Figuring Out When and How to Say “No Thanks” to a Volunteer

We love our volunteers and their willingness to contribute. Sure, we all have our days when everyone is driving us crazy or it just seems like it’d be easier if we did everything ourselves. But deep down, we know we couldn’t do what we do without volunteers!


But what about those volunteers who aren’t a great fit for your organization? Like new volunteers who don’t have the necessary experience? Or how about the volunteers that have been there forever but are bringing everyone down and holding people back? When is it time to deny a volunteer? How do you tactfully say, “no thanks”?


Consider and evaluate

First, be fair to yourself and your volunteer by evaluating what the situation is and if it’s possible to handle it. Do they need training or guidance from someone more experienced? Do they need to be reminded of volunteer expectations? Is there a way to talk with them about an issue or their attitude in a way that can solve the problem without having to ask them to leave? Is it not as bad as you think, and you’re simply having a bad day? Determine if there’s a way to resolve the issue or the reason they aren’t working well on the team. If there isn’t a way to do that, then proceed. Unfortunately, there will be volunteers whu just won’t work.


Identify and try to accommodate  

Make every effort to pinpoint what it is that doesn’t match up with your organization. For new volunteers, it might be as simple as having too many people apply for the same job. You don’t want extra people standing around looking bored at your event. If that’s the case, see if there are other opportunities for those volunteers in another area or with another event in the future. Or, maybe their application missed the deadline or their references did n’t check out. Let them know the volunteer requirements were not met and what it would take to get accepted at another point.


Maybe the volunteer didn’t have the skills you needed for the job you were looking to fill. If there are other ways they can still contribute, let them know what options may be a better match at this time. Offer up an area where you still need help, but be understanding if they choose not to participate in that way.  


If your reason for turning down a volunteer has more to do with them needing to take a break after years of work in order to give others the opportunity to serve and give a voice, make sure to do it with grace. Regardless of their situation, acknowledge the work they have contributed and how it helped get you to where you are today. Then, explain that your organization is now moving in another direction with new leadership. While you’d love their continued support, explain that this new direction requires full commitment and focus from the volunteers.  


Finally, if a volunteer acts in a way that goes against the mission of the organization or blatantly disregards the volunteer requirements, politely and privately ask the volunteer to step downl. Express gratitude for their service, but clarify how they have acted in a way that is not permitted on the volunteer team.


Thank and update

No one wants to be ghosted, so don’t just ignore the volunteer in hopes that they get the hint. Communicate clearly with volunteers and thank them for their interest and willingness to volunteer.


Regardless of the method, make sure this continues to come from a place of thanks, even if they aren’t the right fit. It’s flattering to be a sought-after organization and maybe at another point the fit will be right. If there will be more opportunities for them to volunteer in a different capacity or at a different time, let them know that you plan to contact them again in the future. And then follow through with that commitment. If this person is probably better off not returning, make a (private) note in their records, wish them well and again, thank them for their time or interest or willingness. Even if a volunteer is leaving on bad or uncomfortable terms, there’s probably at least one thing you can thank them for.

In the end, make sure your “no thanks” includes both “no” and “thanks.”



Samantha Gratton

Samantha is a staff writer at VolunteerLocal. She has experience coordinating events and loves chocolate.