Dear Ask DesCamp:
Two years ago I had a great idea for a yearly fundraiser to benefit a charity serving homeless (and often addicted) kids in my city. I spent countless hours planning food and wine, I solicited donations, I scouted locations and I put everything in place for our first annual event. The party was a big success and I raised over $250,000 for the cause.
We are already getting back into swing planning next year’s event and I am working again with Patty, the assistant director of the organization. She and I worked closely together on the first event but I did most of the work and she knows it. Here is my problem/question for you:
I heard Patty is taking all the credit for the enormous success of the event and telling people that she planned it from start to finish. I am furious and thinking about confronting her and asking her to apologize, set the record straight and give me the credit I deserve or I won’t work with this charity any longer.
What would you do? What should I do? I want people to know how hard this was!
Dear Disgruntled Volunteer:
Ah, the struggles of the rich and unemployed. Your problem is a serious one and I will be forced to fight through tears and occasional sobs to write my response; such is my sympathy for you.
Before I get after you with some tough love, I want to acknowledge your hard work for this charity. I admire your efforts and it’s important to stress that volunteer work by people like you is the lifeblood of many a charity. Thank you for doing the work that so many others, myself including, tend to shy away from.
Readers: let’s go back and take a second look at her letter. Do you notice anything odd? If you haven’t had your coffee yet or you aren’t as whip-smart as I am, let me point it out for you:
That’s how many times Disgruntled Volunteer (hereinafter “DV”) used the word “I” in her letter – a letter consisting of only 11 sentences. This is a hint for us that she may be a bit self-centered, wouldn’t you say? Her obsession with herself and receiving accolades over another is especially strange since the subject of the letter is charity work.
DV, I have a few thoughts for you on why you are feeling the way you do and the best way to handle these emotions going forward. Let’s order our email chat in the numbers format, because it helps keep me on task and it gives you a clear list of things to work on with your therapist or shaman or whomever the rich are seeking guidance from these days (besides me, of course).
1. You are in your mid-50s, your last child just left home and you’ve never worked at a paying job. This is your first real foray into volunteer work. Yay, DV! It’s about time – what have you been doing all these years?
2. At the time you volunteered for this charity two years ago, your husband was seeking to sidle up to the board president for business reasons. This volunteer work was your husband’s idea, not yours. Boo, DV!
3. Despite your less-than-altrusitic motives, you actually kicked a significant amount of ass on this project and found that you enjoyed the work and plan to continue doing more. My JPD (Judgmental Pendulum of Doom) has now swung back to neutral.
4. Patty, the assistant director of the charity and a single mom, makes a whopping $42,000/year. Your husband earns well into the mid-six figures.
5. Your marriage is not the best and you feel ignored by your husband and lonely without your children.
Let’s talk about you first, and then the notion of charity.
DV, you are suffering from a common disease called “What Now?” What Now? strikes non-working women in middle-age, usually right around the time their children fly from the nest. Fear not and keep reading, for there is a cure which will be revealed later.
While I am less than thrilled about what led you to spend so much time on this charity, it is exciting to see that you have a talent (outside of shopping at Barney’s and showing the nail technician where she missed a spot) you want to explore. I encourage you to do that, but in the meantime you have this one event under your belt and the associated “problem” to deal with.
Should you “confront” Patty with your list of demands? No.
Patty works full-time for this organization and for very little pay because she is dedicated to the cause of helping get kids off the streets. You are just a fly-by-night giver, offering your time in hopes it will expand the already ample coffers of your wealthy family.
Your information sources were two party guests who were drunk, so you don’t even know whether they gave you accurate data. To confront Patty and demand an apology is petty and extremely tone-deaf to your comparative situations and the purpose of charitable work.
I’m not completely unsympathetic to your problem. This has happened to me in the professional context and it’s deeply annoying. However, you are not a professional fundraiser or an employee of this charity – you are a bored and lonely housewife who needs to find something significant and important to focus upon lest you perish from feeling forgotten and useless.
My advice is that you continue working with Patty and other organizations as well, whether in a volunteer or even (gasp!) a professional and paying capacity. Don’t just plan parties; get down in the trenches and find out what the lives of the people who are served by these charities are like.
I think if you spend a few days in the company of a 13-year old girl who lives on the streets because her stepdad took a special shine to her, you may reorder your priorities when it comes to the rewards for what you are doing. It isn’t people praising you, it’s the feeling you get from helping others and the knowledge that you are an active part of turning around a troubled life.
If you must, think of yourself as a modern-day Claudette Colvin. You’ve never heard of her, right?
Most people haven’t.
15-year-old Claudette was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white person on a public bus in Alabama, 9 months before the famous Rosa Parks incident. The NAACP decided that Claudette was not fit to represent the movement because she was too young and pregnant to boot.
Instead, they chose Rosa Parks to spark the movement in a very well-planned moment of protest. At the time, Ms. Parks was secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP and was older, more sophisticated looking and had better hair than Ms. Colvin.
Seriously, that was an issue.
Ms. Colvin could have been deeply resentful that the story she shared with the NAACP and Rosa Parks was appropriated and re-played without her, but her general philosophy throughout life has been to take pride that she played a critical role in the bus boycott because of the larger implications and resulting victories within the civil right movement.
Get some perspective, DV, and continue to expand your horizons through charitable work or fundraising employment. As your world gets bigger and you see the outcome of your efforts creating a better life for those less fortunate, your need for credit will shrink in direct proportion to the expansion of your heart.*
*that was so cheesy that I made myself nauseated.