Ask Helen: Volunteering Has Its Rewards

Dear Helen:

I just volunteered to edit my neighborhood association’s quarterly newsletter. I’ve recently retired and have more time, so thought this might be fun. Wrong! Chasing after people to give information or to write the articles they promised to do is worse than getting paid employees to do their jobs. Everyone gives me their articles late, incomplete, misspelled, with bad grammar and assumes I’ll make them look perfect by the city’s deadline to print and mail. I want to flee. When I asked the former “editor” how she coped, she laughed and said, “Good luck. Buy yourself a bottle of something strong!”


Dear Drowning:

Volunteerism has its own unique rewards and curses. You seem to be drowning in the latter. Below are some tips, but the biggest one is this: clear your calendar for the day (or two) before your deadline. No matter what, you’ll end up doing more editing, tracking and cursing than you want.

Create a template that includes all the repetitive things: names/contact emails/phone numbers for all relevant folks, from the association board to the public works, police and fire stations, pet patrol, etc. Allocate space and word limits for regular monthly columns. Give the people who write them a deadline that’s at least a week ahead of the real one. Send each editing tips: spell check; read your column aloud; ask your spouse or best friend to tell you if it says what you intended. The regulars should know the drill and should be OK. One-timers you will need to harass and likely edit more. Look for more commitments for regular columns on topics from neighborhood safety to recipes or gardening tips of the season. People who are passionate about what they write are much more reliable and produce better products.

Two notes: 1) These suggestions work for many related projects that include volunteers. 2) Save he drinking until after you submit the final product. 

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problemsolving, and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to helen@yourjewishfairygodmother. com and check out the blog at

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