on treating volunteers as you would never treat workforces

Volunteering is a tricky subject.

I once worked for a company which tried to make volunteering compulsory: its HR department wanted the act to form part of all end-of-year bonus objectives.

Volunteering is good for the soul, but only when it’s good for the soul.  When a pecuniary incentive becomes the only reason for doing it, the soul in question surely runs pretty ragged.

Volunteering in political parties is a bit like that; only, often, at least in my unhappy experience, it becomes a badge of courage which if you do not wear it, you end up being more or less politely shunned.

The other day it was made clear to me that it was my responsibility to deliver 200-odd leaflets in my area.  It wasn’t just 200-odd leaflets, of course.  What those who produce the leaflets are looking for is an unending – unquestioning – relationship between the message-forgers and the letterbox stuffers.  Once yours to do once, it would be yours to do forever.  That’s what political parties, whatever their colour, end up becoming: not about party politics; rather, about office politics.

I had, the same evening, offered my proofreading and writing skills up for nothing.  As I charge twenty-five quid an hour for the former, this was no mean offer.  The offer was kind of accepted at first (though its value, without prompting – I’m never one to blow my own trumpet too much – wasn’t really appreciated in full); the polite shunning, however, came afterwards as I waited to follow up and put it into place.  The shunning was because I didn’t want to deliver leaflets.

Political parties don’t need thinkers or writers who just think or write.  Most of all, they need people prepared to tread the streets.

They far prefer to have under their wings emasculated representatives; doorstep knockers; people who keep their thoughts to themselves.

Although, if you deliver leaflets, you can then begin to get the idea that the right to think might one day – wonderfully, shockingly, weirdly – be yours.

The best of us wouldn’t, of course, or at least in the past, have ever treated workforces in such a way.  Such emotional blackmail, such undervaluing of strengths, such poor person-management … did it ever exist in the private sector?

Maybe it did.

Maybe it does.

But volunteers?  Surely not …

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