“My volunteers like to do things their own way”

Best practice questions answered by Evelyn Rodrigues, VCTH Training and Best Practice Manager.

Q: A few of my volunteers like to do things their own way and don’t always follow the organisation’s procedures or sometimes exceed the boundaries of their role. I feel uncomfortable addressing the issues with them because they are donating their time and they are lovely! How can I deal with these situations effectively without upsetting the volunteers?

A: Great question! There are lots of things you can do to address this issue and prevent it from happening in the future. Have a written role description for all your volunteer roles, so that volunteers and staff are all clear on the tasks and boundaries. Go through it with volunteers during their induction to make sure that expectations are clear from the start. Some aspects of the role might be flexed to suit individual volunteers, but other aspects might be mandatory, so emphasise these. Have regular supervision sessions or catch-ups with volunteers to pick up any issues at an early stage before they become habitual. Written policies and procedures can also be very helpful. Referring to these documents helps to de-personalise the issue, as they apply to all volunteers. You could hold a refresher session for groups of volunteers, to get group commitment to and understanding of your procedures. The ‘why’ is important, as people are more likely to follow procedures if they understand the reasons why they are necessary.

Be prepared to offer additional support and training if a volunteer is struggling with an aspect of their role. Maintain good communication with volunteers and, if possible, get to know them as individuals – this makes having a difficult conversation easier. Prepare well for the conversation, thinking about the evidence of their actions and of potential solutions. Listen to the volunteer and try to understand their point of view and ask them for their ideas. Keep any criticism constructive and always sandwich it with positive feedback. If you need further support with dealing with difficult situations with volunteers, please contact Evelyn at [email protected] .