Handling Tricky Volunteers

Let’s be honest, some volunteers aren’t the best fit for your organization. Did a new volunteer just say a profanity at or near a guest? Do you have a volunteer who opted to play on his phone for an hour instead of setting up the merch table?

Poor performance isn’t always grounds for firing; so we’ve put together a handy guide for how to deal with the not so helpful volunteer.

The Easy One

If a volunteer does something so terribly inappropriate that your mouth falls open when you find out… it’s definitely fair to let them go. If more than a few volunteers or attendees report that they can’t work with a certain person… it’s decision time again! Use your best judgment, but if you’re floored by a volunteer’s behavior and they’re a risk or detriment to your event, just get let them go. It’s tough, but warranted.

It’s Not You, It’s Me

While volunteer coordinators may be the smartest people we know (we’re biased), they’re not mind readers.

You may have not foreseen a certain characteristic or (lack of) skill in a volunteer that would become problematic in their volunteer role later. How could you have known? There is nothing wrong with admitting you put someone in the improper spot. Just find a new position that is a better fit for them! This will make your volunteer feel more fulfilled and your team work more efficiently.

Walk it Off

What may be an easy two hours of standing for one person could be an agonizing lifetime without a snack break for another. Pay attention to when your volunteers might not be faring well and know when it’s time to offer them a break. Maybe that cranky volunteer at the check-in table is just hungry or struggling through a sugar drop.

Overall, we usually suggest avoiding firing a volunteer unless they have done something truly unacceptable. At the end of the day, volunteers are there to support your cause. They have a variety of strengths and skills, and they may shine better in certain areas than others. Nurture open, honest communication with your volunteers and put yourself in their shoes from time to time. Where would they be most comfortable, confident, and pleased? That might just be the perfect spot for them.

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Volunteer Coordinators: Identify Your Strengths!

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Some of us have a natural knack for numbers, words, or remembering obscure fun facts. It is no different for volunteer coordinators!

You could be a rock star at finding locations, or perhaps networking to recruit volunteers. The trick is to find your strengths and leverage what comes naturally for you. Take our quiz and see what are your top strengths! 

  1. On a wintery Saturday night, where are you most likely to be? 
    1. On a couch staying warm! I might invite a couple friends to watch our favorite show together.
    2. Planning my next vacation somewhere warm!
    3. Hosting a murder mystery night! 
    4. Bundled up, trekking around downtown for a fun night out. 
    5. Usually having dinner or coffee with a friend you haven’t spent much time with recently. 
  2. You are in your element the most when: 
    1. You are called on to do something you didn’t really want to do. The sense of duty brings out your best qualities. 
    2. You have plenty of time to plan for whatever is being thrown at you. 
    3. Everyone else is at a loss as to what to do. You can take charge and give directions 
    4. Flying by the seat of your pants. Whatever happens you can figure it out. 
    5. When there is too much to do in one day. You make sure the most important things get done. 
  3. Your favorite outfit could be described as:
    1. Stylish and expressive
    2. Practical 
    3. Business casual
    4. Simple. 
    5. Well-coordinated, most of your closet goes well together.
  4. Your favorite house hold chore is: 
    1. Cooking
    2. Dishes
    3. Vacuuming 
    4. Mowing the lawn 
    5. Laundry 
  5. Your biggest pet peeve is: 
    1. When people say “pet peeve”. 
    2. Dishes in the sink when the dish washer is dirty and not full.
    3. When people look at their phone when you are talking to them. 
    4. When people say they can’t do something, but really mean they won’t.
    5. When people are late.
  6. What is your favorite part of coordinating an event? 
    1.  Working with all the volunteers and coordinating their shifts. 
    2. All the planning to get your site up and running to make sure it is easy for volunteers to sign up.
    3. Having a list of what needs to be done and making sure someone is doing it. 
    4. Making decisions and changing anything last minute to make sure your event is running smoothly. 
    5. Working out a schedule before the event and accounting for all the multitasking you and your volunteers will need to do. 

Mostly 1’s – Communication skills 

You are a people-person that has a knack for getting your point across without rubbing anyone the wrong way! Though occasionally you have to make some people unhappy, they don’t resent you for it. You are able to listen and understand almost any view point. This can make it tricky to be decisive sometimes, but you always seem to make the right choice. If only it could be a little faster. 

Mostly 2’s – Organization 

Spread sheets, color coding, you are ready for some serious planning! You have thought of EVERYTHING, and you have back up plans for your back up plans. It’s not all about being prepared – although that’s most of it. It’s more about avoiding unnecessary work. If you get it all organized and right the first time, you’ll have less work next time, so you probably have some of that time management sauce too. 

