News

President of Filoli volunteers explains origins of controversial agreement

Many volunteers resist signing the agreement

Heidi Brown, president of Filoli's volunteer group, Friends of Filoli, said the volunteer agreement that has caused so much recent turmoil at Filoli came into being "because Filoli is really in the process of trying to upgrade all its standards and policies and become a 21st-century business."

"Cynthia (D'Agosta, Filoli's executive director) is trying to move Filoli forward," she said. "The employee handbook was also updated," and the organization is "trying to get everything current and the way it should be."

Work on the agreement, she said, "was sparked by a specific incident" with a volunteer that caused Filoli management to see the need for a volunteer agreement that would allow a volunteer to be disciplined or let go. Work was begun on the agreement in 2012 and then dropped until a similar volunteer incident caused the effort to begin again in early 2014, she said. Ms. Brown said she was not involved in the crafting of the agreement because she was not part of the Friends' board at the time.

Ms. Brown, a resident of Woodside who has been a Filoli volunteer since 2007, said that as of Friday, Feb. 20, about 800 volunteers had signed the volunteer agreement, with several hundred of them signing after they were told they could cross out the "release and indemnification" clause of the agreement.

Ms. Brown said Filoli now has close to 1,300 active volunteers and another 200 who are either "emeritus" volunteers, who get volunteer perks but do not have to work, or have their volunteer status "on hold." All volunteers must sign the agreement by March 1 to continue as volunteers, she said.

The agreement went through an extensive approval process, Ms. Brown said, starting in early 2014 when Filoli staff and the executive board of the Friends of Filoli began working on it. Their draft was reviewed by attorneys and by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the home and formal gardens at Filoli, she said. The rest of the property is owned by Filoli Center, which has joint responsibility with the National Trust for the house and gardens, Ms. Brown said.

Because the new agreement would be a Filoli policy, it was then forwarded to Filoli's governing board for approval, Ms. Brown said. Once approved, the final document came back to the Friends' executive board in November 2014, Ms. Brown says.

"We figure that at least a hundred pairs of eyes have seen this document," she said.

The Friends planned to present the document to each of Filoli's volunteer committees, which are organized around the jobs volunteers do, in January, she said. The rollout plan was changed, however, after one of the committee chairs sent the document to members early, she said. "They got the document without background, context or explanation," she said.

Ms. Brown said she and Ms. D'Agosta tried to answer volunteers' questions, but there were too many of them. "We'd have to have a staff working to answer every single question," she said.

"It was as frustrating to us to not be able to answer every questions as it was to them to hear" they needed to wait for answers," she said. "That's why we chose to answer everybody at the same time."

They researched the answers to the most common questions, including those about insurance, she said. "Filoli has always had insurance. It has insurance now. Nothing is going to change," she said. The intent of saying in the agreement that volunteers are "responsible for medical costs incurred by accident, illness or injury associated with my services to Filoli," means they must carry the primary insurance, she said.

Because the agreement was approved by the governing board, only the governing board could change it, she said. While Ms. Brown is vice president of the governing board, she said she could not say why the board did not change nor scrap the agreement when it met on Feb. 18.

"The decision to change wording rested with the governing board," she said.

"I understand if some volunteers just feel as if they can not sign this agreement and that they can not stay at Filoli," Ms. Brown said. "We will miss them, but we're at a point now where everyone's got to make their own decision and make their own choice. We have got to put this behind us and move forward. It's going to take some work and that's OK."

Ms. Brown said the Friends' leadership is looking for ways to repair the rift caused by the agreement. "We don't know yet what that will be," she said. "Maybe some mediated meetings to help volunteers share their concerns."

"There is a commitment from the Friends to our volunteers to do some fence mending, to do a better job communicating going forward," she said.

She understands that the whole experience has been difficult. "Why it got so emotional, is because people care so deeply," she said.

