We love our volunteers- and for the most part you (hopefully) have a good relationship with all of your volunteers. But the hard truth is that sometimes it doesn’t work out. One aspect of volunteer management that gets almost no attention is how to part ways with a volunteer. We know it can be a tough subject, but it is vital to know how to handle the end of a relationship with a volunteer.
Relationships with volunteers generally end one of two ways: volunteer-led or organization-led dissociation. Volunteers choose to leave an organization for a variety of reasons: lack of time, life changes, etc. More often than not, the volunteer initiates the process of leaving the organizations. Sometimes, however, the organization needs to be the one to begin the process of letting a volunteer go.
Whatever the reason is that your organization and volunteer needs to part ways, there are positive ways to handle the process without creating hard feelings and animosity.
Know When It’s Time
If you have a good relationship with your volunteers, chances are you will know when it is time to part ways with a volunteer. There is a nuance to knowing when it is time to end a relationship with a volunteer: waiting too long will only create a more negative environment and a better chance at a unfavorable situation for you, your volunteers, and those caught in the crossfire.
Keeping open communication and investing time in your volunteers will help you know and pick up on the issues faster. A volunteer that is not working out or creating issues will fly under the radar far longer if you or other staff members aren’t regularly engaged.
Use Your Safeguard
Hypothetically, you already have a volunteer policies and procedures manual in place. Have this resource available use it as a reference when it is time to part ways with a volunteer. Expectations and guidelines that are in writing (and even better if they have signed an agreement!) ensure that you have a solid foundation when addressing any issues you have with your volunteer. It takes the pressure off of you and your organization and places the responsibility with the volunteer. This will hopefully create a less personal, more professional and courteous environment.
If there ends up being a larger issue with the volunteer, such as laws broken or ethical issues, having a volunteer policies and procedures is an important way to protect your organization and your staff as well.
(If you do not already have an official volunteer policies and procedures in place, check out our blog post here)
Having The Conversation
Figure out the best time to approach your volunteer. Most of the time, that means setting up a meeting in advance. We don’t suggest meeting directly after they volunteer for your organization, as this situation is more likely to cause negative feelings. Set up a time outside of their normal volunteer schedule if possible.
Decide ahead of time who all will be present when meeting with your volunteer. Depending on the situation, more staff may need to be present than just the volunteer liaison (whoever manages volunteers in your organization). For example, the Executive Director or Board Chair may need to be present, depending on the severity of the issue.
More often than not, a one-on-one or private discussion will be the best environment to discuss something so delicate. Try to make sure other volunteers are not around and you are in a place that is not noisy or distracting. Whether that means meeting in your office space or out for coffee, that part is up to you and depends on the relationship you have with them.
Give them a head’s up that this will be an important discussion- no one wants to be “blind-sided.” You do not need to give them a full rundown of what is going to be discussed, but make sure they know enough that they will not be surprised that it a serious conversation.
Make it personal- in the right way. It should be personal in the fact that you want them to know that you care about the work they have done for your organization and that they have a value. What you do NOT want is to make it a personal attack. Keep the comments professional and only cover facts and tangible evidence. Avoid hearsay, vague and nebulous topics, and subjective areas (including personality and/or relationships with other volunteer/staff).
And please, make sure to document your meeting with the volunteer. Make notes of what happened, how the conversation went, next steps, etc.
We hope this article helps you navigate this experience! We know that it is never easy to part ways with a volunteer, but it is possible to do it in a positive way that maintains goodwill with your volunteer and throughout your organization.