How to NOT Fire a Volunteer

12 May 2021 | News

How to NOT Fire a Volunteer

Whenever we get a group of managers of volunteers together to talk about all things volunteering, one of the hot topics that comes up the most is "how to fire a volunteer". There's just one thing - we never really want to fire a volunteer. In a sector like ours, where recruiting the right people for our programmes and causes takes a lot of time and effort, letting go of a volunteer is rather the opposite of our objectives.

Some of the reasons we look at moving a volunteer out of our organisation may involve performance problems, troublesome attitudes, or even a feeling of being overwhelmed by designated duties. Making the decision to let someone go is often a daunting prospect, so what if there were other options? Here's a few ideas of "how not to fire a volunteer".

Prevention is Key
One of the first steps to preventing dismissal of volunteers is to ensure that volunteers are shown the right way to do things from the beginning. When volunteers have a clear and outlined understanding of their responsibilities from the start, have agreed to a code of conduct, received the essential induction and training, and are then supervised properly in their roles, there is less likelihood of any performance related problems down the road.

Understand the Reasons Behind Poor Performance
It is important, when a volunteer is performing poorly, to try to understand the cause behind that behaviour. Does the volunteer fully understand the requirements of their role? Do they feel equipped and supported appropriately to be able to perform their role properly? It is also important to be very aware of what might be going on behind the scenes in a volunteer's life that might be affecting their ability to perform their role properly.

Take Steps Geared to Retention
Our first goal should always be to retain volunteers, where possible. So taking corrective action is a major component of any retention plan. Once we have identified an area that needs some improvement, we have a responsibility to help struggling volunteers to improve. A plan should be put in place that targets the reasons for their performance issues, with specific goals moving forward, and an outline for future check-ins.

Prepare to be Creative
Sometimes, despite our best efforts in previous steps, a volunteer's performance still won't improve and yet dismissing them may still feel like an extreme decision to make. So what do we do? We can get creative. There will be times when volunteers just aren't a good fit for the role they originally applied for, and we need to look at alternative options for service that more closely align with the volunteer's strengths and skills. If the volunteer has something going on behind the scenes in their personal life that might be affecting their ability to perform in their role, perhaps a holiday might be appropriate while they deal with things. If you think that the volunteer does not mesh well with your organisation's mission and values, give some consideration to referring them back to the team at Volunteer Marlborough or to another local organisation that they might be more suited to.

If All Else Fails....
Sometimes we make every possible effort to retain a volunteer and still the situation does not improve. Don't be afraid to make the choice to let the volunteer go. It is important, in these situations, to make any such dismissal a formal process just as we would with the recruitment and training parts of volunteer programmes. It is vital that there be clear policies and procedures around when and how to dismiss a volunteer, particularly if the volunteer is one who works closely with your clients or other volunteer as this may create a sense of uncertainty within the organisation. This will need to be managed effectively.

We can all agree that making the decision to fire a volunteer is not an easy one, but it is ok to say no. In any industry, but perhaps particularly in the not-for-profit sector, it is acceptable and sometimes necessary to make the decision to not work with a volunteer who doesn't align with the values and mission of your organisation. Until then, continue to focus on recruiting, training, and retaining the volunteers that you have.