Q. What advice do you have for handling difficult volunteers? You may think I’d be happy to have “too much help,” but I’ve found a few who want to take over, take control, and cannot take direction. It gets to the point that I don’t want that personality to volunteer at all, because even if I’m specific and match talents, they cannot stay within the scope. I can even easily give up “all the credit,” but how do I rein in “too much” help, even though I’m the recognized “boss” but everyone is a volunteer?
L. F., Watertown, MA
A. First step: does your organization have a volunteer policy that spells out volunteer rights and responsibilities? Such a policy gives you leverage to resolve the situation. It’s important that volunteers understand their role—and the limits of that role—in your organization.
In the future, make sure that projects assigned to this over-enthusiastic volunteer are specific and have clear-cut boundaries. Then, put it in writing. Although this can be extra work, you’ll have proof if the volunteer takes the project too far or assumes authority you haven’t granted. Summarize what’s been decided both verbally and in writing with a follow-up memo or e-mail. Then, if the volunteer goes beyond the scope of the project, use the memo to remind them of what was agreed to and to require them to explain their actions.
If the volunteer is he’s still being difficult, then you’ll have to have a heart-to-heart talk. Build a solid set of examples with documentation, if possible, and then lay out your concerns. Have a third person, preferably a paid administrator or supervisor, attend the meeting. Open the conversation with something like this: “John, I have to be honest and tell you that some of your actions are beyond the scope of what we’re asking you to do and even what we want to accomplish. While I value the experience and dedication you bring, it’s a problem we need to discuss and resolve.” If he’s still intransigent, you may have to let him know you won’t be calling on him in the future.