Mostly 3’s – Delegation 

You have learned that you can’t be everywhere at once and have become a master and delegating. It takes a lot of trust in your volunteers to know they will handle each task well. It also takes a lot of security because you relinquish a lot of control. Good job for harnessing the ability to relax and not micromanage. Communication is also key, so you’ve probably got a bit of a knack for that as well. 

Mostly 4’s – Adaptability 

You are the kind of person one may describe as unflappable. Running low on water? Or pens? Or someone not show up for a shift? You have the answer and make any situation work. Need a sign? 10 minutes later you have Macgyvered something no one else would have thought of. 

Mostly 5’s – Time management

Nothing bothers you more than wasted time. That doesn’t mean you don’t take a break. It just means when you are working on something, you are working hard and efficiently. Once you set yourself to a task you will finish it in one go, or nearly.  

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Risks of Under-Managed Volunteers

As a volunteer coordinator, you may wonder – does all of my hustle and effort amount to much? The short answer: absolutely! The longer answer: the success of your volunteer program depends on proper volunteer management.

Without strong volunteer management you face the following risks: 

Volunteers don’t do their jobs – Plain and simple, if a volunteer isn’t clear about the task at hand or isn’t given direction, they can’t best perform their assigned tasks. That might trigger a chain reaction of loose ends, participants/patrons not getting what they are promised, and staff running around trying to fill in the gaps.

Poor representation of the organization – If volunteers don’t know what they’re doing, it will show. Instead of fulfilling their volunteer role without a hitch as hoped, they might instead make things more confusing and frustrate attendees. Your volunteers and their interactions with guests, participants, and patrons reflect on your organization – for better or worse.

Lack of volunteer retention – When a volunteer feels mismanaged or like they are wasting their time, they won’t come back. What’s worse, they might discourage their peers from volunteering in the future as well. You might find yourself spending more time recruiting new volunteers than strengthening and empowering your existing volunteer base.

Unhappy boss – If volunteers aren’t being managed properly, it is likely going to come back to you in one way or another. If you feel overwhelmed by the amount you have on your plate, make sure you equip yourself with the right tools to lighten the load (VolunteerLocal has your back!) and communicate with the right people to get the support you need along the way. 

Reflecting on this list, it is clear that there are many consequences of under-managed volunteers. This is one of many reasons why your role as a volunteer coordinator matters greatly! Your ability to lead, organize, and manage your volunteer program is what will keep everything running smoothly.

Get ahead of these potential problems by creating a plan of action for each new volunteer that joins the team. Identify their training process and their daily responsibilities. Schedule check-ins, and give volunteers proper resources to excel at their responsibilities. Finally, if a volunteer leaves the program unexpectedly, reach out with care and compassion to learn how the program could be improved. With these strategies (and your own special magic), volunteers will feel well managed, fulfilled, and happy to return each day.

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3 Principles of Volunteering

When someone volunteers with your organization, there are a number of things that happen. As the volunteer coordinator, you log valuable volunteer hours. The volunteer potentially fulfills some of their own personal goals and motivations. And finally, your organization is strengthened by the volunteer’s service, excitement, and energy.

There are three basic principles at play when a new volunteer joins the team. Knowing these principles allows you to leverage and utilize them in meaningful ways. 


When a volunteer joins your team, they receive the benefit of being affiliated with your organization. Maybe they plan on including it on their resume as a demonstration of community involvement. Or, perhaps, it is an opportunity to further collaborate with similar causes (such as other music festivals or 5Ks).

Help your volunteers understand the meaning of such an affiliation. If you are comfortable with it, you might even consider offering to serve as a resume reference. This will boost a feeling of affiliation, pride, and purpose in their volunteer work.


Some volunteers get excited to receive goody bags or free swag. Whether it is a pizza party, a collectible sticker to add to their collection, or a set of free tickets – identify which incentives matter most to your volunteers. Keep in mind – where there is swag, there is spending. Be sure to include any new incentives in your budget. (No budget? Reach out to corporate sponsors!)

There are often upsides to this type of spending. Beyond motivating and celebrating your volunteers, incentives can also serve as a new marketing strategy and/or a way to strengthen the feeling volunteer community.

Let’s take the example of t-shirts. Free t-shirts usually come with the organization’s logo, front and center. When the volunteer wears the shirt in public, they are showing support for the organization. Building on this idea, you could encourage volunteers to wear those t-shirts to all of your major events. A volunteering “uniform” will help your volunteers stand out in the crowd and feel proud of their role in the team.


