The Back Bench The Back Bench
Print this page
E-mail this page

The Back Bench Home
About Aaron Johnston
Contact The Back Bench
Message Forum
Visit Aaron's Blog

Past Columns

Volunteers Needed
By Aaron Johnston May 12, 2005

Poor elder's quorum president. Here's the guy whose sad job it is to get up every Sunday during priesthood opening exercises and ask for volunteers. The ward, it seems, always needs them.

The sisters need someone to set up tables and chairs for a relief society dinner. The stake needs ushers for stake conference. The ward needs someone to prepare the flowers to be passed out on Mothers' Day.

Volunteers. Volunteers. Volunteers.

But no matter the auxiliary in need, be it the relief society or primary or whatever, it's always the elder's quorum president who gets stuck with the task of recruiting the volunteers.

And that, my friends, is no easy chore.

Because the elder's quorum president can only ask the men. Or at least that's whom he thinks he can only ask.

And asking a group of men to volunteer for manual labor is like asking them to cut off their fingers. It's not going to happen. Or at least not with any enthusiasm. No one's going to shoot their hand skyward and beg for more responsibility.

Well, I shouldn't say no one. Typically there's at least one guy who's willing. And typically it's always the same guy. You know the one to whom I refer: the guy who volunteers for everything and who always stays after activities to help clean up AND who always makes the rest of us feel guilty. The guy for whom a special level of the Celestial Kingdom has already been set aside.

The Golden Boy.

But other than Golden Boy, male volunteers are hard to muster.

Because let's be honest, men aren't like women. Women volunteer readily. And what's more, when women volunteer, they actually show up and do the job. All of them.

I don't mean to rag on men, mind you. Hollywood does that enough already. But let's be honest, when it comes to spur-of-the-moment selfless service, the women got the men beat. Hands down.

Men, if you don't believe me, sneak into any Relief Society meeting and watch those hands go up. Women are volunteering like crazy.

RS President: Sisters, we need some of you to take a dinner to the Morgans' home this week. As you know, Sister Morgan just had surgery.

<A gush of wind blows out of the room as all hands are raised at once. Some sisters raise both hands.>

RS President: (smiling) Now I know all of you want to help, but Sister Morgan assures me that they only need three dinners. So I only need three volunteers.

<All hands remain raised.>

RS President: Well, it looks like we'll have to make some calls and pick which three of you will be fortunate enough to take over a dinner. Thank you all for being willing.

Meanwhile, at priesthood opening exercises . . .

EQ President: Well, brethren, the stake needs three or four of us to set up chairs for the stake fireside this evening. Any volunteers?

<Golden Boy raises his hand. Everyone else sits frozen like statues. Finally, after a three minute pause . . . >

EQ President: By coming early you'll obviously get a great seat for the fireside. Plus, there's refreshments afterwards. Any takers?

<Silence. Nobody even blinks. One brother refuses to scratch his itchy nose for fear it will be confused as volunteering.>

EQ President: I'm sure you'll be blessed for your service if you can make it.


EQ President: Well, we'll make some calls and see if we can't find a few of you who could squeeze it in.

Now, to be fair, the first example was one in which a person was in need. And in the second example, the stake, an entity, was in need.

When a person is in need, it's always easier to volunteer. That's because you can actually SEE how your service blesses someone.

If you're helping someone move and loading the truck, for example, you can see the gratitude in their faces.

Unless of course you've dropped a box and broken something of value, in which case they'll curse your name until your dying day.

My point is, if men can put a face with the task, they're typically quick to sign up and help. Sister So-and-so needs her fence mended. Men will show up. Brother So-and-so needs help splitting this winter's firewood. Men will show up.

But if the recipient of the service is a group or organization, getting volunteers is like squeezing water from stone.

It's an interesting phenomenon. And a true one. If the service isn't for a person, the task suddenly seems less urgent.

Somebody else will set up those chairs. Somebody else will be a youth conference chaperone. Somebody else will go work in the bishop's storehouse.

Wise is the elder's quorum president who pays attention to that fact.

EQ President: Brethren, this is Eliza Farmer. She currently works as a church-service missionary in the bishops' storehouse. As you can see from the photo I'm holding, she's getting up in years. She can't lift the boxes like she used to. Can we get a few volunteers to go down on Tuesday and help Sister Farmer with some of her chores?

Now, I'm willing to bet real American dollars that he'll get more volunteers that way. (Well, actually I won't bet anything. President Hinckley's recent address on gambling suggests that's a bad idea.) But putting a face with the task will help. I'm sure of it.

