Firing Volunteers: Rough but necessary

She’s so disruptive but what can you do? We love what he’s done but he’s been the conference chair for years and frankly we need to try new things so how do we move on? If we could just replace a few volunteers…

In every volunteer training program I facilitate, we eventually get to the subject of what to do with difficult or under-performing volunteers. This question just came up on an ASAE Collaborate discussion as well. The solution is simple, the implementation is not. But yes, we have to fire volunteers.

In an optimal situation, you are addressing the issue early enough to potentially correct through volunteer training or coaching. Too often, the situation is allowed to reach a boiling point and you need to immediate action. In either case, consider three steps which might be able to smooth the road a little:

  • Assess the situation … in terms of performance and impact on association, the program or activity and the people. Don’t focus on the volunteer, but on the impact of the volunteer’s actions. Be clear on the problem and why change is needed.
  • Engage the volunteer … in a conversation about the situation in which you share the assessment. Focus the conversation not on the individual but on the individual’s behavior and impact.If this conversation is early in the process, ask the volunteer to identify up to three things they can do to change and what they need from the organization to assist them, along with a deadline for improving performance. Then make a contract with them that details what you will do and what they will do and by when. If the time is past, then use this conversation to clearly explain that they are being asked to move on. Offer options for where they might get involved or options for additional training. And thank them for their service.
  • Close the loop … capture the conversation and next steps, as appropriate, in a follow-up note.

As you approach the conversation with the volunteer, heeding the advice from the Collaborate discussion may help: “make sure the discussion is about the growth of the organization and never about personality”; “focus on reasons about the organization, not the person”; “don’t go alone [make sure you have the buy-in of the other volunteers and, have a volunteer with you]; and “thank the person for their years of service”.

For more advice on the topic, check out Volunteer Hub’s Dealing with Difficult Volunteers guide.

How do you fire a volunteer?