We all have them — volunteers who don’t show up for duty and don’t have the courtesy to let anyone know. I’m not talking about the extraneous emergency situation that can’t be anticipated. The type of person I am bringing up here is the person who, while they want to do good in their hearts, let you down when you really need them. They are repeat offenders, completely unreliable, nice, friendly, and a huge disappointment. They say “yes” with their mouths, and say “no” with their actions. Great suggestions, ideas and plans may pour forth from their mouths, but their action is what you truly need.
Now, before we go any further, please know that I am nowhere near an expert on the subject of volunteers. The lion’s share of what I have learned has come through a decade of trial-and-error. The remainder has come from reading articles and books on the topic.
What I have learned in my leadership is that people appreciate it when you make it easy for them to exit. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out when a volunteer has bitten off more than they can chew. A mutual parting of the ways can end up being beneficial for both you and the volunteer. Often I have found people who say “yes” to invitations to be on your board, be on a committee or to volunteer at an event merely because they are afraid to say “no” to you. They may like you personally or think you are doing good work. They might even be motivated by guilt. Whatever the motivation, if they are not making good on their commitments to you or your organization, it may be time to give them an easy way to save face.
Just today, I was recounting with a potential Board Member the story of a project several of my past Board Members had come up with. At a meeting, they had each accepted assignments to execute which would raise funds for our organization. After the meeting, they were each reminded of their duties via e-mails and other reminders. After 3 months, not one of them had completed their assignments, which left us in a bad position where fundraising was concerned. The heart of the problem was that there were individuals on our Board at that time who had way too many plates spinning personally and professionally. Some of them lacked passion for the mission. And still others had expectations of what it meant to be on our team that were not congruent with what the organizations expectations were. At that point, I had private conversations with some of them. An example of such a conversation might be, “Joe, I noticed that you haven’t been able to make a Board meeting in the past several months. I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable if you need to tell me that you have to step down for now.” Inevitably, people in such a position would sheepishly admit that they were looking for a way to exit, and would feel relieved that I offered them a way to easily step down guilt-free. Such a scenario would open the way to breathe new life into the organization and sign on a new volunteer who had the time and passion for the work.
This story isn’t merely descriptive of a situation involving a “working” Board. I have used this type of transitional conversation with a variety of people in volunteer positions. At one time, we had a volunteer who had much going on personally, and was completely unpredictable in her role of service. She continued to ask for added responsibility when should couldn’t even competently complete what she had already committed to. It quickly became apparent that I had to have a conversation that helped this person make a graceful exit from service. “I think this is really a tough time for you to be in this role right now,” I told her. I made every attempt to empathize with this volunteer and make it easy for her to save face. Unfortunately, she didn’t seize the opportunity and had a less-than opportune ending to the program she volunteered for.
Don’t get me wrong. Just because there are challenges with certain volunteers doesn’t mean that they need to be eliminated from your team. Invest in training or reassigning people who have a heart for what you are doing. People who show potential or desire can be worth far more than what you pour into them. What I am addressing here is the individual that Holy Spirit insight makes clear will not work out in their current role.
The bottom line is this. It is reasonable to have expectations of individuals who commit to volunteer for your ministry. If they are not able to make good on that commitment, then give them a comfortable way to part company with you. Who knows — They may be a potentially good addition to your volunteer team at a future date. But know when to “cut bait and leave”. The reputation of your ministry and the morale of your teams are deeply affected by the follow-through of your volunteers.
*Recommended reading: NECESSARY ENDINGS by Dr. Henry Cloud