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"Sergeant Tyree, I'm ordering you to volunteer again."
Cpt. Brittles, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

A dirty, dangerous, and/or difficult job needs to get done, and nobody wants to do it. The boss is asking volunteers to step forward. No way are you going to get mixed up in a sticky situation like that. Your mama didn't raise no fool. Suddenly you are shoved forward by some of your "friends". The boss smiles. Wait — No! You just got volunteered!

There are lots of different versions of this:

  • As above, but your friends don't even bother pushing, they just say you volunteer.
  • The guy in charge picks people and simply calls you "volunteers."
  • The person who suggested the job in the first place is volunteered.
  • (Usually military) Everyone is lined up, and the leader/commander asks for volunteers to step forward — and promptly everybody except our protagonist steps backwards, making it look like the protagonist stepped forward.
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  • The heroes are faced with the challenge. In unison, everyone turns to look at one person.
  • When one person is out of the room for some reason, the rest have a vote and elect the unlucky absentee to the post.
  • In a duo, one person asks the other to pick a number, and upon hearing their answer immediately declares them the loser.

However it happens, the unwilling volunteer agrees to do it anyways. Maybe because he's just too nice a guy to say no. Maybe he doesn't want to leave people in the lurch. Maybe he really doesn't want to cross the boss—and sometimes, there's a really good reason not to. Or maybe he just doesn't want to be labeled a coward.

Usually played as comedy, although occasionally it's played for drama.

Commonly volunteered in this way: Boxed Crooks, Condemned Contestant, The Bait, and Cincinnatus.


The opposite of Martyr Without a Cause. If it's the Call to Adventure, then the protagonist never got a chance at Refusal of the Call because other people accepted it for him.

Will sometimes result in either a Moment of Awesome or a dying one.

See also Drawing Straws for the "fair" way of picking a "volunteer". Compare Press-Ganged and Conscription.


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    Card Games 
  • The Flavor Text of the Magic: The Gathering card "Goblin Hero" reads: "To be a hero, you don't have to step forward. Everyone else just has to step back."

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix:
    • In Asterix the Gaul, the Roman soldiers decide this by a game of Musical Chairs. This trope is also a running joke in several other albums. Basically, no Roman legionary ever becomes a volunteer by his own choice.
    • Asterix in Corsica features a legionary who actually volunteered to serve in Corsica, very much despised and considered an idiot by his fellow grunts. Tellingly, one of said grunts mentions that he was offered the choice between crucifixion and serving in Corsica.
      Legionary: You know the army: ask for one thing, you get the other.
    • Those same legionaries were chosen for patrol because the governor told the bugler to sound the call to dinner, and the first ten to get there were now volunteers. Note that they were already at dinner when it rang.
  • Kajko i Kokosz: Clumsy gets volunteered by the brigands every time — either everyone else takes a step back or someone kicks him forward.
  • Mortadelo y Filemón: Mortadelo and Filemón have found themselves in this kind of situation several times, more often than not when the mission involves Bacterio's latest invention.
  • My Little Pony Generations: In Issue 3, the S'monies need to find out more about the party the ponies are planning. Black Belle forces Violet Shiver to infiltrate it, to her chagrin.
    Black Belle: (Pushing Violet Shiver forward) Thank you for your noble sacrifice.
  • In the The Smurfs story "King Smurf", King Smurf announces that he's looking for volunteers to build a wooden wall around the village... and those who don't volunteer will be sent to prison.
  • A variation from Superman/Batman #4, where the heroes are facing Toyman:

    Comic Strips 
  • Beetle Bailey, being military comedy that's gone on for ages, naturally does this a lot of times, usually done by Sarge and aimed at Beetle.
    • In the cartoon Cosmo's Naught: Volunteers have to walk the distance of 50 miles. Beetle Bailey, Zero and Cosmo complain how ill they are until Sarge tell them to shut up and that if anyone of the soldiers need to see the doctor they should go. Everyone except Beetle Bailey, Zero and Cosmo immediately run away leaving the three back as the volunteers.
    • "I need three volunteers: You, you and you."
    • Sarge asks for anyone volunteering to raise his hand — knowing that Beetle's arm is in a cast so he can't put it down.
    • Sarge asks which of the soldiers have had college education, then tells them (Beetle and Plato) to follow him, and leads them to work in the kitchen.
    • Once Sarge simply raises Beetle's hand for him.
  • During one election go-around on Bloom County, Opus gets saddled with the Meadow Party VP post because he's "conveniently" away on a snack run when the vote is held.
  • Naturally, occurs in Dilbert:
  • In one Hägar the Horrible strip. "I have good news and bad news! The good news: I just want volunteers for this mission! The bad news: I need four volunteers." (There are just four guys.)
  • In Popeye one of Wimpy's trademark phrases — that he normally uses after wronging a big strong guy who now has come for revenge — is "You want to fight? All right! Let's You and Him Fight!" Then, you guessed it, Wimpy steps aside and makes way for Popeye, who has to fight the big strong guy.

