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Mobilization Tool Kit -- Problem Volunteers

Anyone who has managed volunteers has them. Problem volunteers. What to do?

The first line of action against problem volunteers, is to weed them out during your volunteer intake. If you never accept a problem volunteer, you will never have to fire one.

Fire a volunteer? How can you do that?!

People volunteer for a great many reasons, only one of which is to "save the world". A lot of volunteers are there for social and psychological reasons. That doesn't have to be a problem, but it can become one, particularly if the volunteer is accomplishing little or nothing, and wasting other people's time and energy.

I am a great believer in people. Everyone has something to contribute. But sometimes, sometimes, it seems better to ask a volunteer to leave, than to allow them to stay.

Talk to the person. Express why it is their behaviour is frustrating you and interfering with the group's work. Maybe some honest feedback can help them learn a different way. And maybe not. Maybe this person can be assigned a job that keeps them busy and away from the others. But maybe not.

If unhelpful patterns continue (usually over several days or weeks), ask the person to leave the organization, following a thoughtful explanation, and with empathy for what they are trying to accomplish by "helping out". Try to avoid anger. They are probably not trying to make your life difficult. They're just a little mixed up and seeing the world a bit differently. If they refuse to leave, your last option is to call the police. I won't recommend it, but it is the final choice.

Non-profit work attracts a lot of crazies. Probably because NGOs are populated with nice people who just want to help out. Like you. I know you didn't sign up for counselling or to practice psychology, but give it your best before delivering any ultimatums. After all, the crazies can come back to haunt you... and bring their friends. You got to hand it to them - they've got stamina and will power. They've been ignored and pushed around before. It's better if you can convince them it's time to move on.

The problem volunteer is probably worthy of our concern and help, but it doesn't always feel that way, and it's probably not one of the reasons you got into the non-profit biz. As you are able, try to find some sympathy and understanding for your problem volunteers. Who knows-- they might just become useful in the process.


The Activist Tool Kit is a project inspired by YAEC:

Youth Action Effecting Change
yaec@eya.ca     www.yaec.ca
PO Box 34097 Station D Vancouver BC V6J 4M1 CANADA

The Activist Tool Kit was written and built by Al Rycroft of SunshineCommunications.ca.

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