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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 2
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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 2 - Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 2

Executive Leadership Articles

Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 2

“Bad volunteer” is a label nobody wants to put on someone. By virtue of volunteering, a person is automatically not bad, but there are still those volunteers who, despite the noblest of intentions, make things difficult or impossible for others who also donate their time, resources, and energies. You can leave the bad volunteers in place, but this is most likely to chase away the good ones, and there just aren’t many organizations who can afford to chase away good volunteers.

Severing ties is a last resort, of course. You have the blessing of working with someone who, for whatever reason, has it on his or her heart to contribute to the same cause whose mission you’ve taken up. With the mission as your guideline, you should be able to find some kind of workable alternate ground that satisfies you both, so start there. Meet with your bad volunteer and agree on the most fundamental of issues: your commitment to the mission. Explain that in serving the mission, you’ve been given the task of seeing the big picture, and sometimes this means making tough choices.

As you discuss the issues, do not skirt the problem, whether it is an abrasive personality, an unearned sense of ownership or entitlement, a consistent lack of follow-through, or any of the other shortcomings we identified in part one of this series. Be gentle, but be honest, and leave nothing to misinterpretation. Affirm the bad volunteer’s loyal service and any specific strengths you’ve noticed, then suggest that the bad volunteer might be more suited to a different role with the organization.

Reassignment or redirection are up to you. If you feel that your organization cannot work with this person any longer, thank the volunteer with utmost sincerity, and suggest that he or she find another worthy group to support. But if you’re the second- and third-chances type, you know that sometimes a willing heart is worth multiple attempts at finding the right environment. A sea turtle on the beach is an awkward, slow-moving, uncomfortable creature, but sea turtles are built for the sea. Once it finds itself in its best environment, it is a beautiful, graceful creature. There are few things more rewarding than helping a bad volunteer find the most suitable environment, where he or she can flourish personally in a way that serves the mission.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of more training. It might be interpersonal (communications) training, or some other kind of direct intervention that someone else in your organization might be able to help with. Many of the most gifted volunteers have problems with executive function, or the ability to manage and organize time and paperwork. Others have trouble reading social cues, difficulty with anger management, or unrealistic concepts of leadership. With a little bit of one-on-one with someone who understands the issues, your bad volunteer might, over time, become a great volunteer. The resources required for this kind of development may be outside your scope or willingness, but consider that sometimes the best talent needs a bit of polishing, and you may find yourself with a diamond no longer in the rough.

If there must be a parting of the ways, and if the bad volunteer is amenable, suggest that you will put him or her in touch with other agencies whose people you know personally. Remind the volunteer that you will be honest but fair in making the connection, and this applies to letters of reference as well. It’s still about helping the sea turtle find its way, even if that way is with some other group.


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Just For Nonprofits: Dealing With A Bad Volunteer, Part 2 - Executive Leadership Articles

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