Volunteer Filters

Recently I’ve started to not volunteer for things directly. Instead, when I tell someone that I have whatever special skill they are looking for that they should email me or call me the next day and “remind me,” otherwise I’ll forget or think they have it covered.

Normally I’m a pretty self-starting guy. If I say I will do things, they will get done. People are always amazed when I come through and are generally delighted. Being the kind of person who like praise, I continued to do things.

What I have noticed since I started not automatically doing things is that most people don’t follow up. While people are very appreciative after the fact, they don’t seem to really need or want volunteer assistance enough to spend 30 seconds getting it.

Our recent annual homeowners’ meeting was a great example. Lots of different problems were discussed and I had complete or partial solutions to several of them. For example, the Board complained that they did not know who owned some homes. As it turns out, I obtained a copy of all the title records from the County so I could send Christmas cards to neighbors. I wrote a program to do it and would be happy to run it again. There were questions about security (cameras, guards, locks, etc.) that I had experience with. One person wanted their old mailbox back. The HOA replaced them all last month and I snagged the old ones for an art project. I gave my email address and phone number to at least five people, and not one of them followed up. I’m certainly glad that I didn’t spend time actually getting information for people or doing it for them.

There have been a dozen other times I have observed the same effect. People actually follow-up less than 5% of the time. I’m not sure why this is the case. I’m hoping that it’s just because people get distracted by other things. In the worst case people have just been telling me they like my idea and would appreciate it because they wanted to be polite. I’m not sure that is the case, or at least all the time.

The experiment has certainly been worthwhile, however, as it has saved me a lot of time.

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