Managing Volunteers: What to Do When a Volunteer Isn’t Working Out
Posted Thursday, June 12th, 2014 by Verified Volunteers Staff
The majority of volunteers are generous, trustworthy individuals who bring tremendous value to the nonprofit organizations they serve. Occasionally, however, volunteer managers are faced with a volunteer who fails to meet his or her responsibilities or who causes problems for the organization. Perhaps the volunteer is a repeat absentee or instigates conflict with staff or other volunteers. Maybe it’s something more serious that could reflect poorly on the organization. What should a volunteer manager do when a volunteer just isn’t working out?
How to Handle Issues with Volunteers – A Discussion.
I posed this question to several volunteer managers as part of a discussion in the Association of Volunteer Managers (AVM) LinkedIn group and received lots of valuable perspectives and advice.
Several of the folks that participated in the discussion suggested creating an agreement that outlines the expectations, responsibilities and rules for both the organization and the volunteer. This sets clear and explicit expectations for volunteers and lets them know what will happen if those expectations are not met. Organizations also benefit from having a defined procedure for how to handle these cases.
One of the participants in the discussion, Nancy G. from Oregon Volunteers, suggests establishing a disciplinary procedure in writing to lay out how performance or behavioral issues will be handled. The disciplinary procedure might include a verbal review, a written notification of expectations not being met, and finally, termination procedures if the volunteer fails to adhere to the standards set forth. Nancy also points out the importance of well-defined, written position descriptions. Clear communication up front can help to prevent problems that stem from the misunderstanding of expectations.
Just because a volunteer isn’t performing well in a certain role doesn’t mean that he or she can’t contribute to the organization or cause. William H. of Volunteers Insurance Service Association explains that veteran volunteers and those who display a good attitude and willingness to help should be considered for different positions that might better suit their strengths and skills.
A volunteer manager named Faiza made an excellent point about the importance of open communication between organizations and volunteers during their service experience. Before dismissing a volunteer, she recommends having a discussion with the individual to talk about what his experience has been like and if it has been what he expected. As Faiza points out, many problems can be avoided by regularly checking in with volunteers and encouraging them to come to managers or staff members with questions or concerns.
So what can an organization do to manage volunteers who are problematic or not fulfilling their responsibilities? To sum it all up, here are the main takeaways I gathered:
- Create a volunteer agreement that outlines the expectations, responsibilities and rules for the volunteer’s specific role, along with what actions the organization will take should they not be met.
- Check in regularly with volunteers to make sure they are a having a good service experience and are performing well in their role.
- Encourage volunteers to come to staff members or volunteer managers with any questions or concerns.
- Consider each volunteer individually and see if they can be placed in a role that is better suited to their strengths.
- If a volunteer isn’t a good match for the nonprofit organization, discuss the situation with the individual in an honest and respectful manner.
Ideally, you want to bring on reliable, trustworthy volunteers in the first place – individuals who will be an asset to your organization rather than a liability. Background screening is an essential first step in the volunteer onboarding process, helping to safeguard your organization’s reputation and the people you serve.
Do you have experience with volunteers who weren’t working out with your organization? What do you think of the discussion or these tips? We’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to leave a comment below or contact us.
Tom Klein founded Verified Volunteers and leads its mission to propel service organizations and nonprofits by empowering volunteers. Connect with Tom on LinkedIn or Google+.