Managing Volunteer Personalities

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Working with volunteer groups can be challenging. Understanding volunteers’ personalities can help you assign them to the right task at 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 complain excessively.

When you are dealing with volunteer groups, you are almost guaranteed to encounter clashing personalities. Just remember - opposite personalities can complement one another if they try to understand the other’s perspective. Treat every individual with dignity and respect.

  • Talk openly and professionally with your volunteer to try to mitigate the problem.
  • Consult with another staff person or volunteer leader who can troubleshoot with you on ways to resolve the problem.
  • Document any incidents immediately and contact a supervisor if you do not feel you can resolve the problem.
  • 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. The organization/school is responsible for managing the clients/students. You are responsible for managing the volunteers.

It is important to recognize and deal with challenging volunteers. You cannot just ignore the problem and expect it to go away. It will affect other volunteers and their experience, and may influence them negatively. Here are two ways you may deal with challenging volunteers:

  • 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 towards a solution, or if they just want to complain about the situation. If they want to offer their leadership – great – it may be just what was needed.
  • 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 the challenging volunteer will likely diffuse their complaints.

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 and the success of the project is threatened.

Lauren Reynolds

Points of Light

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