The Dreaded Deed—How to Let Your Volunteers Down Easy

Letting go is never easy. When your first born leaves the nest for the first time, a friend moves miles away, or even when your favorite pair of jeans fades and acquires a hole. It’s hard to say goodbye.

But sometimes, the change is a necessity.

It’s especially difficult to say goodbye to somebody who doesn’t want to leave. But for the good of your nonprofit organization, it’s time to let go of the volunteers who are holding you back. It won’t be easy, but you’ve got to keep your organization’s mission at the forefront of your mind. Try everything you can to keep the volunteer in some aspect or another. Give them the opportunity to change. But if it all fails, it’s time to take action.

Use these tips to help ease the pain of saying sayonara to the volunteers who are costing more than they’re helping.

Calm Before the Storm

Your volunteer was ecstatic about getting a project started and to work with your organization. And let’s be honest, you were looking forward to the help. But after days of trying to make things work it just wasn’t worth it.

Ask yourself—have you tried everything in your power to make things work in one capacity or another? If so, you’ve likely tried to train them again, reassign them or revive their energy. Maybe they aren’t clear on the material they learned, the assignment wasn’t a good fit or they just need to take a break. But once those strategies are exhausted, the calm before the storm is over. It’s time to take action.

Make a List, Check it Twice

You could sing the praises of your volunteer from the top of a mountain. But at the end of the day, no compliment can disguise the fact that you’re letting them go. So make sure you go into the conversation prepared. Put together a list of the reasons the volunteer isn’t a match for your organization. It’s hard to argue with facts when they’re presented in clear and concise fashion.

If you’ve had complaints from other volunteers or people that the volunteer has interacted with, write them down and present the facts. If not, there will be no way to combat the volunteer’s defensive stance. It may be helpful to enlist another organization member to come into the meeting so that you can stand firm on the decision.

If the volunteer simply didn’t fit the mold for your organization, but could possibly fit with another organization, give them a recommendation. However, if they acted inappropriately for any volunteer position, don’t offer any sort of recommendation—even if prompted. It’s easy to cave under the pressure when you already feel bad for letting them go, but you’ll regret the decision to recommend them after they leave your office.

Also, be sure you make arrangements for all of your organization’s property to be returned. If the volunteer was in charge of important tasks at your nonprofit, it’s important to gain back control of the documents and files that the volunteer has. If you’ve properly parted ways, the volunteer should be cooperative.

How has your organization handled letting go of volunteers?


Lyndsey Hrabik

Lyndsey is a former editor for Nonprofit Hub and Nonprofit Hub Magazine. She now serves as a guest contributor, writing on topics such as social media, technology, marketing and starting a nonprofit.

February 28, 2013

You May Also Enjoy

Two professionals shake hands, representing a business and nonprofit partnership
Sponsorship v. Donations: The Drawbacks and Benefits

Sponsorship v. Donations: The Drawbacks and Benefits

Needing money is a common denominator among all nonprofits. We may do different things, serve different causes, or even operate in different areas of the world. However, we all need funds. Two of the tried-and-true methods for raising dough, sponsorships, and charitable donations, can cause a lot of confusion. Here’s your guide to keeping them straight and also maximizing their ability to support your mission.

Become a Member

Whether you’re with a large team or a solo entrepreneur looking to start the next great cause, we have a membership package that will help you grow your network and your cause.