Honoring Our Volunteers

Strategies for Success
April 23, 2021Ellen Miller, WRJ Board Member, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, DC


We’ve heard it all. 


“I’m sorry, I just can’t.”


“My kids are too young, and I can’t come to meetings.”


“I don’t have the time. I’m too busy.”


“I can’t speak in public. I don’t know how to do it. I’m afraid to be around too many people.”


These are the words nobody wants to hear when we ask someone to take on a sisterhood job or take a leadership position. We want to hear, “Thank you for reaching out to me.” Or, This sounds so exciting! I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me.” Or, I’m on it! What can I do to help?” 


We can make these dreams a reality. We can turn the words we don’t want to hear into words we want to hear. 


The women who say that they don’t have the time but express interest are extremely valuable to us as volunteers. This is one of the greatest challenges volunteer organizations experience, but it’s not impossible. “No” is not always “no” forever. We need to listen carefully to the messages between the “I can’t do it” words. They can give us great insight into things like the kinds of programming, times for meetings, and virtual events they’re interested in so that these women can participate in a way that works for them.

Even with clear mission statements and goals, we can't guarantee that everyone will carry through or do a project the way we expect them to do it. We're a Jewish organization; undoubtedly there will be lots of opinions and discussions. But, it’s important to remember that members participate in the best ways they can. Nobody wants to disappoint. So how do we work with volunteers who don’t follow through?


As an experienced psychotherapist, past sisterhood president, and WRJ Board member, I suggest that the president take that person aside and ask them if they'd be willing to confidentially share what's getting in the way. Sometimes the tasks women volunteer for or we ask them to do turn out to be too big for them to handle, but they don’t want to disappoint. Maybe they need support, help, or guidance. Maybe they didn't understand exactly what was involved or how to do it. Maybe someone is what I call a "lone ranger" and prefers jobs that don’t involve other people. Many women don’t realize how time-consuming and tedious addressing and writing 100 postcards, or stuffing, sealing, and stamping 500 envelopes can be.


Maybe someone has something going on in their lives that they prefer to keep private.  Everyone has a story that they might choose to keep to themselves. Some women join organizations to take their minds off of what's going on in their lives. It's hard to be forgiving when someone lets us down or creates issues, but we have to remember that we are the leaders who set the tone for our whole organization. If we truly listen and treat everyone with kindness, we establish a precedent for everyone else to do the same.


We have the ability to find, train, and support all our volunteers. Our volunteers are conscientious and get the job done. We have confidence in them. We’re so appreciative that we often forget to thank them until the end of their terms; it’s easy to take them for granted.


We’re thankful and grateful for their service to sisterhoods and WRJ. As we prepare for the holiday of Shavuot – the holiday of gratitude – it’s a special time for all of us to honor our volunteers.Yes, all of us, you and me: from the women who do the seemingly small tasks like stuffing envelopes, reading to disadvantaged children, or signing up and showing up at a march, to those of us holding Executive Board positions, and to Rabbi Marla Feldman and the WRJ staff. Especially the WRJ staff! Yes, they’re paid, but they put in so many extra hours and support that we are grateful for them, too!


In this age of mindfulness, we appreciate the work the women of WRJ do. It’s helpful that we’re reminded of this in preparation for Shavuot. As we received the Torah on Mount Sinai with gratitude, we take this time to thank and honor all of our WRJ volunteers.

Chag Shavuot Sameach!


Ellen M. Miller am passionate about WRJ! She holds the following positions and serves in the following capacities: WRJ Board Member, Chair WRJ Board Giving, WRJ Investment Committee, Mid-Atlantic District YES Fund Chair, Immediate Past President Women of Washington Hebrew Congregation, and Past Treasurer WWHC. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Maryland and Delaware. 



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