the meaning of the word 'resilience' and preparing a song or poem about the scheme.

I accept that thinking about fears and challenges is reasonable for potential participants in this kind of scheme. But performing these fears as a poem, a song or a skit is not, particularly when we were asked to use the dressing-up box in the corner.

I also understand the need to observe potential volunteers at length to pick up on any worrying behaviour that might not come to light in an interview or a seminar. As a busy professional, however, I cannot bear this time to be filled with primary school level activities. It came as no surprise when the trainer told us she used to be a school teacher.

If more professionals are to be persuaded to give up time to help their communities, the training must also be professional. If you ask us to give up three days to train, the least we can expect is to be repaid with sessions that do not waste our time.

I'm not going to find out whether the rest of the training continues in the same vein. I have withdrawn and will be looking for a volunteering opportunity where adults are treated as such.

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