There are people and animals in need around the world. To help with these issues organizations of all kinds, like yours, exist by the thousands. These organizations help and still exist today because of volunteers.
A reoccurring theme seems to be popping up and needs to be addressed. It is important for all of you to read, really pay attention, and fix this issue. It's time to stop playing favorites, learn to share, and respect your volunteers.
The other day I received a phone call from a young friend of mine. He was very upset. The wildlife charity he and his older sister had been raising money for most of his life had just sent him a brief and very rude e-mail. The e-mail basically stated that because he and his sister also helped raise money for other wildlife charities, their services were no longer required. They also said that they felt they could raise more money doing one of his fund-raisers on their own. Basically, he and his family were rudely fired from volunteering. Now let me tell you about this amazing child who I am so honored to know. When he was a small child one of his heroes died and his older sister suggested that they could still help. He was too young to work hands on with the wildlife, but he could fund-raise. So together he and his family started fund-raising for their favorite wildlife charity. The first year they raised a few thousand dollars doing all the basics. After a couple of years he got more creative and determined. He would arrange huge fund-raisers, get all the media attention he could, find sponsors and see if he could raise more money than the previous year. After a few years he was so good at this, he was raising more money for his charities every year than the average person earns in a year, all before becoming a teenager. So imagine his shock and heartbreak when he receives a short, rude e-mail getting fired and their excuse is "helping other charities is not looked upon as favorable" and "they can do it better themselves".
His family was upset so I met with them to tell them my story. When I first started volunteering I wanted to work at the local zoo as a zookeeper. I was told I didn't have enough documented hours of experience to go get them and come back. I found a local wildlife facility that took me on as a volunteer. I was very upfront about how I was there to get experience to be able to become a zookeeper. I worked very hard and learned a lot. They were kind and trained me well until.... I had earned my experience and was now working at both the wildlife facility and the zoo. I was also fundraising for my favorite international wildlife charity. At the end of one of my fund-raisers I had posted a thank you message along with a photo of me with an animal from the wildlife facility (my mistake for mixing). I received a scathing e-mail. It stated that by working for others I was "taking the food out of the mouths" of their animals and I was not allowed to help other organizations. I replied that I was sorry they felt this way and gave my notice. They lost a good volunteer that day. I never decreased my work for them when I helped others and if it wasn't for the inspiration I had gotten from the charity I fund-raised for, I would never have started volunteering for them in the first place. It was very sad to say goodbye to the animals and other volunteers, but I knew it needed to be done. I wanted to help as many places as possible, not just one.
These are just two of many similar stories from volunteers at organizations ranging in size from unknown tiny to huge and well-known. This is happening in the U.S., Africa, Australia, Canada, and other places around the world. International organizations say they are world-wide but are forgetting the small groups in countries that are not their focus.
Volunteers give their time and effort at their own expense and never ask for a thing in return. Some volunteers drive long distances, supply added enrichment at their own expense, pay fees to be a volunteer, pay for their own medical testing or shots, or are required to purchase special equipment or clothing. Wildlife volunteers are a special breed. Outsiders think 'Oh how cute, they get to play with animals'. The truth is wildlife volunteers scrub poop, and vomit, and blood. The prepare meals, enrichment, and administer medications. Wildlife volunteers put in long hours in all kinds of weather. They get bitten by spiders, stung by bees, occasionally hurt or twisted in their duties. They never complain, always say "yes we can", and smile as they shovel up disgusting things. They don't play favorites. They may like one animal better than another but are always willing to help any animal in need. Fund-raisers who volunteer their time are no less important than the hands-on volunteers. They give just as many hours trying to convince individuals and businesses that their cause is worth finding a few extra dollars for. They get up early and stay up late at events making sure it all runs smoothly. They get told no more often than yes and never give up. Volunteers are what keep all of your organizations alive and thriving.
As the so-called "Economic Downturn" has been affecting the world, wildlife organizations and other charities are feeling the hurt. Some volunteers can no longer afford to work so many hours or drive so far (other volunteers are picking up the slack). Organizations are hiring people with business degrees instead of biology degrees to run their charities. It has stopped being about the animals and has become all about the money. My goal of this open letter to all of you is this: Appreciate your volunteers. Say thank you and give them some well earned respect. Do Not Think You Are Better Than Any Other Organization. You might be but that should not be in your job description. Learn to share! Seriously, you will only lose good people. It is not OK to only let them help you! Be kind. The wildlife in our world needs all of us; all organizations, all types of volunteers, all donors, for all species. When you combine everything with everyone, we have the power to help our planet and save the world!
I really appreciate that your read this far and hope you'll stay with me for a few last important notes.
To The Organizations:
Be Clear About what you expect and your "rules".
Be appreciative and respectful (If you have to fire someone have the courtesy to say it to their face).
Do Not Steal A Volunteers Idea or Fund-Raiser, ask how you can help or permission to take-over.
One person is not more important than the entire organization. It's not about you! Stop being embarrassed if a child is better at your job and learn from them.
Money and business is important but do not forget why. Find a balance. Remember the animals. Remember that people have feelings and are doing this because they care, not for your bottom line.
Say Thank You! Kindness to all living things is important and so easy to share.
To The Volunteers:
Ask Questions (what is required/expected? what are their rules? etc.)
Be Honest. Let them know your goals, plans, and if you also help others.
Work hard, never complain, and put the animals first.
Thank the organizations for your opportunity to help.
Keep your organizations separate. Do not post pictures from one without permission and always give them credit. Keep different events clearly labeled and never mix up organizations.
Kindness to all living things is important and so easy to share.
Please read, think, and share this letter with every wildlife organization you know. One person can make a difference, pass this on! I truly hope that by bringing an awareness to this problem we can resolve this one of many issues in our world today. Together we have the power to do real good.
Sincerely, Rebecca Harvey
Zookeeper, volunteer, fund-raiser, educator, animal lover, friend
A special note to my young friend. Do not let one person dim your greatness. Children like you are making a difference now and will become the adults who change the world. I am proud to call you my friend. You inspire me to work harder and do better. If more families were like yours the world would be filled with kindness and love and extinction would stop. Be proud of who you are and where you are going. You are an amazing individual and I look forward to seeing where you go from here!