Volunteer Separation

It's common for nonprofits to experience anxiety when faced with separating a volunteer from the organization.  It's often thought that because volunteers are donating their time to the cause, no situation would justify letting them go.  This is not accurate or beneficial thinking.  The need to release a volunteer may arise from performance problems, conduct problems or economic challenges. Yes, economic challenges may affect your volunteers.  For example, the need to separate may emerge if, volunteers are working on a project that is being dissolved or an employee needs to take over a volunteer's duties to avoid being laid off.

Letting a volunteer go can be a difficult but necessary situation that is often avoided by organizations.  The bad news is, organizations may not be able to avoid letting a volunteer go in times of economic challenge.  The good news is, most of the time organizations can minimize the occasions where terminating a volunteer for performance or conduct problems is necessary.

If your organization has followed the advice detailed in our previous 2 articles, Volunteer Recruitment & Volunteer Management & Retention, then it's already on a good preventative path.  If your organization has purposefully identified areas of need for volunteers, mindfully recruited individuals, & clearly defined expectations, "firing" a volunteer is rarely needed.  If however the situation does arise, consider the following questions? 

  1. Are the duties of the job clearly defined?
  2. Does the volunteer understand the job duties?
  3. Have behavior expectations been clearly expressed to the volunteer?
  4. What policies on volunteer probation, suspension & termination exist?
  5. Have these policies been supplied & explained to the volunteer?
  6. Does the volunteer need additional training or other support?
  7. Has the volunteer been given frequent feedback on performance?
  8. Have concerns been brought to the volunteer’s attention?
  9. Have performance or conduct problems been thoroughly documented?
  10. Has the volunteer been given adequate opportunity to modify any undesired behavior?
  11. Would the volunteer be a better fit in a different role?

As you may have noticed, flaws in your volunteer program can be identified through answering these questions.  In most situations, fixing these flaws could prevent the need to terminate volunteers.  Spend adequate time & attention on intentionally developing, implementing & refining your organization's volunteer program. 

If however, unacceptable behavior persists after giving the volunteer a thorough understanding of expectations along with adequate support & time to change said behavior, ask the most important question.  Is the volunteer supporting or detracting from the organization's mission?  If it's the latter, then termination is the only option & requires a timely conversation.  Provide the volunteer with specific reasons for termination, supported by documentation, to reduce any ambiguity.  Ultimately, express gratitude for what the volunteer has given to the organization.