I’m trying something a bit different with this blog. Inspired by Josh Spector, I am sharing twenty quick one-sentence thoughts on dealing with problem behaviour by volunteers.

Ready? Let’s dive in.


  1. Let’s address the elephant in the room first: if the worst comes to the worst, you can fire a volunteer.
  2. Just because you can fire a volunteer, however, doesn’t mean that you should.
  3. Unless you are dealing with gross misconduct, firing a volunteer is rarely the first option you should explore.
  4. Your organisation probably doesn’t exist to give people an opportunity to volunteer — standards and impact matter more than one person.
  5. If you allow poor behaviour to go unchallenged, you are effectively saying you don’t care how volunteers behave.
  6. If you allow volunteers who are making no impact on the mission to go unchallenged, you are effectively saying you aren’t concerned about the contribution volunteers make.
  7. Showing you aren’t concerned about how volunteers behave, or the impact they make, fundamentally undermines the work of all volunteers, and makes it harder for you to influence others about the value of volunteering.
  8. You are dealing with problem behaviour, not a problem person.
  9. As soon as you think there is an issue, make sure you document everything relevant, so you have a clear record of the facts.
  10. Are the role and associated boundaries clear to the volunteer?
  11. Walk a mile in their shoes — what sits behind their actions and behaviours?
  12. Check and challenge your assumptions with a colleague or peer to ensure you aren’t being biased or discriminatory.
  13. Can the difficulties be solved by letting the volunteer take a break, change role, or choose to leave of their accord?
  14. Make sure you have a consistently applied policy and procedure for dealing with problem behaviour.
  15. When trying to resolve issues, always send a record of decisions and agreed actions in writing, so everyone knows what they will do next.
  16. When you do a fire a volunteer, be clear on why and make sure they understand the decision and what it means.
  17. When you do fire a volunteer, make sure senior management understand why so the volunteer can’t do an end-run around you to get reinstated.
  18. When you do have to fire a volunteer, use the situation as an opportunity to learn lessons, so you can improve your volunteer engagement work for the future.
  19. Don’t let the small but vocal minority of people who cause you concerns dominate your work, most of your volunteers are happy and doing good work.
  20. Always be willing to ask for help.

There is, of course, much more to be said on this topic than just twenty short sentences.

A good place to start is The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook.

You can also read this article I wrote for Third Sector magazine and read this guest post Martin J Cowling wrote for my blog.

Oh, and this BBC radio show from 2019 might be of interest too.

What would your advice be? Please share your tips for dealing with volunteer problem behaviour in the comments below.


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