    Films — Animation 
  • Roman sycophant Lucullus walks into it in Asterix Conquers America when he asks Who Would Be Stupid Enough? to throw Getafix off the edge of the world.
    Caesar: [chuckling] I can think of someone who was made for the task... [serious] You, Lucullus, you'll do it.
    Lucullus: B-b-b-buh...
    Caesar: You'll do it. And I won't take "No" for an answer! All I can say is, Thank Heaven the world is flat.
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire: The explorers need someone to talk to Princess Kida and try to get her to convince the king to change his mind and let them explore. Mole enthusiastically volunteers, but Commander Rourke chooses Milo, who is not even paying attention. This is justified, as Milo is the group's Atlantis expert, while Mole is dirty and uncouth.
  • The "everyone steps backward" variant happened in Cars when Sheriff asks for volunteers to be McQueen's attorney. Mater, the one left out, gladly accepts.
  • The Elephants in The Jungle Book try the "step backwards" method, but they all end up volunteered. (One was slow on the uptake and almost got uniquely "volunteered", but catches on and gets in line in time)
  • The Little Mermaid: Sebastian ends up with the thankless job of keeping tabs on Ariel in the middle of a rant about how he'd make sure she stayed in line if she were his daughter.
    Sebastian: Hm! Teenagers... They think they know everything. You give 'em an inch, they swim all over you.
    Triton: Do you, er, think I - I was too hard on her?
    Sebastian: Definitely not. Why, if Ariel was my daughter, I'd show her who was boss! None of this "flitting to the surface" and other such nonsense. No, sir, I'd keep her under tight control.
    Triton: You're absolutely right, Sebastian!
    Sebastian: Of course.
    Triton: Ariel needs constant supervision.
    Sebastian: Constant.
    Triton: Someone to watch over her— to keep her out of trouble.
    Sebastian: All the time, I'd—
    Triton: And YOU are just the crab to do it.
    (Sebastian gasps in disbelief; cut to him leaving the throne room, muttering)
    Sebastian: How do I get myself into these situations?! I should be writing symphonies! Not tagging along after some headstrong teenager!
    Sebastian: "Sebastian, you watch over her," he said. I'M TOO OLD FOR THIS! A crab my age should be retired! Getting a tan! Playing sea golf! SIPPING A TUNA COLADA! Not babysitting another teenager!
  • Mulan features the "stepping back" variant when Yao gets "volunteered" to retrieve the arrow shot into the top of the post by Shang — though this one may have had something to do with Shang nocking the arrow as he called Yao's name. When the guy in charge points an arrow in your general direction, it's generally a good idea to try and remove yourself from the field of fire.
  • Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Dwarfs need someone to go upstairs and check for intruders. They all turn to Dopey, who looks over his shoulder before realizing he's the one being volunteered.
  • Strange Magic: Pare is "volunteered" when everyone steps back to avoid volunteering and he's so big that Sunny can't tell that he stepped back. Pare is too nice to break it to Sunny and reluctantly goes along on the dangerous mission.
  • In The Swan Princess, Odette needs all three of her animal friends to help her steal a map from Rothbart's castle. Jean-Bob the frog is a Cowardly Sidekick who doesn't want to, so Odette says "Our team is shy one green web-footed volunteer!" and Speed steps on his foot so he can't get away.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia encourages PCs to throw their underlings under the bus this way, while pretending that you're doing them a favor ("Suck-R, go disarm that berserk scrubot, you'll probably get a commendation for it"). If the underling seems devious enough to actually pull it off, then you may need to pile on some complications ("oh, but leave your toolkit here, we wouldn't want it to get damaged").
    • And then there are the Mandatory Bonus Duties.

  • 1776 contains the musical number "But, Mr. Adams," where each member of the Committee of Five tries to get out of writing the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, despite his objections that he has to go home to see his wife, ends up with the quill pen.

    Theme Parks 
  • In Universal Studios' Horror Make-Up Show, one of the hosts will pick someone from the audience to be an "unwilling" participant in the show all on his own, not taking any raised hands.