Some volunteers appreciate (and deserve!) a show of gratitude to keep them motivated. There are many ways to acknowledge the work that your volunteers have done. Get creative! Here are some ideas to get you started…

  • Give your volunteers a special volunteer “status” if they have been volunteering with you a certain number of hours or years. Perks of that status might include: inviting them to participate in more important and exciting roles, gathering their input on leadership-level volunteer program decisions.
  • Hold an event in appreciation of your volunteers. A banquet or a summer field day might just do the trick! Check in with your volunteers to see if this would be exciting for them.
  • Include their name on the list of key volunteers or giving them a special thanks when they arrive and leave every day. Little gestures like this can make all the difference to your volunteers.

All three elements – affiliation, incentives, and recognition – are at play when a new volunteer joins your team. How will you help your volunteers leverage their affiliation for their benefit? How will you continue to encourage and motivate your volunteers with incentives? How will you recognize the work and impact of your volunteer team? With a bit of planning (and sometimes some extra funds), you and your volunteer team can feel fulfilled and motivated each day.

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Telling Your Volunteers’ Stories

Volunteers crave community, and they want to share their experiences. We’re all for creating a community among volunteers – it helps with retention and just makes everyone feel a little more welcome. One of our favorite ways to get out volunteer stories is with a simple interview published on your website, blog or printed in your newsletter. It will make them feel like they’re an important part of your organization, and it will help to showcase your organization’s mission at the same time.

While an organic conversation with a volunteer will lead to the most interesting interview, we also understand that volunteer coordinators don’t always have that much time on their hands. To save time and streamline your interview process, we always suggest a list of simple, go-to questions for your volunteers. A mix of fun personal questions as well as questions pertaining specifically to their volunteer life is a great way to give your team a glimpse into the people they work with.

Below are some of our go-to questions for volunteers, but personalizing them to your volunteer and organization will always lead to a more interesting interview.

1)     How long have you been a volunteer?

2)     Why did you begin volunteering with our organization?

3)     What part of our mission statement do you identify with the most?

4)     What’s your favorite way to volunteer with our organization?

5)     When you’re not volunteering with us, what are you most likely to be doing?

So there you have it, a simple list of questions to get the conversation going with your volunteers. Keep interviews brief and interesting to give your volunteers just a glimpse into the people who make up your team.

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Creating a Great Mission Statement

Your mission statement is the written vision of your organization. A solid statement can tell volunteers what you do and why you do it. A not-so-great mission statement can be a convoluted paragraph of cliches that don’t actually explain anything. When writing out your statement, we think it’s best to follow this simple checklist. 

Why Do You Do It?

Every mission statement should start with the why of your organization. What in the world lead to its creation? Maybe you wanted to bring running enthusiasts together, get good music to the masses or raise awareness around a certain cause. There’s always a reason for your group’s being and understanding it will inspire and empower volunteers. 

How Do You Do It?

This is where you start luring in the type of volunteers you want. If you need energetic people ready to get out there and spread the word of your cause, be sure to mention the boots-on-the-ground mentality that drives your outreach. If you’re looking for people with connections to help grow your group, point out that you strive to find ways for professionals to give back to their communities. Don’t hesitate to directly reference the kind of people who make your volunteer base what it is. 

Whatever It Is You Do, Do You

There’s no need to fall into the trap of sounding like a mission statement. Keep things in your own words to truly get the sound and feeling of your team across. Volunteers aren’t looking for a tailored blurb, they’re looking for an honest representation of your mission. 

Of all of these tips, perhaps the greatest to remember is to keep it short. Your statement should be a quick and easy way to get an understanding of how and why your organization exists. Lay out your philosophy, how and why you make change, and what kind of people you need to help you make it. 

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For the Love of Snail Mail

Over the years, advances in technology have distanced many of us from regular engagement with the postal service. These days, you can email, text, call, or even video chat without delay. Although physical mail has seen a decline in day-to-day use, that doesn’t make is useless. There are certain situations in which snail mail provides benefits that internet-supported communication just can’t beat.

  • Accessibility: Not all volunteers have reliable access to phones or emails. Sending physical mail is one way to ensure your message reaches far and wide. Getting ready to announce a big event? Recruit even more volunteers with a mailed invitation!
  • Appreciation: As a volunteer coordinator, it is important that your volunteers know how sincerely you appreciate them. There is something special about receiving mail – don’t you think? In the age of convenience, a mailed card shows you put more time, care, and planning into your thank-you note. Or, perhaps you would like to send your volunteers thank-you gifts! Whether you are sending cards or swag, the postal service can help you show your gratitude.
  • Signatures, Documents & Payments: Usually, digital solutions will do the trick. (In case you’re wondering, VolunteerLocal supports digital signatures, document uploads, and payment processing!) However, some organizations and communities are still warming to the idea and prefer to rely on printed documents for their records. Others don’t have access to the printers and scanners needed to send/receive these items. At the end of the day, it’s nice to know you can always count on good ol’ mail as a backup plan.

