Let’s be honest for a minute. Bad volunteers DO exist, and nonprofits struggle to “fire” someone generous enough to work for free.
It is important to clarify that there are “bad volunteers,” and then there are volunteers who are a “bad fit” for your organization.
Anyone who manages volunteers will agree that there are those charismatic individuals who inspire and breathe new life into every project they undertake…and then there are THOSE volunteers.
Yes. You know the ones.
…THOSE volunteers who have great intentions but tend to suck the life and energy out of a project, do not play well with others, have an abrasive personality, or become a permanent roadblock for change.
Many organizations justify keeping bad volunteers by adopting the mindset of “good volunteers are hard to come by”.
The reality is, more than 25% of all Americans volunteer time, which means volunteers are not a scarce commodity.
In 2018 alone, more than 77.4 million individuals contributed 6.9 billion hours of service, valued at $167 billion. (https://www.nationalservice.gov/serve/via)
Nonprofits could and should be more selective when determining what skill sets and performance they expect from volunteers.
According to Volunteer Hub, only 55% of nonprofits report that they assess volunteer impact.
How can a nonprofit justify “firing” a volunteer without outlining expectations and completing performance reviews for volunteers?
The first step for keeping good volunteers and getting rid of bad ones to create an intentional volunteer management process:
A thorough process should outline the following key components of volunteer management:
- Job description
- Key goals/impact the volunteer can help achieve
- Detailed expectations (behavior, communication norms, promptness, etc.)
- Orientation and ongoing training opportunities
- Supervision and support
- Performance reviews
So, what should a volunteer manager do if the systems are in place, but a volunteer fails to meet expectations?
When a volunteer is rude, negligent, or poses a risk to the organization, there is no need to mince words. Direct is always better.
- Pull out the job description and expectations and share how the volunteer has failed to meet them.
- Let them know that the organization has a limited capacity to supervise volunteers
- The organization is limiting volunteer opportunities to those who are consistent, embody the mission, and help achieve the established goals.
If the volunteer does not pose a risk but is not an appropriate ambassador of the mission, it is time to gracefully “bless and release them.”
No matter how you slice it, this conversation is awkward. As the Executive Director of a nonprofit, I have found myself engaged in many of these uncomfortable conversations with volunteers. While I cannot claim the official title for “Queen of Bless and Release,” here are a few of the strategies I have learned first-hand or from watching other nonprofit friends in the “blessing process.”
3 Ways to Bless and Release Volunteers
- The “Building Capacity” option
Explain to a long-time, but not currently needed volunteer that the organization appreciates all their time, talent, and treasures, but must open up volunteer opportunities for new members of the community to become engaged.
- The “We are freeing up your time so you can focus on other interest” conversation
Acknowledge the volunteer’s tremendous dedication and time commitment and explain that while they are appreciated and always welcome at events, the organization does not want to monopolize all their time and energy. It is best to encourage them to continue their many other community endeavors and thank them for being an ambassador for your programs with other organizations they serve.
- The “Our mission and your goals are not aligned” conversation
For those volunteers who have strong passions and insist on trying to shift programs/energy away from your nonprofit’s already established mission and vision, it’s time to part ways. Recognize their passions and encourage them to connect with another worthy organization whose mission is more closely aligned with their passions and priorities.
There is nothing more difficult than to turn away a new or returning volunteer who is eager to serve your nonprofit. If the volunteer is honest, is passionate about your mission, and respects your operating principals and leadership in place, it is usually worth the effort to find a meaningful niche in which they focus their volunteer time and energy.
If the prospective volunteer is prone to conflict, unwilling to follow instructions, or does not possess the skills set needed to be effective in a volunteer role, it is fine to accept their volunteer application form graciously. You can let them know that they might not be a fit now, but you will keep their information and notify them if an opportunity arises.
Here are some of our other volunteer related articles:
- Why Volunteering is so Hard
- The Nitty Gritty of Effective Volunteer Management
- How to Keep Your Best Volunteers Coming Back
As Alway, Keep Growing for Good!