Published: 2 years ago

Are You The “Debbie Downer” Of Your Volunteer Team?

You remember Debbie Downer…the Saturday Night Live character played with expert discomfort by Rachel Dratch. She could see the cloud in every silver lining. She could stop a dinner party conversation in its tracks by bringing up frightening facts about a just-discovered disease.

I think it’s possible that Debbie Downer never died. No, she lives on in our volunteer teams. The question we’re forced to reckon with – whether we’re a staff member leading volunteers or we’re one of the volunteers – is this: “Am I a Debbie Downer?”


If you are a volunteer, these may be the signs of your Debbie Downerness. Debbie Downerishness. Whatever:

  • You hand your leader problems without accompanying solutions.
  • Your stories from the weekend service focus on what went wrong, not on the wins.
  • You are quick to see a fellow teammate’s failures rather than where they’re making progress.
  • You pick apart problems with the team’s mission, vision, values, or challenges and opportunities.


If you are a volunteer leader, you might be a Debbie Downer if:

  • You have no problem doling out critiques, but you rarely tell a team what they’re doing right.
  • People aren’t inspired by you. Your lack of vision is every bit as infectious as a strong, compelling vision.
  • When talking to other staff about your team, you gravitate towards all of the ways they could improve.
  • You rarely take opportunities to encourage, inspire, motivate, high five, thank, celebrate, or praise your team.


I’ll bet I’ve just scratched the surface (much the way that you can scratch your skin on a rusty nail and – if you haven’t had a tetanus shot – you can get Clostridium tetani endospores in your bloodstream and central nervous system, which could lead to death in extreme cases). What are some other places you’ve seen Debbie Downer emerge on your volunteer teams or in your leadership? Comment below.

Start the conversation.

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