Last week, Beth Steinhorn, President of JFFixler Group, presented the third and final webinar in the Lifecycle of a Volunteer webinar series presented by Verified Volunteers. In the previous sessions, Beth discussed and offered tips and best practices on interviewing volunteers and training and retaining volunteers. But, sometimes volunteers just don’t work out. In this session, When It’s Just Not Working Out, Beth offers her expertise on how to deal with these uncomfortable situations. I am sure many of you readers have come across a “problem” volunteer at one point or another. I thought it would be helpful to discuss three common types of problem volunteers and relay some of Beth’s tips for handling them.
Problem Volunteer #1: The “Resistor”
Beth describes the many times she has encountered volunteers whom she termed as “resistors.” These are often veteran volunteers who are reluctant to change. Because they have worked with the organization for some time, they often think they “know better”. So they challenge any new process you introduce. They may also spread negative energy amongst the rest of the volunteer pool, rallying them against the change.
Clearly, this is not a good situation – and needs to be dealt with quickly. How can you do it?
Strategies for Dealing with “Resistors”
- Build a team of staff and volunteers to provide input into policies, so that they a voice, but are not the only voice on the team
- Frame new policies/procedures as a vital step to ensure the safety of staff, volunteers, and program participants or clients, as well as enhancing efficiency
- Market any new required training as a value-added professional development opportunity
- Offer to transition volunteers who choose not to embrace the new practices to an “emeritus” role, meaning they will still stay connected to your organization but will not actively volunteer “on the floor”
Problem Volunteer #2: The “Overloader”
Beth introduced the concept of the “overloaders” as that same group of volunteers who show up for everything and simply keep changing roles around, like a game of musical chairs. Ring a bell? These are likely the same people whom you are tempted to repeatedly call upon because you’ll know they will say yes. Yet, they take on too much – and don’t give other volunteers a chance to contribute. Even worse, sometimes they don’t even complete the tasks they’ve committed to. It may not be that they don’t have the right intentions, but when the work isn’t getting done, you need to step in.
Strategies for Dealing with “Overloaders”
- Discuss importance of creating space for others to engage with the organization
- Structure volunteer positions so that they are time-limited (if appropriate)
- Revise position descriptions so that the volunteer is responsible for training up a successor
- Implement screening processes for all positions
Problem Volunteer #3: The “Jeckyll/Hyde”
This is a tricky one. In front of you, this may be the perfect volunteer. Their behavior meets your expectations and they perform their tasks adequately. But you are hearing complaints from staff, other volunteers, or clients. How can you deal with bad behavior when you never witness it yourself?
Strategies for Dealing with “Jeckyll/Hydes”
- Honor both the volunteer in question and those reporting complaints by taking both seriously
- Gather details (including observing the volunteer)
- Share feedback with the volunteer in question and seek their perspective on their behaviors
- Frame the conversation around expectations and then establish a plan to ensure that their behaviors meet expectations, with a timeline
- Follow up (whether positively or negatively)
Hear Beth expand on these strategies. Watch the webinar on-demand: The Lifecycle of a Volunteer: When It’s Just Not Working Out
We received a number of questions from attendees relating to problem volunteers they’re currently dealing with. Let’s take a look at some of those – along with Beth’s advice.
I have a long term volunteer who always runs the same events/takes over the same responsibilities. They are pushing out others who might want to participate. How can I fix this issue?
You have a classic overloader on your hands. Refer back to the strategies in this post to learn how to handle them. To expand on those, start by letting them know just how much you value their long term commitment to the position(s). They need to know that they are appreciated. Then tell them – as long as it’s true for your organization – that one of your goals and priorities is to engage new volunteers. Offer them specific opportunities to help your organization achieve that goal. They may offer to split the role with a new volunteer. They may take the skills they’ve learned in the role and apply them in a new position. One of the most important things is to approach the conversation knowing whether you are making an offer (is it their decision to leave the role or remain in it?) or a directive (they do not have a choice and will have to share the role or change roles).
What about problematic volunteers who are also donors?
This is a tricky one – and it goes back to proper and effective screening and placement. Donors who volunteer need to go through the same screening process as a volunteer who is not a donor. So, if a donor is not appropriate for a role, they should not be in it in the first place.
It’s important Fund Development staff to manage the expectations of donors. As a Volunteer Engagement staff, you need to work with Donor/Fund Development staff to make sure they are not communicating expectations you can’t uphold as the volunteer program manager.
If you have a donor who is already in a position for which they are not a good fit, meet with the volunteer to clarify expectations. Explore whether there’s a better fit with their skills, schedule, etc.
What about teens just being teens?
Again, screening and placement are key. Clear expectations must be set with all volunteers. One interesting point Beth made was that, if you involve teens as volunteers – whether you intend to or not – you are providing job readiness training. Because of that, you may need to add extra levels of training both prior to onboarding the volunteers and on the job. These trainings can address dress code, behavior, phone policies, etc. The teens should be held accountable if they do not meet the expectations and adhere to the policies you’ve outlined in your trainings.
Read the previous blogs in this series:
The Volunteer Interview: Which volunteers should I interview?
The Volunteer Interview: What questions should I ask?
The Volunteer Interview: Making the offer…or not.
4 burning questions on training and retaining volunteers – answered
Volunteer Screening: The Interview
The Lifecycle of a Volunteer: Interviewing Best Practices
The Lifecycle of a Volunteer: Training and Retaining
The Lifecycle of a Volunteer: When It’s Just Not Working Out
For more tips and tools from Beth Steinhorn, see the JFFixler Group website at jffixler.com.