Be flexible when dealing with volunteers

I agree with Mr Paul Heng that Singapore is evolving into a society where volunteerism is becoming an important feature ("Leaders in non-profit groups should be properly trained"; June 29).

Volunteers are much needed to oil the machinery in voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), so that clients or patients receive the best possible care and service.

I am a 70-year-old freelance volunteer, and I began my volunteering life decades ago.

I spent about 20 years with the now-defunct Little Sisters of the Poor. There was no volunteer orientation. The nuns worked with us and we learnt from them. They led by example.

I recall once, a nun told me: "Jim, give me a hand." And I did - to lift a body from bed to trolley. There were no preparatory courses to teach us how to lift bodies. I just did, because the intent was to assist.

In the early days, volunteers' intent was solely to assist and to bring cheer to clients.

I'm sure that volunteers of today still have similar goals to assist others.

All volunteers have to attend orientation, and many are equipped with the necessary skills to be effective in their tasks.

However, many VWOs have high volunteer dropout rates.

I volunteer with a few VWOs. My encounters of the nasty kind with some volunteer coordinators bring me to the conclusion that the problem lies with leadership and volunteer coordinators.

Leaders ought to undergo not only professional leadership courses, but also courses to acquire skills on effective interpersonal communication, mediation and efficient delegation of duties.

These skills will benefit the organisations, as volunteers would be happy and committed, and not jump ship at the first sign of distress.

One coordinator pronounced that volunteers should be "subservient" to the rules of the organisations.

Volunteers give their time, effort and, in some cases, money to help their clients. Shouldn't the organisations be flexible and empathetic enough to accommodate their volunteers, within reasonable limits?

Let all volunteers be happy doing what they love doing.

Jimmy Lim Boh Seng