As a tech company, we see technology as a tool to solve daily challenges – including, of course, the challenges of volunteer coordinating! However, we would be remiss to show some love for good old fashioned snail mail, when it has a number of unique benefits of its own.

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Volunteer Retention: How to Keep Your Volunteers Coming Back

A positive volunteering experience can lead to a life-long relationship with an organization. How can you make sure your superstar volunteers stay engaged, year after year?

Show Genuine Appreciation

Their work matters! Show you care.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best. A short “thank you” email will let your volunteers know they are appreciated. It only takes a few minutes, and it is an easy way to acknowledge what their help means to you and your organization. (You might even try upping your show of gratitude with a handwritten note for volunteers who went above and beyond!)

Track Contributions

Volunteering for a few hours a month might not seem like much, but over the course of a year it really adds up. Show how much you value your volunteers’ time by tracking volunteer hours and celebrating grand totals at the end of the year. Speaking of…

Celebrate Together

After months of hard work, everyone needs to blow off some steam and reflect on new accomplishments. There are lots of ways to celebrate!

For example, consider hosting a party or gathering to let volunteers mingle and have a little fun. If you have an annual event for donors, consider inviting volunteers, too. They may not have contributed monetary donations, but they did donate their time.

Cultivate Community

Volunteers don’t only have a relationship with your organization; they often get to know other volunteers as well! Encourage a positive volunteering community by helping your volunteers get to know each other and, importantly, feel like they belong.

One way to do this is to come up with a fun name for your group of volunteers. Call them “Event Heros,” “Race Superstars,” “Triathlon Wizards,” or work out a fun pun based on your organization’s name. Anything you do to create a team atmosphere will strengthen the relationships among your volunteers and keep them eager to return.

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Six Fresh Ways to Jumpstart Volunteer Recruitment

Volunteer recruitment—it’s just one of those things that is never fully crossed off the list, right? When you’ve fulfilled your volunteer need for one event, the next project is right around the corner. It can be a bit relentless, but that’s when we work together! Sometimes freshening up your recruitment strategies is as easy as browsing a new list of ideas to boost your brainstorming.

1.  Make it Exclusive – Work the perks 

Enticing new volunteers or returning volunteers can be as simple as offering some perks! Not everyone has the budget to provide volunteer-only swag, but I bet there’s something you can give to your volunteers that is different than what’s available to the public. Are there certain hours you can give them exclusive access to your event or vouchers for a VIP area? Or are there some perks that you’ve used in the past that you can bring back?

2. Make it Competitive – Recruit-a-friend challenge

Play up your volunteers’ competitive sides while also letting them help you with you job! Set up a volunteer challenge that rewards volunteers who recruit others to volunteer with them. The more people you recruit, the better the prize! Plus friends who volunteer together tend to have more fun and are more likely to come back to help again. 

3. Make it Easy – Remove the barriers

Take a look at your volunteer sign up methods. Are you making it as easy as possible? Sometimes we overcomplicate things in the name of getting all the information we could ever need. But remember, volunteers may just quit filling out the form if we make it too difficult. VolunteerLocal has some great tools to help keep it simple!

And what about that website? Are you clearly presenting who you are? Keeping your online presence easy to read and simple to navigate helps people fully understand why their time is valuable to your organization and why your organization is valuable to them.

4. Make it Fun – Host some recruitment events

Build bridges to the local community by hosting some purely fun events! What fits best in your context?  A trivia night? Karaoke? 3-on-3 basketball? These simple events not only increase your brand awareness, but can also help you connect with potential volunteers you wouldn’t have found otherwise.

5. Make it Visible – Update those flyers

Brochures, posters, and press releases are essential tools for volunteer recruitment. How can you bump up their effectiveness? Think about updating the design or expanding your normal posting places. Keep a list of community organization that may welcome you as a guest speaker! Work all these avenues to get your volunteer need as visible as possible.

6. Make it Social – Social media can work for you

Find the best social media platforms for your goals! Creating a private Facebook group for your volunteers may help increase camaraderie. Instagram’s story feature may be the perfect avenue to increase behind-the-scenes excitement and get quick feedback. Think through your event and how to best connect to your people. There are so many tools out there. Make them work for you!

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