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Volunteers Behaving Badly (and how to handle it)

Volunteers Behaving Badly (and how to handle it)

We’ve all had one in our career: a volunteer who drives us batty.

They mean well, they are passionate about the cause, but they just don’t seem to get that you’re running a not-for-profit here and that you have other things to do than visit with volunteers, or learn the details of said volunteer’s “pet project.”

I am saying this with the utmost of respect for volunteers. The world is a better place because people contribute as volunteers. I can work with almost anyone. Truly I can.

Except when someone inhibits me from doing my job.

Then I must go into self-preservation mode.

Every volunteer wants to help. Not all volunteers know how to help.   ← Tweet this

Here are three techniques I have learned that have helped me keep my cool, and manage my temper with difficult volunteers.

    1. Set boundaries—These kinds of people will keep taking and taking. Be clear about what you are available to do, and what you cannot do. Don’t mince words. They are unlikely to take the hint, so just come out and say it.
    2.  Embrace the power of silence—It’s hard for someone to respond or react to silence. Give yourself lots of time to respond via email. There’s no rush. You’re not being rude, you’re just replying on your own time. Same goes for requests for meetings: delay, and be slow to respond to a time. If possible, fit the agenda to meet your needs by adding another person to the meeting. Find a way that the meeting is not a total time suck for you.
    3.  Give them a doggie bone—Ah the power of a doggie bone! This is a special project that your volunteer can lead, that is not important, but will make them feel important. Find something that they can dive into so they stay out of your space, but will still feel like they are contributing to the cause. Doggie bone projects come out of the “nice to have but not urgent” piles. This should give your volunteer some space to play, while staying out of your way.



Is there someone driving you nuts at work?

How can you contain their behavior to keep yourself sane and productive? Remember: you can’t control other people’s behaviours. You can only control how you react, and how you choose to show up at work every day.

Hint: this works for friends, family members and colleagues too. Don’t worry. I won’t tell!