We have to fire this volunteer

It is so unpleasant. But I noted in a recent post, it is more unpleasant to live with the consequences of not firing – or at least addressing – a poor-performing volunteer.

I did in fact have to fire a volunteer. In most cases I have been able to work around the situation with some counseling and shifting of positions. But there came the day, where firing was the best option. I followed the basic HR recommendations:

  1. Schedule a private meeting with the person.
  2. Be prepared. Plan what you are going to say and stay on task.
  3. State the reasons for the termination. You should also present them in writing. Focus comments on the performance and avoid personal issues or value comments.
  4. Discuss any recommendations for future volunteer work with the person. This may include whether and under what conditions the person may return and volunteer at your agency.
  5. Secure the return of any items (keys, documents) before your conclude the meeting.
  6. Stay calm. Say only what needs to be said and nothing more.
  7. Document the meeting.
  8. Exercise damage control. To the degree you can, let key people know the volunteer will not be returning. You must protect the confidentiality of the person let go, but still don’t allow this to be a flashpoint.


It wasn’t easy. But what helped was remembering that this was for the good of the whole and really for the good of the person. What I found was that by doing a few things upfront, we could reduce if not eliminate situations like this. A good volunteer management program should:

  • Put in writing the behaviors that will not be tolerated under any circumstance. This information should appear in the volunteer handbook and reviewed in orientation sessions.
  • Outline a process for handling poor performance and misbehavior. Depending on the organization this could be a formal process moving from verbal to written warnings to suspension and finally dismissal.
  • Put into practice a regular volunteer evaluation. This should be a 360 – engaging the volunteer, the volunteer’s “manager” and his or her team members.
  • Establish metrics for all volunteers. These metrics help volunteers know what success is and isn’t.
  • Establish a withdrawal policy. This is an “out-clause” that helps volunteers back out. In associations, we know that many volunteers don’t have control of their time. Add the current economy and we know that good intentions can’t always be fulfilled. We understand when a volunteer can’t live up to their commitment. If we know in enough time, we can usually shift gears. But volunteers don’t want to bail. They are concerned about their image. So, it’s very important for our – and their – success that we make it easy to “save face.”
  • Offer coaching and mentoring to volunteers. Help them be good volunteers.


There are many resources – really – to help us navigate this. I find Energize list to be a good resource.

Do you want a good volunteer workforce? Getting it means subscribing to good HR practices – from hiring to firing.