How to address a problematic volunteer at your event

address a problematic volunteer at your event

Saying thanks, but no thanks to disruptive volunteers

There are few things I find more annoying than the comment, “But I am just a volunteer!”

Some people join boards or committees only to network, which is noticeable and can often impact the impression you leave. And sometimes not in a good way.

What led us here?

Performance problems relate to the quality, quantity, timeliness of the work or rate of improvement on an assignment. Your expectations should be clearly outlined in the volunteer’s job description and reinforced during training or orientation. This will help lay the foundation for volunteer success, or help you decide if success is not possible.

Is firing my only option?

Of course not. Sometimes, an intervention to identify the problem and discover solutions is all that you need. You must remember that some problems are complex, and the root of it may not be initially clear. When confronting a problematic volunteer and offering guidance, remember these tips:

  • Timing: Choose the right time and place. Avoid putting it off; don’t be rash in your judgement. Be discreet if the situation is a delicate one.
  • Be specific: Describe the situation clearly. Avoid innuendos. Try to speak only of the present rather than referring to a collection of previous situations. Being specific will help structure the solutions you come up with.
  • Results orients: Specify the changes that have positive results. Saying “do it this way” points out what changes you propose.
  • Stress consequences: Describe how a change in behaviour could lead to favourable consequences. In the end, as the person in charge, you must be one hundred per cent sure you are comfortable with the solution as well.

Sometimes, though, this intervention doesn’t provide clear solutions that work for everyone. In these instances, it may be worthwhile to fire the volunteer. While stressful for everyone involved, here are five steps to help make the best of a bad situation.

Five steps to firing a volunteer

With effective supervision, lack of performance by a volunteer can and should be caught early before it turns into a nightmare. Ignoring this behaviour can have disastrous effects on the action team and on the event itself.

The implied message to the team is that hard work is not valued will crush others’ motivation and turn off even your most hardworking volunteers. To approach the problem with volunteers, you’ll need to employ different tactics than those you would use with an employee. Once you’ve chosen a date to talk, here’s a few guidelines to help you through the conversation.

  1. Be tactful. There may be a misunderstanding or extenuating circumstances you don’t know about. The way you handle your volunteers has serious implications for the morale and image of your event.
  2. Be honest. Think of what you are doing as helpful, rather than positive or negative.
  3. Specify the cause for concern. Address the results that are lacking rather than personal qualities.
  4. Listen to the other person. Perhaps the job is beyond them, have lost interest, or are under strain in their personal life.
  5. Save face. Come up with a mutually agreeable course of action that is supportive of the individual and the event. Consider a reassignment, a partnership with another volunteer or a leave of absence.

When successful, this intervention can be very satisfying for everyone. Most people are not happy with their role of volunteer if they are not making a contribution, but by following these steps you can help the failing volunteer find success.

About the author:

Over the years, Karen Turner has produced fully integrated, award-winning events for a wide variety of Canadian organizations and companies. She holds a National Program Fundraising Education certificate and a Fundraising Management degree from Grant MacEwan University in Edmonton Alberta. Karen’s extensive experience of working and volunteering in the non-profit sector includes Saskatoon’s first Jail-N-Bail, a unique fundraising event through the Canadian Cancer Society. She developed the business plan for Tamara’s House, a non-profit in Saskatoon that helps women who have experienced childhood sexual abuse and coordinated its capital campaign. Karen has been nominated by the prestigious CEIA National Awards several times for best fundraising event, best conference and most recently in 2015 for the First Aid for Mental Health event with Sam Corbett from the Saskatoon’s The Sheepdogs.

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