Professionalism and Volunteerism Made Easy

I’ve recently had my professionalism questioned.

I am a professional graphic designer. Have been for over fifteen years now, although I’m currently not doing it for a living wage, by choice.

I am a semi-professional author, painter and songwriter. None of these activities is making me much money at present, but I have my hopes that this will change in time.

I am also, as it happens, a civically-engaged volunteer. I am currently involved in helping to organize and coordinate Participatory Budgeting efforts in Ward 2 (and hopefully, some day, citywide), and in the Planning Team of the Stinson Neighbourhood Action Plan, for the Stinson Community Association. These two are not professionally-held positions. I receive no money for these activities. They aren’t even positions, as such. They are simply volunteer activities. As such, they are not subject to the same scrutiny as they would be if I were a City of Hamilton employee, or if my so-called position in PB were a paying one, in which case, I would be responsible to whomever was responsible for paying me.

That’s what professionalism is. It’s accepting responsibility for a set of standards that permits one to do one’s job without fear of reprisals. Volunteerism is a little like that as well, except that it IS volunteer work, and therefore, bound by less stringent standards. Except where that work crosses into territory normally handled by professionals, in which case, you either up your game or step aside.

PB isn’t a paying gig for me. I do it for the love of the thing. I love Direct Democracy. I love Participatory Budgeting. I don’t overstate myself when I say I would hate to see PBHamOnt fail. Most of the people that know me well enough know what I’m about. An increasing number, it seems, do not. So I’ll spell it out for them.

I have no political aspirations. I believe I can do more for my neighbourhood, my ward, and my city as a volunteer than I ever could in four or more years of working for the City of Hamilton. I might be able to start to get bigger things done at first, but from what I see, most folks march proudly in through the front door in the beginning, and end up slumping their way out the back door when their time has come. The impression I get of City culture is one of toxicity and red tape. I have no interest in that.

I’m a writer, an artist, a musician, and I have nothing to prove in the political arena.

The most ‘professional’ consideration I have in all of this is helping to set up a consultancy service for the City to utilize when implementing PB across the city. I don’t plan on running it. I just want to make it happen. It needs to happen. Hamilton needs it.

But Hamilton doesn’t need me to be in charge of it. Hamilton doesn’t need me.

So when a fellow volunteer questions my professionalism, all I can do is laugh. If all of this civic engagement stuff ended for me tomorrow, I’d just get back to work on my novels and albums and paintings and such. I’m designing a board game. I’m teaching guitar. I’m busy, is what I’m saying. What I do for PB, I do because no one else has stepped forward to do it for me, and if no one does it, it will almost certainly fail. I don’t allow my ego to get into that equation. I’m NOT the best person for the job. I’m just the only person prepared to do it at this time.

I am not a Liaison, for either the City of Hamilton or for PB. The cards I whipped up on my home printer say ‘PBHamOnt – Communications/Off-Season Office (2014)’. I call myself a coordinator, but basically, I am merely a facilitator. Not even ‘Facilitator’ with a capital F. It’s not an executive position I hold. I didn’t even apply for the job. I got it by not stepping back fast enough.

So if my personal critique of your volunteer efforts upsets you, I apologize for hurting your feelings. However, don’t expect me to reconsider my right to air my concerns publicly when my so-called job description is virtually non-existent. The only way I know how to get things done is by talking to people about the problems I see. This. Is. The. Job.

For those who have no idea what this post was about, I apologize, and promise a more entertaining post later on, hopefully today.


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