Ms. Brown said that in the process of answering volunteers' questions, Filoli's management has learned a lot. "There's actually been a silver lining to this whole thing," she said. "We are talking about things, we are better informed. I think that's a good thing."

Safety programs and insurance are now better understood, she said. In addition, "I think we have been told that we've got to do a better job communicating - we've got to work on that," she said.

Does Ms. Brown regret taking on the leadership of the Friends right now? "No I don't," she said. "Organizations go through growing pains."

Filoli's volunteer structure, Mr. Brown said, "was started by a wonderful group of people. They took care of Filoli and treasured it," she said. Now, however, she said, Filoli has "grown up."

See the original story here.

See the first follow up story here.

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm

pearl is a registered user.

Mediated meetings? Where are you going to find an impartial mediator on which everyone agrees? Just sayin'...


51 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 22, 2015 at 6:42 pm

I think Ms. Brown and maybe others are missing some important points. In any organization, the most valuable resource is personnel. In Filoli's case that would be mostly volunteers. Regardless of how many supposed eyes looked at this new agreement, the implementation was poorly managed. Now comes damage control which leads to my second point.

Volunteers are the backbone of making Filoli run. How many new people are going to come rushing in given the way the current ones have just been treated?

Time for new leadership?


50 people like this
Posted by Volunteer concerned about Filoli's future
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm

"If we open a quarrel between the past and present,
we shall find we have lost the future."
Winston Churchill

This quote by Winston Churchill aptly describes the choices made by Filoli’s Executive Director, the Governing Board and the Friends of Filoli board. In an effort to bring Filoli’s operations into the 21st century, their methods have opened a quarrel between the past and the present. The past saw a culture of trust, respect, and partnership. The present offers an environment devoid of transparency, rigid in its refusal to acknowledge concerns, closed to dialog. No wonder the volunteers reacted so adversely to the volunteer agreement in which their concerns were not adequately addressed, in which they were told to sign or leave. If this lack of respect and regard for the culture of Filoli’s past continues into the present, Filoli will indeed have lost its future.


66 people like this
Posted by Nature Ed Volunteer
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Feb 22, 2015 at 10:53 pm

A Filoli Story -- So I called my lawyer --

Me: Hi James, you remember I'm a volunteer at Filoli, taking children on Nature Education walks.

Lawyer: Yes.

Me: And we talked about a month ago, concerning whether I should sign the Volunteer Agreement -- it's due March 1. You read it and advised me not to sign.

Lawyer: Yes

Me: Well, the Governing Board has modified its position and now says that the volunteers can cross out that Release and Indemnification clause, the one stipulating that I (and my heirs) could not hold Filoli responsible if I were injured, etc.

Lawyer: That's nice. What else can you cross out? What language did they add?

Me: Well, they only talked about crossing out that one clause. You know that I really want to volunteer at Filoli, I don't want to leave, but if I don't sign, I won't be able to volunteer.

Lawyer: What about the other problems with the document?

Me: Oh you mean the part about the Volunteer Agreement saying that "I will not receive… medical insurance", and also, the fact that the Volunteer Agreement does not address my liability in case a child (or anyone else) is hurt on a hike, and also, the Photo Release?

Lawyer: Yes

Me: Well, Filoli management assures us that there is secondary insurance for volunteers and that volunteers are not liable.

Lawyer: How did they assure you of this?

Me: In an email, in a web document, and in a newspaper article.

Lawyer: But the Volunteer Agreement you're supposed to sign doesn't contain the language from the email, nor the web document, nor the newspaper article?

Me: Yes, that's true.

Lawyer: Hmmm, that sounds sort of devious. Did they answer your other concern about the Photo Release?

Me: No. They're real busy -- there are too many questions for them to respond to us. I haven't seen an updated FAQ.

Lawyer: Is this a joke?

Me: No, no joke. Filoli says that this is how things are done in the 21st-century. It does make me worry about how things will be done in the 22-nd century. Anyway, Filoli is upgrading. They say this is the way things should be.