  • This happens a lot to Avimo in Aquapunk. Too many times to count, almost.
  • Robin in Books Don't Work Here gets "volunteered" in the first page and has yet to be given the chance to back out.
  • Susan and Nanase from El Goonish Shive (especially Susan) during their trip to Paris to kill an aberration.
    • In one of the greatest What the Hell, Hero? moments in history, they got two teenagers to kill someone when it would be easier and faster for them to go to the authorities, more reliable and wouldn't have put two girls in the first year of high school in mortal danger. To summarize how much of a jackass the Immortals were being, see here
  • Fen Quest: It's mentioned early in the Mausoleum campaign that if there aren't enough volunteers for operations to clear an anomaly, lots will be drawn... and only actual volunteers are eligible for death benefits.
  • Kevin & Kell: Ralph learns how important being on time for meetings is when being late gets him cast as Santa for the company website.
  • Pato, from M9 Girls!, gets shoved to the front of the line for radiation treatment, despite being the most skeptical about it.
  • In the romance story Marry Me! by Miku Yuki, Sinn, a civil servant, is selected to as a subject for a new proposed law referred to as the "NEET Protection Act," which seeks to combat the declining birth rate by pairing two people, one who is a NEET, in the hopes that the couple would socialize and have children. Mari, the woman selected as his wife became a recluse after her grandparents died, and when she's informed that she has a new husband, she refuses to go along with it because she realized her grandmother signed her up without her permission right before she died.
  • In Questionable Content, this seems to work surprisingly well for Dora as a way to hire new employees, since both Penelope and Emily were actually frequent customers who pretty much got drafted. Both went along with this, and Dora did it to Penelope again by making her assistant manager without inquiring first as to whether she wanted the position (she did take it).
  • In Red String, Miharu's cousin Karen volunteers Miharu to help at the family restaurant, causing Miharu to miss a date.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • In this strip, company lawyer Massey Reynstein demonstrates a knowledge of how to tackle the financial end of a mission, and is promptly volunteered to take care of it since everyone else in the company prefers a more brute-force approach.
    • At another point, the Toughs as a whole get rather unwillingly saddled with the mission to hunt down Breya for Xinchub.
    • Really, at any time there's dangerous bits of a mission going on, the entire crew is playing a game of "Don't Volunteer", which is a surprisingly hard game to play since it's very much easy to do it by accident. Trying to brag is a prime way to get volunteered.
      Tailor: Captain, I can save him. [...] Surgery, obviously, but I have to operate quickly.
      Tagon: Can you operate outside?
      Tailor: Well, yes, but—
      Tagon: SHODAN! Throw Tailor and a field kit out the sally port!
      Tailor: I mean no. I should have told you no. Outside is where the monsters are. Is it too late to say no because I meant no.
  • When Spoorflix ask Vexxarr why he thinks Spoorflix's people didn't expect him to succeed, he responds with "Let's say I know a thing or two about being volunteered for one-way missions."
  • In Wapsi Square, Bud got volunteered to recover an artifact from Ireland.

    Web Original 
  • Baumgartner Restoration: Julian conscripted his younger brother into helping him build a heated suction table.
    My brother is also trying to convince me that he deserves a very big paycheck for this labor and I'm trying to convince him that he loves me enough that he did it out of the kindness of his heart. That debate is still open. We are working on it and I'll get back to you guys when we do resolve it.
  • Critical Role:
    • Travis Willingham was volunteered to go through a haunted house as one of the stretch goals for the Legend of Vox Machina animated series.
    • Starting with the second episode of Exandria Unlimited, Aabria Iyengar strongarms Matthew Mercer into increasingly hilarious situations for his 'Cozy Matt' post-recording segments. For the wrap-up, his wife Marisha Ray seems like she's going to go soft on him...before telling him he's Going Commando.
  • Double Life SMP: Tango and Jimmy get roped into defending Grian and Scar from the wrath of the rest of the server on Day 4 because they happened to come up to their safety platform in the sky so Tango could enchant his boots just before everyone else shows up to lay siege on them.
    Grian: (in the chat) tango and jimmy are going to defend us to the end
    Jimmy: Grian, I don't think we agreed on that.
  • In the opening episode of Dragon Ball Z Abridged's second season, fourth wall destroying Humanoid Abomination Mr. Popo abruptly shows up to talk to the heroes and announce that he knows the location of a spaceship that will enable them begin a journey to bring their friends Back from the Dead, and will bring one of them to the ship and show them how to work it. Since he's, well, Mr. Popo, nobody is volunteering to go with him. Bulma says they should vote on who goes to be fair, and the instant she finishes saying that everyone immediately votes for Bulma. She is not pleased by this turn of events.
    • Also happens in the Bardock: Father Of Goku special, when Bardock charges Frieza and declares that he and the Mook army he's fighting are done taking orders from the tyrant.
      Mook: Seriously, we're not with him!
  • Echo Chamber: Zack is only involved with Tom's show. because the camera equipment belongs to his father and Zack's dad made Tom let him tag along, and Tom put him to work.
  • Hazbin Hotel features Alastor "volunteering" Husk to man the front desk at the Hazbin Hotel. Alastor summons Husk using his Ominous Visual Glitch ability (out of the middle of some sort of card game, that Husk had been winning), and then tells the resentful Husk that he would be perfect for the job. Husk accepts only after being plied with cheap booze.
  • In Thalia's Musings, this happens to Apollo when he tries to get Thalia out of watching eternal adolescent Eros for the day. (She owed Hephaestus a favor.) Hephaestus thinks Apollo is volunteering to help. Apollo is too nice to refuse.

