Tuesday, November 1, 2011

When Volunteers Aren't That Great

Southwest West Central Volunteer Connections members focused their October meeting on the topic of “Handling Challenging Volunteer Performance Situations.” Yes, we are talking about when things don’t go so well with one or more of your volunteer workers. Most volunteer coordinators can relate to situations where a volunteer isn’t getting along with co-workers or customers; is not as dependable as their position needs them to be; is unable to do the work they signed on for; chooses not to follow rules or processes; is negative or misrepresents your organization; or any other example of “poor or unsatisfactory performance.”

Katie Bull (pictured above), Membership, Communications and Service Manager for Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administrators (MAVA) led the presentation and discussion at Bremer Bank in Willmar, giving participants information and guidance in working with volunteer performance issues. Challenging participants to consider why we often hesitate to deal with unsatisfactory performance or behavior with our volunteers, Katie collected our comments.

Here are a few:
• We need volunteers
• Volunteers aren’t paid
• Volunteers are often also donors
• Volunteer supervisor becomes the “bad guy” when he/she has to address matter
• No time to deal with the problem situation or behavior
• “Politics”
• Volunteer program doesn’t have policies to address problems
• Do you have additional reasons you’re avoiding dealing with this topic?

“Reasons why it’s important to handle performance and behavior issues with volunteers are not unlike the reasons any manager or boss would address the same situations with paid employees,” says Katie.

Facing up to volunteer performance problems:
• Minimizes divisiveness in the workplace
• Strengthens the overall organization or program
• Maintains good volunteers (oftentimes performing volunteers leave, rather than endure conflict)
• Minimizes stress for managers and volunteers
• Can avoid legal issues
• Can you think of more reasons why it’s worth it to face up to performance problems?

In a future blog post, I’ll share some of Katie’s ideas and tips for approaching difficult volunteer performance issues. In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts, including challenges you’ve had and solutions you’ve found around this topic.

Lois Schmidt, Nonprofit Resources, Willmar Charter

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