Lawyer: Did you say you have to sign by April 1? Maybe this is an April Fool's joke. Are they kidding around? Maybe they just have a great sense of humor.

Me: No, the deadline is March 1, not April 1. They're not kidding around.

Lawyer: I'm so glad you called me -- you cannot sign that Volunteer Agreement. Please do not sign that Volunteer Agreement.

Me: Are you sure? I want to trust them. They want to do some fence mending. They want to communicate better.

Lawyer: I know you want to trust them, and this is sad, but you cannot sign.

Me: Thank you, James.

Lawyer: You're welcome, stay in touch.


5 people like this
Posted by Oh pearl
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 22, 2015 at 10:58 pm

Pearl I previously said I'd be trolling but clearly you have beat me to it. I believe that with all the turmoil that has arisen from the VA there will be some meetings of some kind. If you are a volunteer at Filoli I would figure that you would be apart of these meetings being that you feel so passionately. Filoli is an amazing place I I can see now why they needed an agreement. It was not to punish volunteers as a whole but to protect an orginization from a select few. These days (since the 90's) when people are so lawsuit happy it clearly was a legal protection of some kind. I hope that Filoli continues their mission and the volunteers make it happen. Filoli clearly depends on them and they seem to care let the meetings happen and stop being such a pessimist.


36 people like this
Posted by sleepingdog
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2015 at 11:26 pm

sleepingdog is a registered user.

Here we go again, the same old Filoli story but now told by Heidi Brown.

Ms Brown says the reason for a Volunteer Agreement was that Filoli needed a method "that would allow a volunteer to be disciplined or let go". The Volunteer Agreement says nothing about a discipline procedure for a troublesome volunteer. There is only one paragraph out of five in the agreement that comes close to a method for terminating a volunteer. That paragraph says "I will perform the duties as assigned to me to the best of my abilities" and "should I not be able to complete my volunteer duties according to this agreement, I will resign". First of all, who is to judge what the best of my abilities are at the time I am doing my duties. Secondly, it does not say I will be terminated as a volunteer if I fail. Instead, it says I agree to resign as a volunteer. What if I say I did the task to the best of my ability and therefore refuse to resign. So, bottom line, Filoli still does not have a method for getting rid of a troublesome volunteer.

Unfortunately, the Volunteer Agreement does not stop with the above stated reason for the need of a agreement. It has four more paragraphs that have nothing to do with getting rid of a problem volunteer. No explanation has yet been given for these paragraphs other than the Filoli lawyers said they should be in the Volunteer Agreement. For example, what does me promising to pay my medical costs if I am injured doing my volunteer activities, or me releasing Filoli from any claim of negligence on their part, have to do with getting rid of troublesome volunteers.

As I said at the beginning it is the same set of Filoli misrepresentations but now with a different Filoli spokesperson.


37 people like this
Posted by 14 year volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:15 am

Ms. Brown's comment about management's effort to bring Filoli into the 21st century is very telling. Enlightened leadership would have led the volunteers to an understanding and acceptance of the goal stated by Ms. Brown. This would have been accomplished by clearly articulating what being in the 21st century means. Filoli's Mission Statement, as it stands now, seems firmly rooted in the late 20th century; perhaps the Governing Board should have considered updating it before launching its efforts to turn us into a "business." Volunteers love Filoli. We wouldn't stay for years otherwise. To be told to "sign or resign" does not portend well for the future.


15 people like this
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

Did anyone actually ask for Filoli to be brought into the 21st century?


24 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 11:09 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I serve on the Board of a non-profit that survives and excels almost solely due to the efforts of our volunteers. There is never a single Board meeting at which the "care and feeding" of our spectacular volunteers is not discussed and further enhancements of how well we take care of those volunteers are also discussed. To do otherwise would be a failure of our responsibilities as the governing body of this organization.

