Is It OK To Fire Volunteers?

FiredIs it OK to fire volunteers? Yes. I believe that just like staff, volunteers must be held accountable – and accountability includes the potential for removing someone from a volunteer position. We should all give our best effort regardless of our employment status. However, before you fire a volunteer ask yourself the following question:

Am I asking my volunteers to do something I am not willing to do myself?

Often, your volunteers work full-time jobs. Why would you ask them to volunteer if you’re not going to lead by doing the same? I can almost feel the “hey, wait a minute…” coming, but hear my heart on this and consider the following:

  • As a church staff person responsible for volunteer positions, your main job is to prepare during the week so that the volunteers are able to serve with a low risk factor of being in a “hot seat” role.
  • In this way, your “job” is based on what you do, largely, during weekdays.
  • Of course, some staff must be on-site during weekends for additional hours from volunteers. These additional hours are part of your “job”, too, but if a volunteer is with you, your time should be in a volunteer capacity, too.
  • Sure, you have different authority and responsibility, but there’s a powerful example in teaching volunteers that you’re co-laboring with them.
  • Frankly, there are few roles that would absolutely require that your physical presence must be there every single week; most simply don’t bother to work themselves out of a job, assuming that weekend hours are simply “part of the job” – and they may well be for some…but certainly not for all.

All too often we unintentionally abuse volunteers because we expect them to serve, but we fail to serve them well.

We must put relationship first, establish boundaries, and reiterate the vision so that our volunteers know how much we value them, what we expect from them and what they can expect from us. Volunteers need to be told how much we value them for who they are more than we tell them how much we value what they do.

You should never remove volunteers because you haven’t taken the time to ensure personal relationship has been developed through your volunteer leaders. As leaders, we must pour into our volunteers and give them the love and care that they need. You don’t scale. There’s only one ‘you’ and a finite number of people you can meet with regularly. That’s why establishing levels of volunteer leadership is key.

Relationships don’t scale, but with more volunteer leaders comes the scalability of volunteer teams.

If, after taking these steps and loving on even the unlovely, you still have problematic volunteers then it’s time to ‘fire’ them. But watch out! Unlike in the corporate world, giving them the pink slip isn’t okay (relationships should be valued in secular work, too). Instead, work with them to find out where their gifts and their temperament can best be utilized in service to the local body and community. This is not the same as shoving a problematic person onto another ministry. Instead, it is an honest assessment to try and keep the person involved and serving. If necessary, provide counseling and a road map for recovery to help them become healthy.

Finally, if you’ve done everything above and just have a volunteer with a hard heart or a rebellious attitude, then it’s time to tell them they need to move on. Don’t let them sit and stew. If they can’t buy into the vision of the church, they need to find a church where they can submit and co-labor with the leadership. It’s better to remove these people than it is to let them poison the water in your vision well. Even then, walk them through the transition by valuing who they are and not what they can’t or won’t do.

Hurt people will hurt people. Healthy people help heal hurt people. Be a part of the solution, even when firing a volunteer is necessary.


1 Comment

  1. Absolutely it’s ok to fire volunteers (if firing is what it’s called).

    I’ve had to do this a couple of times when I was the chief usher at my church and it was never easy. However, the fact that each volunteer had signed a contract (it seemed a bit OTT at the time ..) made it easier when we could point out where they were letting the team down.

    However, much more than this is the personal willingness of each volunteer (and something I did with my pastor every year without fail) is to offer our volunteering in whatever role(s) we are in and to freely give it up if that was what he felt was best.

    Even though I had a contract, I took it that step further and effectively re-applied annually for my roles. Essentially I took the pain away from the pastor with himn knowing that each year he could end my service no questions asked.
    Stuart´s last blog post ..Budget Planning


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