And if it doesn't work, I've got a few ideas as to how the poor sap can recruit the men he needs.

1. Lie

This won't work more than a few times, of course. Eventually the guys will wise up to this. But it's a guaranteed house-filler at least the first time.

Don't tell the men, for example, that they'll be picking apples at the church ranch. Tell them that they'll be racing go-carts and playing paintball.

And don't tell them they'll be cleaning the church from top to bottom, including all the bathrooms and urinals. Tell them that Steve Young is coming to give them some pointers on how to throw a good spiral.

Lie through your teeth. Cook up some really juicy whoppers. Anything goes. Find their weakness and then exploit it.

2. Cry

We Mormons make at least forty percent of our decisions based on guilt. It's a hard truth. Guilt is the great motivator.

Learn how to cry on demand. Learn how to open your tear ducts and let the water flow. Men in the church are suckers for sob stories.

And if that's too hard, learn how to crack your voice in just the right places, so it seems like you're on the verge of tears, but it's only by the sheer strength of your will that you're able to keep those tears at bay.

Sure, nobody likes to see a man cry, but that's why this idea works! When all the boys see you crying up there, they'll do anything to make you stop. Even, yes, volunteer.

EQ President: (sobbing like a baby) Brethren, I don't know what we're going to do. All hope seems lost. I'm at the end of my rope here. The bishop says we need some men to be chaperones at girl's camp, and frankly that's asking a lot. I can't force myself to ask you. Whaaaaahh!! Sob sob sob.

Trust me, men will be so desperate for you to sit down, that they'll volunteer themselves AND the guy sitting next to them.

3. Make it a competition

Most men are competitive to some degree. They love the thrill of winning. Adrenaline is almost as motivating as guilt.

So why not get volunteers, not by simply asking for them, but by holding an arm wrestling competition? Set up a table, have the boys lock hands, and blow a whistle.

They'll grunt and strain and pull as if their lives depended on it. And after a few minutes, once all the losers are identified, you'll have your volunteers.

Of course, if you're needing volunteers to move a heavy piano, it might be a good idea after the arm wrestling to inform them that it's the winners who will be moving the piano. You don't want a bunch of scrawny guys giving themselves a hernia.

And if arm wrestling isn't your cup of herbal tea, try a stick pull or Twister or Capture the Flag. Sure, you may get a few rug burns and some holes in those suits, but at least you'll get all the volunteers you need.

And if you're not up for a test of strength or speed, try a simple round of Draw Straws. Or darts. Or Yahtzee. Boys love a good competition.

4. Food

This one is a no-brainer. Everybody knows that if you wave food under a man's nose, he'll do anything to get it. Hold up a bag of Doritos and a man becomes putty in your hands.

But here's the point that most people don't realize: For this to work, it has to be GOOD food.

Cookies and punch don't cut it anymore. There used to a be a time when men would show up solely on the promise of there being refreshments. But those days are gone.

Chuckling to yourself and saying, "Come on, brethren, there will be food," won't win you any help. This joke isn't funny anymore.

Men need a menu. We need specifics.

To say that there will be "doughnuts" isn't enough information. We need to know that they will be Krispy Kreme Doughnuts picked up while the Hot 'N Now sign was on.

Or to say that "there will be ice cream or something afterwards" is even worse. Ice cream or something? No no no. You've got to sell it, baby. Give it some pizzaz. Make us believe that anyone stupid enough to miss a chance at this ice cream will kick himself for the rest of his sad little non-frozen-dairy life.

"We'll have Neapolitan ice cream, brethren, with sprinkles, M&Ms, and whipped cream as toppings. Heck, I'll even bring some chopped nuts. Oh, and did I mention that this is Ben & Jerry's Neapolitan?"

Actually I don't think Ben & Jerry's makes that flavor, but shoot, the guys' minds will be so busy telling their mouths to salivate, that they probably won't even notice.

And of course don't stop there. Offer bar-b-cue, fried chicken, burgers, steak, anything made of meat. Meat is the winner. But if I were you, I'd save meat for the really nasty jobs. Men will dig the Panama Canal for meat.

And of course if all else fails, if every tactic you try still doesn't win you a work crew, play a clip from General Conference in which some general authority speaks on service and then press pause and ask for volunteers. Once properly motivated by the Spirit, men will volunteer. They'll do anything.

Remind us of our duty, and we'll show up saluting. But don't just ask blandly for volunteers. We're not that converted yet.

Well, not all of us anyway. There is Golden Boy, after all.

Copyright © 2005 by Aaron Johnston

  Copyright © 2024 Aaron Johnston. All rights reserved. Web Site Hosted and Designed by