Definition of volunteer in English:
A person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task.


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Another way of looking at this is that the Filoli Board has responsibility to preserve and protect two classes of assets.

One asset class is the physical property which is moving northward a few centimeters each year.

The second asset class is its volunteers who go home every night.

Which class of assets most deserves the Board's attention?


44 people like this
Posted by An Open Message to Heidi Brown
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 1:02 pm

To Heidi Brown:

You and all in Filoli's current administration, have no appreciation whatsoever of how deeply painful this has been for so many of us. There is a sense of place that is unique to Filoli; a grace, an elegance, a quality of life that is rapidly fading in this 21st century. Even the ancient oaks speak of that essence. Those of us who feel it, those of us who love and respect it, are devastated to see it so readily destroyed. That is why we have fought so hard. It is deeply frustrating and profoundly baffling that the "powers that be" are oblivious to the stake they are driving into the soul of Filoli.


27 people like this
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2015 at 1:44 pm

As an outsider, who has never volunteered at Filoli nor even visited it much -- but who has taken it continued wonderfulness and very existence too much for granted, I have to say I am appalled and disgusted by the actions of the Filoli Board and management in regards to this new Volunteer Agreement.

So the reason for this cruel and unnecessary new Volunteer Agreement is to "move Filoli into the 21st century" and to run Filoli "like a business"? Just exactly what kind of business is Filoli management trying to emulate? A business that cares only for its bottom line and routinely mistreats its employees? Or a business the really does regard its employees as its most important asset and treats them very well?

And just exactly what part of the 21st century is Filoli management trying to join? The part that is a dystopia? Or the part in which many people are trying to move us into a humane, loving, bright and sustainable future?


11 people like this
Posted by Mountain formed from Mole Hill
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Heights
on Feb 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm

This controversay smacks of overreaction. Carry your own insurance, confirm Filoli covers you with a secondary policy for volunteer-related efforts, and go back to enjoying the work you do. Or not. There are plenty of people who understand the type of agreement Filoli seeks.


9 people like this
Posted by Volunteer 1996
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 3:06 pm

I shutter at the thought of FILOLI being a " 21st century business".

As a H&G docent for almost 20 yrs., when I lead a tour, and as we enter the house, I ask my guests to transport themselves into the early 20th century and to imagine the elegance, splendor & lifestyle of that period. People have responded very positively to that mode , it generates wonderful questions & a very delightful spirit.

How can one begin to communicate such a frame of mind when I must think of FILOLI as a business??

Who will help preserve our enthusiasm, our love for "Place"?


10 people like this
Posted by Volunteer 1996
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 3:06 pm

I shutter at the thought of FILOLI being a " 21st century business".

As a H&G docent for almost 20 yrs., when I lead a tour, and as we enter the house, I ask my guests to transport themselves into the early 20th century and to imagine the elegance, splendor & lifestyle of that period. People have responded very positively to that mode , it generates wonderful questions & a very delightful spirit.

How can one begin to communicate such a frame of mind when I must think of FILOLI as a business??

Who will help preserve our enthusiasm, our love for "Place"?


16 people like this
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm

If it says indemnification or that you are responsible if someone sues Filoli, don't sign it. Or at least make sure any damages you would have to pay are limited to the amount you are being paid :-)


Like this comment
Posted by WhatDoesItSay
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Can someone make a copy of the text of the most current agreement available - either on line or pasted on this forum?
I'd certainly like to read it before making any comments.


28 people like this
Posted by Another 20+ year Volunteer
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 23, 2015 at 5:58 pm

I read with dismay the article about and quotes from the current president of the Friends of Filoli. I had hoped she might be stepping back from the actions of the Executive Director and the Governing Board. Ms. Brown added the term "business" to the previous description of the Volunteer Agreement as "industry standard." Filoli is many important things to many people, but "business" is not a term that would have been part of a description of Filoli that would occur to a volunteer.

