During a time when "hiring" volunteers at an organization like AIChE is difficult, the question of firing a volunteer sent a deep quiet spell across the floor and the panel during the panel discussion on Volunteer Leadership at the 2010 Leadership Development Conference (LDC). This reminds me of an episode of
target="_blank">Seinfeldwhere Kramer is fired by his boss. Kramer says (at the end of the performance review?):"I don't even really work (for a pay) here." "That's what makes it so difficult," the boss says.
A young engineer posed a question to the panel, asking about encounters with some of the volunteers who slack on their job, making the task at hand a little more difficult. The panel, comprised of Doris Bush--the executive director of United Way of Greater Kingsport, Susan Laguardia--the executive director of Kingsport Tomorrow Inc, and Michael Paulonis--the manager of Six Sigma and statistics at Eastman Chemical Company, handled this question adeptly and their response is very useful to all volunteer organizations:
Leaders are Responsible for Managing Volunteers
Volunteers are self-motivated individuals and they align and associate themselves with the organization whose leadership vision matches their interest rather than just joining any organization. Volunteers commit their time and work hard in these organizations for a greater cause. One of the responsibilities of the leaders of these organizations is not to burn out these volunteers. The leaders should be outright open with the volunteers and should not understate the required commitment. They should constantly ensure that the workload is evenly spread out to different volunteers rather than loading one individual with multiple tasks. It is the task of the leader to confirm that the interest of the volunteers and their skill set are aligned and matched up with the tasks they are involved in.
There are instances when the volunteers may not be able to fulfill the agreed upon time commitment due to several reasons including the family situations. After all, volunteers are human beings. During those times either the leader of the organization or friends of the volunteers in the organization should talk to them one-on-one and discuss the situation.
If needed, the volunteer's task should be shared with others or assigned to others while he copes with his or her other personal or professional assignments. The volunteer should be reassigned to another task if there is a skills mismatch with respect to the current assignment. Or the volunteer could be offered a sabbatical if needed.
If the leader has not overworked the volunteer in the first place, the one-one-one discussion with the slacking volunteer during the tough times will generate better ideas and approaches to channel the spirit of the volunteer and keep the momentum going for the team or project. By this approach, after all, we may not lose a valuable volunteer to our organization.