Successful Ways to Work with Sighted Volunteers

National Volunteer Week

Empish Thomas

April 10-16 is National Volunteer Week. This week is about inspiring, recognizing and encouraging people to seek out imaginative ways to engage in their communities. It is also a time to show appreciation for the people who volunteer and serve in the community. But I want to take some time to look at the other side of volunteering. Instead of focusing on volunteering I want to discuss the other side-the people who benefit from the volunteers.

As a person with vision loss I have been working with sighted volunteers for many, many years. Although I am a fairly independent person there are times when I need sighted help in order to accomplish a task. It could be help with reading lengthy, complicated documents, assistance with grocery shopping, organizing my clothing or getting a ride somewhere. These volunteers have been friends, family, neighbors, roommates, co-workers, people from my faith community and even strangers on the street. Sometimes they have even been registered volunteers at the vision rehabilitation center where I work. But regardless of who the people are or where I have met them I have learned some successful ways to work with them. Unfortunately, I learned these ways from a lot of trial and error and I want to share them with you in hopes that you avoid making the same mistakes.

Successful Ways to work with Sighted Volunteers

  1. I know this might sound very elementary but saying thank you goes a long way. When I first meet with a volunteer I tell them thank you for meeting with me and volunteering their time and energy. Because the person is volunteering they are not getting a paycheck. They are, of course, using their personal time to do something for you. So saying thank you to your volunteer before you get started is very helpful.
  2. Next, be clear in outlining what tasks are to be done. If you are meeting with your volunteer to go shopping or run errands for two hours, then state that clear and plainly. If it is to read mail and pay bills then state that too. Whatever you will be doing just be clear and concise as possible. If the activity changes let your volunteer know as soon as possible so they can make any adjustments they need to their schedule. Being clear and giving details is just a way to show respect and to honor your volunteer and their time.
  3. Before your volunteer comes to work with you let them know your home situation. Do you have pets? Do you have small children? Spouse, partner or roommate? Do you live in a gated community? These are all important things your volunteer will need to know if they will be meeting you at your home or coming to pick you up for an outing. Please let them know these things in advance so they will not be caught off guard.
  4. Be organized. Try to have things in place when your volunteer arrives to assist you. Be ready to go when they come. If you are going to be working on a particular project at the house, have all the materials laid out and ready to go. If your volunteer is coming to take you some place be ready to walk out the door when they come. It can be rude and disrespectful to have your volunteer waiting or have them running around trying to help you get organize. If you need help with organization check out the variety of tips and resources on this site and/or schedule a separate time with your volunteer to address this issue.
  5. Stick to the time at hand. If you have scheduled 2 hours with your volunteer then stay to the timeframe. Be mindful that your volunteer has a life and might have other things to do as well. If you run over the time please apologize and try to wrap up quickly. Or make plans to schedule time for another day to finish the project or task.
  6. If for any reason you can’t meet with your volunteer, let them know as soon as possible. They will greatly appreciate that and then you can reschedule for a later date and time.
  7. Don’t guilt out your volunteer. If your volunteer can’t make it or for some reason is no longer able to help you anymore, don’t make them feel guilty about it. It is totally understandable that you might really need the sighted help they are offering, but this tactic doesn’t benefit either one of you. Just let them know that you appreciate what they were able to do and then start working on finding a replacement.
  8. Lastly, as a token of appreciation, if you are able to, give a small gift. It can be a gift card to their favorite restaurant, Movie Theater or department store. Or a beautiful thank you card is a very nice and meaningful way to say thank you. Even a follow up email or phone call after the time is over saying I appreciate you and thank you for helping me out goes a long way. Whatever you decide to do saying thank you again in some small way will show how much you are grateful for your volunteer and the time they took to assist you.

Share Your Successful Ways

I hope that you found my successful ways with working with sighted volunteers helpful. Have you worked with a sighted volunteer? If so, share your experience. What tips or ways did you find successful? Share your thoughts, tips and advice with us.