We are aware that in the world of corporations and business it is often the case that employees are abruptly let go with little or no notice for reasons not explained. I imagine that it is business that has lead the ED to freeze the salaries of the Horticultural Staff and end periodic step adjustments in their wages. And perhaps it is business not to maintain the brakes on the truck the Bandana Brigade has used as they have built innumerable bridges and trails. And it may well be a business norm not to take seriously the concerns of the volunteer workforce when they cast their many hundreds of eyes over the Volunteer Agreement document and find it wanting.

I doubt that mediation meetings will be effective because it seems unlikely that the people who now see Filoli as a business with industry standards will have any understanding of the collaborative spirit that once was part of the joy of participation in educating the public about the extraordinary place that Filoli has been.


9 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:43 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Here is a link to the volunteer agreement. It was in the original story posted last week: Web Link .


17 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Both the photo release and the liability release are, in my opinion, totally inappropriate. And i have served on scores of non-profit boards and have never seen anything like this agreement.

This Board and the ED have really gotten their priorities confused.


14 people like this
Posted by To Peter Carpenter
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 6:56 pm

To Peter Carpenter:

Thank you for the comments you posted. There are many of us who would very much like to know the name of your non-profit as, by what you said, it appears to be one that actually appreciates its volunteers.....unlike Filoli. Kudos to you for being a caring member of your Board. If only others could follow your example.

Despite the option to cross out the Release and Indemnification clause from Filoli's volunteer agreement, the overall insensitivity on the part of the current administration (including the Executive Director, the Governing Board, and the President of the Friends of Filoli) to recognize what they have in their corps of volunteers leaves many of us chilled to the bone. Filoli's future is bleak with such leadership.....or lack thereof.


21 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:11 pm

So , if I am volunteering at Filoli and trip on a step that Filoli hasn't properly maintained, then I am at fault and have to indemnify Filoli for all medical costs.
Go and stuff it, Filoli


Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:21 pm

Why aren't things getting posted?


15 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Well, there's your problem: trying to drag a HISTORIC property, with a long and HISTORIC involvement by volunteers, into a "21st Century business" concept. 

So then, Heidi Brown, when's the IPO? And how much do you and the ED stand to profit? I bet you can milk that place for hundreds of millions of dollars for your own benefit. Woo hoo, 21st century! Entrepreneurialism!

Someday, hopefully soon, you too will be history. 


16 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

You asked, so here is a partial list of the non-profit Boards on which I have had the privilege of servings:
Annual Reviews
Menlo Park Fire Protection District
United Religions Initiative
San Francisco Opera
Bahati Foundation – US and Tanzania
InSTEDD (Innovative Support to Emergencies, Diseases and Disasters)
National Advisory Board, Haas Center for Public Service
Alliant University
United States International University – Kenya
Village Enterprise Fund
Student Pugwash U.S.A
Alan Guttmacher Institute
Leadership Palo Alto
Palo Alto Planning Commissioner
etc.
And I have never seen a volunteer agreement like the one described as customary.


8 people like this
Posted by pearl
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:34 pm

pearl is a registered user.

I just checked charitynavigator.org, and no detailed listing about Filoli is provided. Anyone know the annual salaries of Brown and D'Agosta?


11 people like this
Posted by waving the smoke away
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:36 pm

What is all this nonsense about a "21st century organization"? We keep hearing from volunteers at other organizations that are doing nothing like this, and nothing from volunteers at organizations that ARE doing something like this (I know, not a valid sample set, but at least it's some data).

Not to forget the comment above about how the agreement doesn't actually contain any language for the purpose it's supposedly addressing. Did you see that part about the photo release?

When management starts blowing smoke it's only because they've got something else going that they're trying to hide. If they've decided that getting a corporate attitude is in their plans, then perhaps they should join some other 21st century organizations like Solyndra or Radio Shack.


