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Navigating The Dismissal Of A Volunteer

Tammy Helfrich
Tammy Helfrich Thursday July 30, 2015
<? echo $type; ?> Navigating The Dismissal Of A Volunteer

I could never fire a volunteer!

Maybe you’ve heard yourself say these words. Maybe you work for a church or a nonprofit and your organization is dependent on volunteers. How could you ever fire one?

The reasons for needing to fire a volunteer vary. It may be because of a character issue that has surfaced. It may be that the person is not competent in their role. Or it may be that the chemistry between the volunteer and the organization is not right. Although the reasons may vary, firing a volunteer requires some thought and discussion, particularly if this has not been modeled well in the past in your organization.

Before we dive into suggestions, let’s consider what we sometimes miss leading up to having to fire a volunteer. In many ministries and organizations, volunteers are critical to the mission. If you are a church that is 90 percent volunteer staffed, then your volunteers are essential to your mission. Not only are they needed to help you drive the mission forward, they are also key elements of morale and moving toward the vision.

There are definitely steps you can take to avoid having to fire a volunteer. The first includes making sure you are having regular touch points with the volunteers and their leaders. Do you have a system in place to gain feedback and evaluate and share information on a regular basis? This is critical to making sure that issues are addressed quickly instead of allowing a small issue to turn into something much bigger.

Being intentional about giving volunteers options and allowing room to get to know each other and try out different areas works well for creating space to have ongoing conversations. Sometimes, we make assumptions about where volunteers may be a good fit because of our needs instead of what may bring out the best in that person. Make it a point to continually talk with volunteers and make sure they are still feeling the passion about what they are doing. If they’re not, work with them to try to help them find a better fit. You may consider not requiring long-term commitments at the start of a volunteer assignment. This helps people have time to evaluate and try out the role without feeling like they are stuck doing it for the next year.

Even if you have these healthy systems in place, there still may be a time when you need to fire a volunteer. How do you do it? The best answer is that you proceed carefully. Every effort should be made to make it a direct and grace-filled conversation. Here are some suggestions for a healthy scenario:

Schedule a private meeting. This is so important. Don’t discuss this over a text or email conversation. Schedule time to meet in person.

Be prepared. Be ready to talk about performance and the reasons for the discussion. Keep the conversation as healthy as possible, and don’t make it personal. Be prepared to work through all possible options for helping the person make a smooth transition. Many times, this might mean exploring alternative options or getting to the real reason this role is not a great fit.

Stay calm. This is not the time to bring drama or personal issues into the conversation. It is important to do everything you can to salvage the relationship and maintain the dignity and resources of the volunteer. I love what Carey Nieuwhof says about dealing with these difficult conversations. He says: “Affirm the person. Deal with the problem.”

Affirm and value the volunteer. Find ways to affirm the volunteer and let them know they are valued and appreciated. Even though this position is not a good fit, it does not mean that the relationship needs to be strained or end. Finding value and qualities to affirm usually helps in this situation.

Working with volunteers will require learning to have difficult conversations and will sometimes lead to having to fire a volunteer. But if you work to create an environment where you are continually opening the discussion, gaining feedback and working to find the best fit, it can make this process better.

Have you ever had to fire a volunteer? How do you handle this well in your organization?


Tammy Helfrich recently left an established career in the corporate world to follow her passion and invest in people. She loves to encourage, empower and connect people so they can live into who they were created to be. She is the Connections and Growth Director at The Orchard Community and is passionate about people and their stories. She hosts a podcast titled Right Where You Are, which encourages people to make a difference in the world right where they are now. You can connect with her on Twitter, Instagram and her website: www.TammyHelfrich.com.