    Real Life 
  • Flemish-Dutch has an expression for this concept: Chinese Volunteer. The expression dates back to the Korean War, where Chinese citizens were forced to fight for the North-Korean side, while still being referred to as volunteers.
  • British Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars used to supplement its crews, consisting primarily of volunteers and pressed men, also by the Quota System, consisting of "volunteers" provided by counties. This often resulted in Trading Bars for Stripes deals.
  • "Being volun-told" is common in the US military, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Canadians in civilian life.
  • The US military has a number of sayings for this trope:
    • "Never be first, never be last, and never, ever volunteer for anything."
    • "God hates volunteers."
    • "What does 'NAVY' stand for in the US? Never Again Volunteer Yourself."
  • The Canadian Armed Forces loves this one:
    • One example is to be "voluntold" to do something. Sometimes you're "lucky" and you at least get credit and thanks for volunteering (even though it was mandatory), and sometimes they don't even try and hide it; your sergeant will flat-out tell you he's voluntold you for a task.
    • "Who likes ice cream?" is used to trick new guys into volunteering. Need someone to go shovel snow or be honor guard? Ask the unit who likes ice cream and see which private-basic or ordinary seaman sticks his hand up. There's also "who wants to learn to ride an ATV" or "anyone interested in skydiving", with the real kick to the loins being that there is a small chance of these offers being genuine and riding an ATV is an awesome course that just hurts to miss.
    • Being voluntold is often used to punish "Chit Bags", soldiers who try and get out of work by constantly going to the M.I.R. Once a man or woman is branded as a Chit Bag, he or she will pretty much be voluntold to do every single crappy task there is.
    • On the flip side, being voluntold is often used as a means of rewarding better troops. A good soldier will often be voluntold for better tasks and is likely to be rewarded for doing them with a day off or by being overlooked when crappier tasks pop up.
    • Sometimes this is inverted as well. Need a group to do something? Say you need volunteers and whoever is brave enough to take the bullet and stick their hands up doesn't have to do it.
  • The Boy Scouts of America have Got Volunteered jokes in the same vein, with the most popular being that one was "voluntold" to do something.
    • Bonus points for Scout Staff. They will regularly perform an "Enthusiasm Check", and mention "AND THE BEST PART IS, I DON'T GET PAID!"
  • "Mandatory Fun", an ostensibly voluntary morale-boosting event (an athletic competition, military ball, or other non-duty social event) that everyone is required to attend (whether officially required or merely very heavily encouraged to attend). It hasn't been unheard of for attendance to be optional, but for all non-attendees to be required to perform some particularly unpleasant or monotonous duty as an alternative. Bonus points if the attendees have to pay out of pocket to attend said event.
    • Schools have Mandatory Fun as well. For example, a pep rally that's "optional", but if you don't want to go, you have to sit in the library and can't leave school early. If you have to stay on the school premises anyway, you might as well go to the pep rally (unless you really do get more enjoyment out of curling up with a good book).
  • In the Soviet Union, there was a saying, "Collectivization is a voluntary affair" (original full version: "collectivization is a voluntary affair, choose to opt in or get shot"), which was in essence used as a trope name back before anyone had ever heard of tropes. In fact, so many assignments that were de jure voluntary were de facto obligatory, to the point of inspiring tongue-in-cheek oxymoronic terms like "voluntary obligation".
  • In the Cadet Corps, a call for volunteers means everyone has to raise their hands. The "volunteers" are consequently picked at random (that or they're the last ones to raise their hands).
  • George Washington wrote letters to his wife talking about how he didn't want to lead the Continental Army and how he felt completely inadequate to the task. This was a justified trope back then because no one would pick the person that volunteered so he would show up at meetings in full uniform as a way of suggesting it.
  • Twins Henrik and Joel Lundqvist played ice hockey together as kids. One day, Joel volunteered his brother to play goalie in a pickup game. Henrik is now one of the best goaltenders in the game.
  • This happened to Russian now-writer-then-journalist Vera Kamsha. She made friends with an already famous fantasy writer Nick Perumov, and he kept pushing her to writing fantasy herself. She wrote a book intended as a parody containing all of the most popular fantasy tropes, just so he would see she's not a writer, and sent it to him. Cue phone call from a publisher asking when the sequel would be ready - Perumov sent her book to the publisher and said there would be a sequel. Of course she felt the obligation to write the book and ended up, if many critics are to be believed, as Russian George R. R. Martin. (oh, and the first book, compared to the later ones, was truly horrible... but still better then most of the market. That's talent for you)