14 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The one thing that gives me hope is that Barbara Wood is the reporter who is covering this debacle.


8 people like this
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:00 pm

I just read the agreement. Cross out the objectionable clause and sign it. What is wrong with the rest?
1) Defines volunteer. No pay, no benefits.
2) Defines what is expected of the volunteer.
3) Cross this sucker out. No way you should sign this one but they say that is OK.
4) Photo release. Reasonable. You are on the grounds so might end up in a photo used to promote the place.
5) They should fire whoever put this on in here but seems harmless.

Where is the objectionable part if #3 is crossed out?


9 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Allen - What is wrong is that the Spirit of the agreement is inconsistent with the long relationship between the volunteers and the organization. And why that is a serious management error is that without the volunteers this particular organization will fail.


Like this comment
Posted by allen edwards
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:18 pm

Peter. The entire agreement seems unnecessary but innocuous, with the exception of #3 which is toxic but removable. I don't even think a photo release is required as Filoli is a public place. If I were a volunteer, I would sign it. If I were Filoli management, I would withdraw it.


1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:20 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Filoli is not a public place. The photo release is abominable.


7 people like this
Posted by seasoned volunteer & concerned member
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:27 pm

? Mountain formed from Mole Hill ?

did you say Mountain or Mountain Range?

and you said:

There are plenty of people who understand the type of agreement Filoli seeks.

Perhaps that is you and the 4 people who agree with you.


31 people like this
Posted by Inconsistencies
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 8:53 pm

To Allen Edwards:

Yes, as Peter Carpenter says, "the Spirit of the agreement is inconsistent with the long relationship between the volunteers and the organization".......but there is more:

1. There are people who don't want their photo taken. The administration has told volunteers that if they don't want to be photographed they may speak up and opt out. That's great except the administration won't change the agreement to reflect that option. Instead the volunteer is required to sign an agreement that says that Filoli may take their photo and use it at Filoli's discretion. What they say is inconsistent to what is written in the document.

2. The administration has assured volunteers that there is secondary medical insurance available but the wording of the agreement does not at all reflect that back-up coverage. Why can't the agreement be rewritten to reflect that Filoli provides a secondary coverage and thereby correct that inconsistency?

3. The agreement speaks of how the volunteer must act under the supervision of staff. Bottom line, in most cases there is no staff supervision. Most committees are run by and overseen by the volunteers of that committee. That statement and whatever they mean by it is nebulous at best leaving everything open to interpretation.

There is no reason why a new agreement can't be written to eliminate inconsistencies............no reason except the inexplicable unwillingness of the administration to do so.


10 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 23, 2015 at 9:28 pm

I am a Filoli visitor and admirer of the great gardens. I am not a volunteer, but I am a lawyer and have been drafting, reading and negotiating contracts for decades. It is true that the Volunteer Agreement (as posted by Barbara Wood) is guilty of bad grammar and sloppy drafting and that it is hard to believe any lawyer reviewed it. However the paragraph titled Release and Indemnification is neither of these, but rather a covenant not to sue Filoli. So as one commenter noted, carrying one's own life insurance, medical and property insurance as most volunteers probably do will be sufficient protection for most from all but very unusual circumstances in which case a good trial lawyer will probably figure out a way around it. I do understand the sensitivity about being photographed and this paragraph could be removed and Filoli could instead require that its photographers ask permission before taking pictures, Too bad there is so much heat here and so little light. For that the Filoli management and board should take quick steps to remedy the communication problems.


21 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2015 at 11:57 pm

Referring to the 11/5/14 version published by the Almanac:

The only objectionable part of the "Release and Indemnification" clause is the word "indemnification" in the title. If that word were deleted, the clause would be ok. The remainder of the clause is merely a release, not an indemnification, so the title is inaccurate and unnecessarily inflammatory.

