Firing a Volunteer

You’re a nonprofit.  You survive almost entirely off the blood, sweat, and tears of volunteers.  Your volunteer base is what keeps you afloat.  They are your strongest promoters, they are adored by your customer, and let’s face it, in a lot of ways they are essentially free labor.  But the truth is, some of them suck. 

I have had volunteers tell me, “you can’t fire me, I’m a volunteer.”  I have had volunteers threaten to quit, in an attempt to get me to beg them to stay.  I have even heard a volunteer tell a staff member, “You can’t do this without me, I’m essentially your boss.”

In 2013, I began assisting a nonprofit with volunteer release.  In a five month period, we released or assisted in the resignation of nine volunteers.  They took some of their friends and allies with them, and we took a hit in volunteer retention.  But a funny thing happened, morale went up with other volunteers.  The following year, adult retention went up.  And again the following year.  And again after that.  Almost 7% in since I released that first volunteer.  Today, an organization with almost 6,500 volunteers, is retaining 73% of them!  The improved volunteer retention also improved client retention.

Sometimes a difficult volunteer is more than a thorn in your side.  Sometimes they are holding back the organization.  And if that’s the case at your organization, maybe it’s time to get serious about having some difficult conversations.  

Matt Matthews