7 Tips for Managing Volunteers

Dec 2, 2022

Volunteering is often painted as a rosy prospect — you don’t typically hear people acknowledge the challenges that can come along with bringing a variety of personalities together. The truth is, managing volunteers can involve managing conflict resolution and people with different perspectives. Understanding who your volunteers are can help you assign them to the right task on the project so they can have the best chance of personal success and compatibility with you and other volunteers. Some volunteers want to lead, some want to socialize, some pay attention to details, and others are compassionate and dependable. 

You may also encounter volunteers who are headstrong, who aren’t actively involved or who might complain excessively. When dealing with volunteer groups, you are almost guaranteed to encounter clashing personalities at some point. Just remember to treat every individual with dignity and respect, and use these tactics to help navigate any problems that come up.

4 Tips for Conflict-Resolution When Managing Volunteers 

When dealing with conflict from or between volunteers, here are some quick strategies to manage the issue effectively.

  1. Talk openly and professionally with your volunteer to try to mitigate the problem.
  2. Consult with another staff person or volunteer leader who can troubleshoot with you on ways to resolve the problem.
  3. Document any incidents immediately, and contact a supervisor if you do not feel you can resolve the problem. 
  4. If the project is taking place at a partner organization or school and a client/student of that partner organization is causing the problem, consult with the organization/school contact immediately. Keep in mind that the organization/school is responsible for managing the clients/students. You are responsible for managing the volunteers.

3 Ways to Manage Challenging Volunteers

It is important to recognize and know how to deal with challenging volunteers. You can’t simply ignore the problem and expect it to go away. If you do, the circumstances may affect other volunteers and their experience, and may influence them negatively. 

Here are three ways you can deal with challenging volunteers:

  1. Ask them to play a leadership role in solving the problem. Doing so allows you to determine whether or not the challenging volunteer is willing to step up and help lead everyone toward a solution, or if they just want to complain about the situation. 
  2. Assign them to a volunteer “partner” to help address their specific issue(s). If they don’t want to help resolve the situation, assigning a volunteer partner to work with them may be the next best strategy for controlling an otherwise negative influence on the project. The one-on-one attention that an assigned volunteer partner (who has been fully briefed by the project leader) can offer a challenging volunteer will likely diffuse their complaints.
  3. In very rare instances, it is necessary to ask a volunteer to leave if their behavior is too disruptive or inappropriate. This should be a last resort and only used when no other strategies are proving effective or the success of the project is threatened.

If you’re a volunteer coordinator or leader at your organization, remember that managing volunteers – even the challenging ones – can be done with the right leadership and techniques. If you approach a challenging situation like a puzzle, you can begin to find ways to show your volunteers how opposite personalities can complement each other if they try to understand the other’s perspective.

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