I would be more concerned with "I will be responsible for medical costs ..." in clause 1. Whose medical costs? This could be interpreted as medical costs of guests being escorted by volunteers. This passage should be deleted because the release for "personal injury" in clause 3 suffices to protect Filoli against medical liability to volunteers.

Also, the promise to donate services at the beginning of clause 1 is inappropriate. This implies the volunteer could be sued for failing to provide promised services. The acknowledgment of not being entitled to salary and workman's comp should suffice.

To put it mildly, I'm extremely unimpressed by the lawyers who wrote this thing.


21 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 1:58 pm

Looks to me like Filoli needs to scrap their volunteer program, and go to hiring employees to do the work. This is the type of agreement one would have with an employee NOT with volunteers.
I say all the volunteers should strike and see how long Filoli lasts as
a business.


28 people like this
Posted by Volunteer for another org
a resident of another community
on Feb 24, 2015 at 5:46 pm

Perhaps I've missed it, but I haven't seen much from Filoli board and management to acknowledge and thank all their volunteers for the decades of love's labor and knowledge they have brought to Filoli. The organization for which I volunteer almost goes overboard to let us know they think we are wonderful and that they truly value us. They well know that volunteers respond to carrots, not sticks.


14 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 9:01 am

I recently met with some volunteers who felt "chilly" reactions from Filoli staff/volunteers eventhough these volunteers were choosing to sign the agreement. Their feelings were "Why are they feeling animosity toward ME? What did I do wrong? I just waited to learn more, and then decided to sign the agreement?" There were multiple people who experienced this "othering" behavior. These are people who are long time volunteers, and not vocal or stirring up trouble. FENCE MENDING will need to begin by suspending judgement, not stereotyping the group, and not drawing lines. Let's create a new narrative TOGETHER.


33 people like this
Posted by Member and Volunteer
a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 25, 2015 at 10:03 am

The President of the Governing Board and the President of the Friends of Filoli and the Executive Director of Filoli should issue a joint statement of apology to the Volunteers for the pain and anguish inflicted by forcing them to sign a Volunteer Agreement which is unreasonable both in content and in the manner in which it has been presented;
They should furthermore clearly express their gratitude and appreciation for the work that the Volunteers have been doing at Filoli; and finally, they should invite the Volunteers to a discussion of a new written Agreement before it is implemented.
The leaders of Filoli should remember that a true leader must be capable of admitting mistakes and apologizing for them, and must be able to stretch her arms to offer reconciliation and amendments to actions which were poorly conceived.
A Volunteer Agreement at this time is necessary, but it should be worked on with reason and implemented without haste. The statement that the ill-fated agreement has been seen and approved "by hundreds of pairs of eyes" is a sign that it was not seen by people who have enough sensitivity or good judgement.


10 people like this
Posted by Filoli Volunteer
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Filoli will be fine, and will thrive. Visitors will continue to enjoy the gardens. Volunteers will continue to volunteer. I hear appreciation for volunteers every time I am there. I feel appreciated when I am there, and we enjoy many benefits. I'm stunned by this blog of hurt feelings. Really? Stop whining and get on with the work of protecting and preserving this cultural gem.


23 people like this
Posted by Scrap it
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 26, 2015 at 11:05 am

I don't know much about Filoli itself, but, after reading the originally proposed document as a lawyer and employer I have to wonder what Filoli's management and lawyers were thinking. Have they actually had problems with the issues raised in the "agreement" or are they just looking for trouble? Almost nothing in the language of the agreement really insulates them against anything. If they are negligent, the agreement doesn't protect them. If they invade a volunteer's privacy the agreement doesn't cover them. If they terminate a volunteer for good cause they don't need protection and if they terminate a volunteer for improper reasons the agreement doesn't help them either, etc., etc.

This is just an example of a bad management decision that does nothing but make a lot of people angry with no upside. All kidding aside, I suspect some lawyer is to blame. If I were Filoli's management at this point in the controversy, I would say something like: "It looks like we goofed...Forget the proposed agreement for now...Let's (all of us) talk about whether we have an actual problem and, if we do, how are we going to fix it?"


