When it is Time to Go… Exiting a Volunteer.

There are many reasons that your organisation may need to exit a volunteer. Perhaps they are no longer able to perform the role, cannot safely complete the required tasks, or are not aligned with the values or vision of the organisation. Exiting a volunteer is sometimes necessary, but not always an easy process...

One of the issues that volunteer co-ordinators struggle with at times is how to exit a volunteer who, for whatever reason, is no longer suitable for their role. A recent example was of a long term driving volunteer about whom safety concerns had been raised. There had been a few minor accidents and near misses. The volunteer clearly loved his role, and had been dedicated to the organisation for many years - and nobody wanted to have the inevitable conversation.

There are many other reasons why volunteers may need to be exited from their role, or from an organisation. Perhaps they can no longer perform the duties to the standard required, they do not observe boundaries, are burnt out, are disruptive to the team dynamic, their values do not align with those of the organisation or simply it may be time for them to move on or retire.

Whatever the reason, once you have identified that they are no longer effective in their role – it is time to take action. It is important to have the conversation sooner rather than later, particularly if there are safety concerns, or any factors that may negatively affect your organisation, team or clients.

There is no prescription for exiting a volunteer, every situation will be different, but there are certainly some considerations that are important.
If your volunteer is not meeting the requirements of the role, or is no longer able to, it may be useful to have the job description on hand for the discussion. This will help to focus on the requirements of the position or the organisation, and on the volunteer’s ability to perform the required tasks. It is important to stick to the facts, and to remember the purpose of the meeting.

If the volunteer is being exited as a result of behavioural issues, you may want to have on hand any policy, house rules, job description, contract or other document that outline the expectations of the organisation. Make sure you are familiar with these documents, and take note of any situations where you believe the volunteer has not adhered these rules. If you do not have these policies or documents in place – I strongly suggest that you do so, before you need them!

When having tough conversations such as these, starting with ‘I’ statements can be a useful non-threatening and non-blaming way to address your concerns e.g. ‘I have noticed…’, ‘I have become aware…’ or ‘I am concerned…’ It sounds a lot warmer than ‘You have done…’ Keep to the point, keep the volunteer at the centre of the discussion, and do not allow the conversations to become about any other person.

Although the volunteer may take your feedback or decision personally, do what you can to not make it personal, however you do need to acknowledge their feelings.

Sometimes you might find the volunteer is actually relieved to have this conversation. They may know that it is time to move on, but they perhaps didn’t want to resign/quit because they didn’t want to let you down.

Of course there are other options for exiting a volunteer from their role, not all of which mean losing the volunteer altogether:

Reassign – Consider whether there is another role or different responsibilities that are more suited. This may be within the same team or not depending on the fit and dynamic.

In many cases volunteers who have been with your team for some time can be a great resource to assist with the training and / or support of new volunteers, and may be flattered to be given that responsibility. For example, a volunteer driver who is no longer able to drive could be tasked to accompany new drivers on their run until the new volunteer is comfortable and confident on their own. Many driving roles require two volunteers, maybe the volunteer would consider moving into the non-driving role.

If however the volunteer, their behaviour or values, do not fit with your organisation, if they have become problematic or disruptive, moving them to another role may not be desirable, rather a short term solution to a bigger problem. They will need to be moved on.

Refer – Is there another role or organisation that the volunteer is better suited to? If you have a volunteer who just does not fit with your organisation or with the work you do, you may be able to help them identify a role that would be more suited. Acknowledge that they may not be suited to this role, and that you would like to help them find a volunteering opportunity that would be more fulfilling for them.

Alternatively you can refer them to your local Volunteer Centre – they will help the volunteer to identify the best possible volunteering opportunity to meet their needs, their skills, and any limitations. If there is no Volunteer Centre in your town, there may be a regional centre that has online volunteer recruitment.

Retire - Are you holding onto a volunteer where their role is no longer needed? Have changes to their circumstances, health or abilities impacted on their ability to carry out their duties? Might they potentially put your clients and/or organisation at risk? The time may have come for retirement and you will need to let them know that you no longer require their services.

It is always important, but particularly when ‘retiring’ a long term volunteer, to thank them and to acknowledge their service and their contribution to the organisation, to the clients, and to the community. Do what you can to preserve the volunteer’s dignity and self-worth as much as possible.
Unless you have reason for needing the volunteer to leave immediately, consider letting the volunteer determine the date they finish, within a defined time frame, giving them some control over the process. Eg, “could you think about a date within the next two months that you would like to have as your last day.” Give them the choice of how they would like to leave, some might like a farewell, but others may prefer not.

It is never easy to have an ‘exit’ conversation with someone. Understand the message that you need to convey before you deliver it, it pays to talk it through first, perhaps with your manager or an appropriate colleague. Be prepared, and be kind to yourself

Heather Moore - Tonic Magazine (Issue 24, November 2014-January 2015)



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