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ISAE Blog

Taboo Topics: Firing a Volunteer

Posted by Jay Dziwlik, MBA, CAE on Jan 20, 2016 12:00:00 PM

heart_volunteers.jpgI was recently at a neighborhood gathering where one of the attendees just had a terrible haircut. But as soon as I asked, “What happened?” he answered, “What do you mean?” I tried to explain only to find out he did not want to talk about it or even acknowledge the stylist made a monumental mistake. His hair was a “taboo topic.” Everyone saw it and knew it but no one wanted to talk about it. 

Every association has taboo topics: Those things we all see but just don’t have the courage or strength to discuss. I hope to periodically address them in future blogs and my first is “How do you fire a volunteer?” You may have a name in mind right now. Don’t say that name out loud. 

Some would argue firing a volunteer is no business of the staff and I would agree this should not be done in a vacuum. Volunteers are a valuable resource. However, they also can be a detrimental hindrance. The decision to remove a volunteer is always one that needs the deepest consideration and counsel. Here are some considerations on the subject:

  • Get other volunteers involved in thinking it through and in the process.
  • Use the situation to “triage” what you know: how did the process/organization fail this volunteer?
  • Deal with bad behaviors and situations early. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.
  • Consider recalibrating the expectations for all volunteers in that area.
  • Ask them about other interests or passions in the organization.
  • Be brave and lead.
  • Be empathetic and considerate.
  • Focus on progress, not on the person, and do what is best for the progress of the organization.
  • Find the right people with the right relationships to help you do this.
  • Leave the wrong people out of it.
  • Thank them for their service.
  • Have a good process and realistic expectations before he or she begins to volunteer.
  • Coach, remind, encourage and commend the right volunteer behaviors regularly.

My association could not survive without its volunteers. I am not trying to get rid of them; I strive to make sure the work they do is worthwhile and valuable for not only the association but also the volunteers themselves.

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Topics: Volunteers, Leadership

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