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How to “Not” Fire a Volunteer

Posted By Kasandra James, Subscriptions Coordinator, September 28, 2015

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

“How to Fire a Volunteer” is always a hot topic for volunteer managers and coordinators, and the September 23rd Subscriber Circle was no exception. A large group of volunteer managers turned out to discuss how best to go about firing volunteers. The only problem – no one actually wants to fire their volunteers! In an industry that’s constantly recruiting people for the cause, letting someone go is the complete opposite of the voluntary sector’s objectives.

As a result, the majority of the Subscriber Circle discussion focused on how to do everything possible not to fire a volunteer. The group shared interesting stories of performance problems, discussed how they tackled the daunting task of retaining troublesome volunteers and, in very few cases, the steps they took when it was time to let a volunteer go.

So instead of “How to Fire a Volunteer”, here’s a Volunteer Manager’s “How to NOT Fire a Volunteer” list.

  1. Focus on Prevention
    The first step to preventing dismissal due to poor performance is ensuring that volunteers learn to do things right from the start. Volunteers who have a clear understanding of their responsibilities, agree to a code of conduct, receive the proper training and are supervised appropriately are less likely to have performance issues.

  2. Diagnose Symptoms of Poor Performance
    When a volunteer does perform poorly it’s important to try to understand the cause of that behaviour. Find out if your volunteer understands their job requirements and whether they feel equipped to complete that job. Volunteer Managers must also pay attention to the “human factor” and how events in a person’s life can affect their performance levels.

  3. Take Action Geared to Retention
    As the first goal is always to retain volunteers, taking corrective action is a major component of any “how to not fire” plan.  Once an area for improvement has been identified, volunteer managers have a responsibility to help poorly performing volunteers improve. This plan should target the reasons for poor performance, have specific improvement objectives and establish check-points and timelines for improvement. 

  4. Get Creative with Alternatives
    If volunteer performance fails to improve despite best efforts, but dismissal still feels like an extreme course of action, it’s time to find some creative alternatives. Sometimes volunteers just aren’t a fit for their roles; find alternative avenues of service that coincide with volunteer strengths and skills. For volunteers with personal issues influencing their ability to perform their volunteer role, a vacation or suspension may be appropriate. If you think that a volunteer does not value the organization’s mission, consider referring them to another organization that they would be more suited to work with.

  5. When All Else Fails, Fire the Volunteer
    When every possible effort has been taken to retain a volunteer and the situation continues to decline; don’t be afraid to make the decision to dismiss. It is important to make dismissal a formal process, much like recruitment or training. There should also be clear rules outlining when it is time to dismiss a volunteer and how the dismissal should be handled. The dismissal of volunteers who work closely with clients or other volunteers may create a sense of uncertainty, which needs to be managed in order to maintain the efficacy of the program.

While many participants in the discussion made it clear that making the decision to fire a volunteer isn’t easy, one volunteer manager made a point that I believe resonated well with the entire group: it’s okay to say NO. Even in the voluntary sector, it’s acceptable, and sometimes necessary to make the decision not to work with a volunteer who doesn’t reflect the vision and mission of your organization.

Until that point of no return, volunteer managers will focus on recruiting, training and retaining volunteers to support their cause.


What do you think? To get in on the discussion, join the next Subscriber Circle, where we will be discussing Volunteer Orientation.

Not subscribed with Volunteer Toronto? Check out the many benefits of being a Full Subscriber and register here.

  As Volunteer Toronto’s Subscriptions Coordinator, Kasandra is the first point of contact for non-profits looking for support.
She facilitates monthly Subscriber Circle discussion groups for managers and coordinators of volunteers, contributes to our
Sector Space newsletter and social media communications, and makes sure our subscriptions package continues to help
non-profit organizations build capacity through volunteer involvement.


Tags:  Conflict Resolution  Problem Volunteers  volunteer engagement  Volunteer help  Volunteer Management 

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