volunteer managementVolunteer management isn’t easy. As leaders of volunteers, you are often responsible for a wide range of duties. You manage schedules and manage feelings (of your volunteers, your co-workers, and yourself). It can be exhausting.

There’s one simple thing you can do to lighten your load — let go. Let go of your attachment to the perpetually miserable, the sometimes hostile, the actively subversive. If there are volunteers on your team that are actively undermining morale, let go. If there are volunteers in your organization who are not contributing to the mission in a meaningful way, let go. If there are volunteers who do not embrace the changes that have been approved for and planned, let go.

This may sound harsh. But, it’s in the best interest of everyone to give toxic people the “gift of goodbye.” Why use the term “gift?” Because it will benefit the volunteer, too.

You can lead with gratitude, even now. Why not open your heart to helping them move on to a place they will enjoy more and where they can offer more? Everyone comes into our lives for a reason or season. Perhaps this person is here to teach both of you how to part ways in a gracious and loving way or will teach you to do a better job finding appropriate tasks for each volunteer?  

The “gift of goodbye” may mean that the volunteer leaves your organization altogether. It may mean they simply switch tasks or teams. You decide what’s best. Here are some tips for the process of letting go.

Volunteer Management Tips for Letting Go

1) First, ground yourself in your purpose – As a leader of volunteers, your primary responsibility is to ensure that volunteers are deployed in the most effective way to meet your mission and that they are working together effectively to do so. Your focus is the mission and volunteers are not generally your mission (unless you are a volunteer center). Volunteers are a strategy to meet your mission, but they are not the mission.  

2) Second, Ask yourself whether the volunteer is blocking mission achievement – Is the volunteer’s behavior actively disrupting progress? Can you explain why this is so, specifically? If a volunteer doesn’t have the physical or mental capacity to to the job, is this blocking progress? If they spread gossip and are rude to others, does this get in the way of a harmonious team?

3) Third, make sure that you have communicated your expectations – It’s not fair to let people go without communicating and allowing others to meet your expectations, is it? If you haven’t done the following, get started here and see if things improve. Have you explained, and do volunteers understand …

  • The grounds for dismissal
  • The steps in the disciplinary process
  • How policies & procedures will be enforced
  • That you will follow through on consequences

4) Decide if the problem is the job fit  – It’s entirely possible that a re-assignment is all that would be needed to make the volunteer more comfortable. Explore what’s possible with them. But, make sure the new placement is also actively contributing to the mission. Asking volunteers to take on roles that have no real meaning doesn’t honor the volunteer or the mission.

5) If behavior must change, address it directly — Address the situation and describe the problem behavior. Explain how it negatively impacts the mission. Ask for change and explain the consequences if it doesn’t happen. List the action items or steps you expect them to take and have them sign this improvement plan.

6) Allow your humanity to show — It’s OK to share how you are feeling about the situation with the volunteer. Are you disappointed? Do these kinds of conversations make you uncomfortable? Are you angry? Be a human and explain how you feel in a calm, compassionate way. Don’t blame or whine. Simply report.

7) If you can’t fix it, let go – Schedule a meeting with the volunteer in a private setting and have a third party present, preferably of the same gender as the person being dismissed. Be prepared. Inform your supervisor of the situation and the rationale for action. Remember that the time has passed for negotiation. Write up a script if needed.

  • At the meeting, state the reasons for dismissal and present them in writing. Say only what needs to be said — this should not come as a surprise to the volunteer. Your witness does not need to say anything.
  • Focus any comments on describing how their behavior deviates from what is expected. Avoid any personal issues, assumptions about their life or intentions, or value comments.
  • Discuss any recommendations for future volunteer work. This may include whether and under what conditions they may return, if ever.
  • Have a termination letter ready that the volunteer signs to indicate that they understand what is being said. If they won’t sign, note it. Give them a copy.
  • Secure the return of any keys, parking passes, name tags, files, marketing materials, or other work-related items before you conclude the meeting. Be sure you change any passwords for databases for which they have access.
  • Walk them to the front door following the meeting, making sure they don’t leave any personal belongings behind.
  • Write a short report of the meeting. Have your witness sign it.

8) Finally, forgive yourself  –  You may find yourself ruminating on why it didn’t work out. And, yes, there may have been something you could have done differently. Be gentle with yourself.  We do the best we can. Learn and make adjustments.

To truly move on, you’ll need to give your guilt (and misplaced shame) the gift of goodbye, too.

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