I met the leaders of a division of a certain volunteer organization. They do essentially the same as dozens of other community service organizations, but this group requires you be trained by them to do what others have been doing for decades. Then, if you want to participate in one of their trips, you have to go with one of their chapters, on their schedule. Many – myself included – would participate more, except my work schedule hasn’t let me match up with the trips sponsored by my local chapter. I asked if there was a way for me to find a trip to join up with a different local chapter, but they tell me they don’t have the structure or the people to handle non-standard requests, or to let you serve less than their standard one week’s service.

When I went to refresher training, this leader made an odd comment to the group, lamenting that only 20% of the ones they train actually go with them on one of their trips. When I asked him about his comment privately after the training, he claimed it was an example of the Pareto 80/20 rule, and there was no reason to expect anything different. He wouldn’t listen when I tried to tell him differently.

I’ve tried talking to this organization’s leaders before, and since. I’ve tried to volunteer to help coordinate individual volunteers like myself, but the response is to keep my opinions to myself until after I’ve been on a few trips (“paid my dues”). In other words, they’d rather train a few hundred more to get a dozen additional workers, instead of putting a structure in place to bring participation up to at least 50%.

What I would wish for this particular missions group is that they loosen the stranglehold on involvement. Pareto doesn’t say that 80% won’t work. It says that the top 20% will find a way to work no matter what, the bottom 20% will not work no matter what, and the middle 60% will do some given the right conditions. I’ve got friends who would participate if they could go for only half a week, especially if over a long weekend. But the team which taught me that “blessed are the flexible, for they will not be broken” continues to be rigid in how they involve people who don’t match their preprogrammed profile.

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