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Dec 7, 2016 9:15:00 AM by InitLive

The Art of Dealing with Difficult Volunteers

Volunteer Management


While it's a fulfilling and generous use of time, volunteering still requires imperfect people who can get upset, have a bad days, and get overloaded and stressed (it's part of being human!). The tasks you assign can put a lot of additional pressure on your volunteers; both physical and emotional. So, while taking some responsibility for the well-being of your volunteers, how can you deal with a volunteer who's giving you a hard time - being difficult, hyper-critical, rude, or negative? How can you help prevent it, but also be prepared when it does?

Ensure you delegate appropriately
Don't set your event team up to fail. Set your volunteers up for success by creating qualifications for tasks that have important training requirements - i.e. don't allow someone to sign up for a certain task if they won't be qualified. Also remember to think about the intensity and workload behind each task - delegate an appropriate number of people to disperse the workload evenly.
What do you do if you find on event day that you've understaffed your volunteers at particular stations? Prepare for this by scheduling "floaters" - volunteers without a specific task who can lend a helping hand where needed. Quickly assign those floaters to your understaffed areas and communicate that help is on the way. Seamlessly achieve this with a volunteer management tool like InitLive.

Mitigate event-day stress through providing adequate training
Volunteers are, more often than not, amateurs in the field in which they are volunteering; as such, if they are expected to succeed, proper training must be in place. If the volunteer does not know what to do, or what is expected of him/her, frustration will develop.
Should one of your volunteers still struggle with their assigned tasks on event day, make sure you provide them with a way to communicate that to you or a supervisor so that they can receive assistance before becoming frustrated.

Show appreciation at all times
As is the case with a paid employee, volunteers want to be appreciated for the work they are performing. In some cases, the need for appreciation is greater because they are not being paid financially. Time should be taken to applaud the efforts of the volunteer (whether they're happy or upset), as well as to constantly encourage them to do more and find ways to improve. You never know what else may be happening in the lives of your volunteers, so remember - your appreciation and encouragement may go a long way.

Listen with patience
It's important to listen to a volunteer when they have a difficult time. Many volunteer tasks can be difficult from an emotional or physical standpoint, and mistakes can and will happen. Make a genuine effort to ensure a volunteers' complaints and issues are understood and taken care of, and, if you don't have time, put supervisors in place who can.

Be open to feedback
Create a safe medium for volunteers to provide ideas or feedback. A volunteer might have a plethora of experience, and with it comes new (and potentially better) approaches to various roles or assignments. In many instances, they are also directly immersed in the planning and/or execution of your event, so their perspective will provide you valuable insight.

Communicate quickly & effectively
Communication is the key ingredient to making sure you, your volunteers and your supervisors are on the same page. When people are panicked, upset or not feeling heard, negative emotions and poor decision making can happen. Be sure to use a communication tool from the very beginning to keep your volunteers in the loop - be it about their schedule or changes to the event. On event day, make sure you have a communication plan so that your volunteers can easily contact you or their supervisor. The less time it takes for issues to get addressed, the happier your volunteers will be.

While managing your volunteers, it's important to plan ahead as much as possible to prevent negative situations. But, when you're still faced with difficult volunteers, remember that being empathetic is the key as you work towards resolving the issue.  More often than not, your volunteers have a deep desire to help and with the right pieces in place, they'll be able to do just that.

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