20 people like this
Posted by The Norm of Reciprocity
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 27, 2015 at 9:53 am

This reminds me of an article I read in the Stanford Report regarding today's workforce where the worker is no longer repaid for loyalty and hard work. In particular, the norm of reciprocity — repaying one kindness (loyalty and volunteered hard work) with another (Filoli's new business model with no regard for its volunteers). —Reciprocity is a universal component of the moral code that governs human behavior. Yet in today’s work world, reciprocity operates with less force, just as currently being demonstrated at Filoli.

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why Companies No Longer Reward Loyal Employees, Stanford Graduate School of Business.

PS I was considering volunteering, but have definitely decided against it.


20 people like this
Posted by Filoli Volunteer
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Feb 27, 2015 at 5:52 pm

After months of waiting and hoping that intelligence would take charge and the Governing Board would write a whole new Agreement, we are down to two more days for this mess to get resolved.
It is obvious with the the complete lack of interest on the part of the Governing Board to consider revisions, that volunteers are not valued. How long would it take to make the revisions? Concerned volunteers have asked questions, met with attorneys to write possible ways to revise the agreement, and were finally told that one portion could be crossed out. The latest word on the crossed out portion is that that will probably be put back, so actually no changes in the Volunteer Agreement.
So this is back in the hands of the Governing Board,, The Executive Firector, and the President of the Friends of Filoli. Maybe that last title needs to be changed since Friends show concern.
Effective March 1 hundreds of devoted volunteers will walk away from Filoli. Wake up Filoli leadership! You have failed!


13 people like this
Posted by Margaret
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Feb 28, 2015 at 12:15 am

Ms Brown sounds more concerned with using all the buzz words than trying to understand why people object to the form. She come off as the worst kind of management apologist.

"We will miss them, but we're at a point now where everyone's got to make their own decision and make their own choice." i.e. You're out of here.
"We have got to put this behind us and move forward. It's going to take some work and that's OK." It's OK with whom?
"mediated meetings to help volunteers share their concerns." Share, but will anyone listen?

"There is a commitment from the Friends to our volunteers to do some fence mending, to do a better job communicating going forward," Going forward? Fence mending? I don't see any sense of taking responsibility here.

"She understands that the whole experience has been difficult." Not apparently for her.

"There's actually been a silver lining to this whole thing," she said. "We are talking about things, we are better informed. I think that's a good thing." It doesn't sound like anyone is better informed.

"Safety programs and insurance are now better understood" Obviously not.

"Organizations go through growing pains." Try "organizations make mistakes"

Filoli has "grown up." What was it before?

This sounds like a lack of understanding couched in terms of PR-speak.


20 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 28, 2015 at 10:42 am

There is a Nature Education program at Filoli as well as a Native Plants and Animals program. Both are exemplary and both programs have been leading educational hikes for school children for many years. It includes a nature center, several educational centers, and requires an extensive training program for volunteers. These volunteers receive about 15 one day/all day training sessions with a well known naturalist who provides both didactic training, field work, and lessons on nature interpretation. In addition, there are plant ID hikes, trail hikes, field topics to be presented and many additional hours of field work outside the classroom. There is a high bar for this rigorous training and graduating from this program is an accomplishment. There is an extreme sense of camaraderie since it is a very serious commitment and the expectations for trainees are high. This may or may not be a program that brings in lots of money, but it is an educational gem for both teachers and students and has been operating for decades. Teachers and students commonly describe their experience as “the best field trip I have ever been on.” Children who have never taken a hike in the woods are mesmerized not only by the beauty but by the experience. These skilled volunteers are trained to engage the child, not lecture to the child. How many of these volunteers can risk the liability of working with children in a natural setting? How many of these volunteers will be lost? Is this program now at risk?


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