  • The term used in some circles is the "Designated Volunteer."
  • So called "Welfare for Work" policies essentially force a person to 'volunteer' for jobs that the groups involved couldn't afford someone to pay. If the 'volunteer' is lucky, they might get a small bonus on their welfare payment. The tasks involved are often You, Get Me Coffee sort of stuff.
  • The Spanish-language pun word dedocracia (a play on democracia "democracy" and dedo "finger") often is used in this sense. You're the volunteer because everybody pointed at you!
  • In certain countries, people were "resigned," as in they got volunteered to quit their jobs. In one case in Fascist Italy, a minister learned from radio broadcast that he had just resigned from his job.
  • A British radar specialist during WWII was assigned to a commando mission to steal parts from a German radar installation. The mission was top secret, so he wasn't told why he'd been reassigned. When the man briefing him started with, "Now this mission you have volunteered for..." the reply was a surprised, "I have?"
  • In the US Army, a piece of wisdom passed on to newly promoted Sergeants is to never ask for volunteers for a difficult or dangerous task. Not only is it an abdication of responsibility, but anyone dumb enough to do so is probably too stupid to carry it out properly. Pick the man you know is best suited for the job, and be sure to reward him later.
  • In 1292, when Rome and the other papal states were under the direct rule of the Pope, the established election process for the position was drawn out by two rival factions of Cardinals from the usual two weeks to two entire years, leaving the papal states leaderless and increasingly issue-ridden. A hermit monk eventually wrote a letter to be delivered to the Conclave, which more or less stated that either the Cardinals got their act together and elected a new Pope, or their eternal salvation would be forfeit. The hermit wasn't campaigning for the position, he just wanted the Cardinals to do their job - which they did, by electing him to be Pope Celestine V.
  • Gene Simmons of Kiss has said this is how he got his fire-breathing gimmick. Early in their career, their manager, Bill Aucoin, brought a magician in to demonstrate it, then said one of them would do it in their live shows. The other guys all said no, so Gene got it and it became one of the highlights of their concerts, even after they stopped wearing makeup.
    • This would also be how Gene got to be the one to be interviewed when they appeared on The Mike Douglas Show. The other guys all said no, so Gene sucked it up and did it. It led to a hilarious moment when comedienne Totie Fields saw through his Demon makeup and said he was "probably some nice Jewish boy from Long Island".
  • A tactic some parents use, especially in families with two or more siblings. One example is a parent asking a child if they "want" to go to this place or that place, or if they want to do this thing or that thing.note  The child refuses, only to be told (some variant of) "too bad, you're going/doing it anyway". If the child questions it, "Because I Said So, that's why!" is often the only reasoning given. In the worst case scenario, especially in more abusive families, this can lead to both sides arguing with each other, or worse. This has been known to happen in schools as well.
  • For figure skating, there is the ISU World Team Trophy. On the surface, it's a fun team event with the intention of encouraging countries to develop top skaters in all disciplines. In practice, skating federations are pressured to send their best, and skaters are pressured to attend on their best behavior. The Trophy also takes place shortly after the end of the traditional figure skating competition season (the World Championships), putting athletes at risk of injury or fatigue after a long season, and giving those who had competed at Worlds little time to practice and rest. The 2021 event was held in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the heels of Worlds, both in places with poor pandemic response and spikes in cases (Stockholm and Osaka).
  • Yuzuru Hanyu is very eloquent in Japanese, particularly in his expertise (figure skating) but well-spoken in other subjects as well. His English skills are... less so. When an emcee volunteered him into answering questions in English, his reaction was hilariously unbridled panic.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Voluntold, Lets Get Mikey, Unwilling Volunteer


Now You're a Part of It

After Jules reveals to the Belchers he plans on stealing his family grill, he tells them they're a part of his plan now since they know what he's doing. Bob is against the idea, but Louise really wants to get involve.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

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Main / GotVolunteered

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