Three Steps to Correcting Actions of Problem Volunteers
(Adapted from Handling Problem Volunteers by Steve McCurley and Sue Vineyard, Heritage Arts Publishing, 1998, pp. 22-23. Used with permission.)
There are many ways to intervene in working to redirect the energies of volunteers who are causing problems through disruptive or inappropriate behaviors. Here is a simple “three-meeting” approach to identifying and confronting problem behavior in volunteers:
1. Talk with the volunteer in private. Document the effects of their actions. Remind them of their commitment to the cause and the people it serves as well as the need for the program to function at the highest level of effectiveness.
Give them time to respond, telling why they chose the actions they did. Inquire about any circumstances that may not have been apparent to anyone but them. Avoid accusatory statements. Never "attack" them. Keep the focus on the actions and consequences. Take notes openly and move toward setting next steps for corrective action. Agree on a next meeting within a month to track their progress. Make sure your language assumes the positive resolution of the problem. Establish ways to measure new behavior and explain that not changing their actions will result in dismissal. End on a statement of confidence in their ability to become an even more valuable contributor to the program's goals. A process of this sort is especially effective in dealing with such minor, but annoying, performance problems as the volunteer who is constantly coming in late.
If in this first meeting, it becomes apparent that the volunteer simply wants "out," find a graceful way to allow them to move on to some other assignment or take a "sabbatical" from the program. If belligerence is their response, suggest they move on to some other community effort immediately. Keep control of the situation.
2. At a second meeting with those volunteers who say they are willing to work on correcting their actions, review goals agreed to in meeting one and document progress. If none has been made, ask why and what would help them move toward the adjustments needed. Recontract for specific changes in behavior by putting the new agreement in writing. Document specific problems and results and the consequence of dismissal. Copy the letter to a supervisor. Agree to meet in a very short time-possibly 10 days.
3. At the third meeting, applaud any success toward the agreed-on goals. If some of the goal has not been met, ask the reason why, state this as unacceptable and tell them they will be monitored for a week to insure all of the behavioral changes required are in place.
If none of the goals have been reached, remind them of the previously stated consequence of removal from their position. Thank them for their previous service if this is appropriate, write up your actions and allow them to leave. If there is a concern about retribution, have them sign a copy of the letter they received after the second meeting in which problems, required actions and consequences were spelled out. (Progress notes would have been added in this third meeting that document the non-compliance.) If they refuse to sign it to acknowledge their understanding of the issues raised, call in a witness to attest to this refusal.
Confronting problem behavior in volunteers can be an uncomfortable and difficult task. This three-step method will give volunteer managers a fair but professional model for successfully correcting or otherwise eliminating negative volunteer behavior.