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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 1
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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 1

Nobody wants to think about the reality of bad volunteers. When someone is donating his or her time and energy, the donation itself is a gift, and a gift is not something anyone wants to get picky with. Yet there is no way around it: some people are simply bad volunteers, and while it’s possible to ignore the situation, your organization will suffer if you don’t take care of it quickly.

One hesitates to use the phrase “bad volunteer” because it implies a personal failing, and that’s not often the case. The kind of person who gives his or her time is often a caring, big-hearted person who puts the needs of others first. But the world is made of all kinds of nice people: some of them are nice people who volunteer well, and some are nice people who volunteer poorly. So it can help to understand that a bad volunteer is not a bad person; in fact, a bad volunteer is usually a great person, or you’d never know he or she is a bad volunteer.

There are several types of bad volunteers, and which type you have may determine your course of action.

  • The volunteer who has been with the organization so long that she practically runs it, alienating those who might have differing ideas. In times of low volunteer turnout, he can be an invaluable powerhouse, but when waves of new volunteers arrive and offer fresh ideas and perspectives, this bad volunteer can make them feel unwanted and unneeded.
  • The volunteer whose competence is not quite at the level of her heart or willingness. She can’t handle the big jobs, but feels unsatisfied with the smaller ones. By force of personality or will, she often puts herself in charge of tasks better suited to others, but those others don’t want to hurt her feelings, so they look to serve elsewhere, or they stand quietly by while she runs things right at the line of mediocrity.
  • The volunteer who just doesn’t play nicely with others. He’s abrasive. He loses his temper. Nobody knows what he’s going to say next, but it probably isn’t going to be very nice. He’s impatient. He’ll lead the team to the finish line, but everyone can’t wait until it’s all over so they can stop having to put up with him.
  • The multi-talented ball-dropper. She’s got all the tools, plus charisma coming out her ears, connections, a sense of humor, great ideas, and a terrific work ethic, but at some point along the way she loses interest and drops the ball, assuring others that she’s got it under control until, in a moment of desperation, she calls out for help and others have to scramble to pick up the pieces.
  • The volunteer who can do things, but needs constant supervision. He can drive you crazy because the effort it takes to keep an eye on this person is almost equal to what it would take to do the job yourself.
  • The volunteer who lacks big-picture vision, so her seemingly small decisions can have wide-ranging negative impact when she deviates from established protocol. This can happen to anyone, but the bad volunteer seems to find herself in this situation with frightening regularity.
  • The poor communicator. Interpersonal (and organizational) conflict can almost always be traced to poor communication, and poor communicators are repeat offenders. Perhaps your volunteer is working steadily but doesn’t tell anyone what he’s doing, so there is a redundancy of effort, or maybe he doesn’t let anyone know his progress while others are waiting on his signal so they can begin their part of the work.

In the second part of this series, we’ll take a look at how you can repurpose, redirect, or simply cut ties with bad volunteers.

 

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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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