Volunteer management, Management, Management & leadership

Volunteer management: Are volunteers difficult?

It is probably not their intent to be difficult. Just in the same way that you are not trying to be difficult with them. It’s all about how we perceive the situation.

Volunteer management – Difficult?

What?! I hear many of you cry? Difficult? We wouldn’t be without them! And when you reflect on the activities and impact of volunteers at your own charity or see figures such as the ones cited on http://volunteersweek.org/ you realise the massive contribution that volunteers make:

‘Over 21 million people volunteer in the UK at least once a year and this contributes an estimated £23.9bn to the UK economy.’

But within the same breath, many of you will also say that whilst you are grateful for your volunteers, they can sometimes be difficult!


But what is difficult?

For you it could be that a volunteer is not on board with recent changes in your charity and are refusing to follow the new way of doing things. Or it could be that a volunteer is so enthusiastic that they are doing more than what they are meant to be doing and are in fact getting involved with activities that they don’t have the authority to get involved in. Or it could be that the volunteer always turns up later than the agreed time. The reasons we see volunteers as sometimes being difficult are endless.

And do the volunteers find you difficult?! What? Of course not, what an absurd question? Or do they? Do they find you difficult when you ask them to do something? Or question their behaviour or their actions? Quite possibly.

It’s a matter of making the pieces fit together..

volunteer difficult

You have your reasons for acting in this way

You are doing your best to ensure that the volunteers are having the desired impact on your charity, that the beneficiaries are being served as they should be, that the volunteers are getting the best possible experience from their time with you. Isn’t it obvious that that is your main motivation and focus? The thing is, to you it is obvious, but it may not be to the volunteers. To them, you are just making it harder and more difficult for them to volunteer.

And in the same way the volunteer has their reasons for their perceived difficult behaviour and therefore I doing nothing wrong.

The person who isn’t on board with the new way of doing things may not really understand the new changes and why they are in place, or they may not feel equipped to do things in the new way, or, or, or … The person who is so enthusiastic that they are doing more than they are meant to may be so keen to support the charity that they will do anything and everything and may not be aware of the implications of some of their actions, or they might be bored and want a new challenge from their volunteering experience, or, or, or … The person who is always late may not realise the impact of their lack of punctuality on you and the organisation, or they may have been unrealistic about the time they could get to you in the first place or, or, or … again the reasons for the difficult behaviour are endless!


So the thing is, it is probably not their intent to be difficult. Just in the same way that you are not trying to be difficult with them. It’s all about how we perceive the situation. And when we keep that it mind, it becomes much less frustrating and much easier to manage.


So remember, we all have our reasons for our perceived difficult behaviour

Make sure you are clear in your communication to your volunteers to help them better understand you, your requests and why you may be seen as difficult. And take the time to encourage your volunteers to communicate with you. Understand why the volunteer is behaving the way that they are. Without this nugget of information you will find it very hard to solve the situation.


If you fancy exploring difficult conversations further, I am delivering a session on Dealing with Difficult Conversations Confidently at this year’s Volunteer Fairon Wednesday 22 June. We will be exploring expectations and boundaries you can set to help prevent difficult conversations from arising, barriers to having those difficult conversations from arising and how you can overcome them and tools and techniques to help you deal with those conversations confidently and get the outcome you want. Book workshops now from only £38.