Saturday, April 20, 2002

One of the duties of my job is to network with other nonprofit organizations. Often, that means attending meetings or luncheons at which we are all gathered. Yesterday, was such an event - and not my favorite one.

It was the annual volunteer appreciation luncheon for a local women's service organization. "Social Hour" started at 11:00 AM, and seemed to go on for several weeks.

Seeing some of the costumes people were wearing made me doubt I was at a nonprofit event, and wonder if I'd entered a reception for the extras on "That 70’s Show." Some of these leisure suits haven't been out of the closet since 1974, and neither have their wearers. Some of these older folks looked nice enough, but you knew just looking at them that their one great regret in life was that they'd never again have the opportunity to vote for Ronald Reagan.

It was frightening to watch these "women who lunch" descend from their posts, their Hostess ribbons waving in the wind, to direct the crowd first to the bar, then into the ballroom where the sound system was blasting "You are the wind beneath my wings," and "I believe that children are our future," and a whole genre of uplifting, hero-oriented, sappy pop songs I was never entirely aware of before yesterday.

I briefly thought about bringing a sexual discrimination suit against the sponsoring organization for their female-only membership policy, but I was afraid I might win the suit and actually have to join them.

Listening in on some of the conversations, and trying to politely nod and smile and fit it, I wondered if volunteering was really such a good thing. I got the distinct impression that some of those present used their volunteer experience to justify a right-wing politics that said, "There’s no need for government assistance: these lovely ladies have it all under control." I could just picture them congratulating themselves, then checking their mileage on the way home from the event to use as a tax deduction.

I decided then to start a campaign to stamp out all volunteerism. "A professional nonprofit sector only!" would be my rallying cry. These Stepford Wives (as one of my co-workers calls them) were just getting in the way of the real work that needs to be done. Why, the hair budget for this event alone would feed a family of five for at least six months!

After the initial welcome we were treated to a rousing live rendition of, need I say, "The Wind Beneath My Wings." I know the song won lots of awards, but it does lose something when you hear it three times in one hour. When the lunch was served, I tried not to think about the symbolism of the stuffed pork chops on my plate (stuffing and mashed potatoes - double starch doesn't bother these people) and listen to the program.

The emcee came out and started announcing the winners, and presenting the stories of what they had done. And then I softened up. As detached and unaware as many of the attendees were, the winners were all involved in doing great work. Whether it was working with the blind, or disabled children, or disaster relief, actual people-in-need were helped in very real ways by the award winners.

I was truly sincere when I congratulated a few of the winners and shook their hands. Okay, maybe we don’t have to get rid of all the volunteers.

(NOTE: This is a piece of satire, loosely based on my experience yesterday, and does not represent the views of my employer. If you represent an organization that you believe was made fun of here, please don't sue me. Really, I had a lovely lunch, thank you, and as the final paragraphs point out, my earlier prejudices were unfounded. I love volunteerism!)

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