Volunteering is NOT a “hobby”

graphic by Jayne Cravens representing volunteersAn actor friend (oh, I have so many) posted on his Facebook account a link to this article, 6 Critical Mistakes That Will Kill Your Theatre Career. It’s a good list, not just for actors. Number four, about being on time, was the one that drove me crazy when I was working in theatre, in marketing and public relations, because when an actor is late, he or she isn’t just holding up the other actors. So I said so.

And then came this comment from one of this other friends:

Agreed, if the actors are being paid.

Oh no, she didn’t!!

And so it began.

Me: Disagree – volunteers, whether actors or otherwise, need to take their roles seriously. If you can’t make the commitment to be on time, and being fully prepared for your role, please don’t apply – let someone who can make the commitment take that role.

Her: Agreed but you’re talking about a hobby, not a career.

Me: I’m a manager of volunteers. I’m a trainer of managers of volunteers. I count on volunteers – the people I train count on them. And NONE of my volunteers, nor those of those I train, would call their commitment a “hobby.” *None*. It’s a real commitment – if you can’t do it, go build boats in a bottle.


Volunteering for nonprofits is not a hobby. It’s not something done in your spare time. It’s not something you do when you maybe sorta might feel like it and might find some time. If you want to volunteer, as an actor or otherwise, you have to make the time. You have to set aside the time. Even for micro volunteering. When you sign up to volunteer, you are making a commitment. The nonprofit organization is counting on you. If you don’t fulfill that commitment, that task doesn’t get done. What are the consequences of that? Maybe the organization has someone else that can do the work – but, usually, not. So that display table at the county fair will have to be shut down – losing potential financial donors, volunteers and other supporters for the organization. The text won’t be translated into Spanish – and the printer will have to be called and asked if he can delay printing for another week or longer, or the Hispanic outreach campaign will have to be delayed. That child you said you would mentor will have to be told “Sorry”, and he or she will further lose faith in adults. Other volunteers that were going to do something with your work as a volunteer will be kept waiting further. Other volunteers will now have even more to do.

Organizations: you have every right to test a volunteer applicant’s commitment, to make absolutely sure they understand the serious nature of their volunteering. Don’t apologize for having a form to fill out, for having a followup interview or orientation that volunteers must attend or view online. If they can’t make those minor commitments before they even start on a task, it’s very likely they won’t complete the task they are given. And doesn’t your organization deserve better? Don’t your clients, audiences and other deserve committed volunteers?

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2 thoughts on “Volunteering is NOT a “hobby”

  1. b!X Frankonis

    This is great. Any pointers to other articles or posts, here or elsewhere, that would fall under the umbrella of, say, “this nonprofit is not a hobby”? I need to start 2018 with some hopefully constructive guidance to the people involved in my nonprofit. Thanks!

    1. jcravens Post author

      Hey there! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Well, the Belmont Goats are famous! I’m a fan.

      So, your web site kind of implies that the goats **are** a hobby – just something nice. But why are they *necessary*? What does your nonprofit accomplish? What difference does your nonprofit make? What impact does your nonprofit have? That’s what’s missing from your web site – right now, it pretty much says, “it’s really expensive to keep goats – please donate.” Instead, talk about how your nonprofit adds to Portland, why Portland is better off with them than without them, etc.


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