The Strauss Blog

Turning Around Frustrated Volunteers

Even for the best run associations, inevitably a bump in the road will appear, seemingly out of nowhere. A variety of things can pop-up to surprise or derail a successful association, and how these situations are handled by the Executive Director or Chair, is the sign of the association’s leadership strength.

Your association is looking for you to lead it out of the crisis.

Volunteer Dissatisfaction Can Destroy Associations

What do you do when a committee member comes forward and says “our committee is broken and needs to be fixed”? And what if they carbon copied a few other members on their email that details their opinion about a host of problems with other volunteers, staff, the board and more?

Surprisingly, this is more common than you might think, so it pays to be prepared with a simple formula for resolution – listen, take action and communicate.

1. Start With Active Listening

The first thing to do is to listen. When people are frustrated or annoyed, often the best remedy is to listen to them and make sure you are an active listener. Volunteer frustration often stems from a pursuit of what is best for the association or their profession. The good news is that out of this frustration can come solutions. Giving frustrated volunteers the time to meet in person, or over the phone, with the board leaders and senior staff creates a dialogue that can be very calming. Do whatever is possible to move the discussion of frustration from email to verbal conversations. The lack of subtleties in tone within email can be devastating when conflicts arise.

When meeting with a frustrated volunteer, frame your questions within these four categories:

  • What led up to this situation?
  • What do they think needs to change?
  • Are they willing to be a part of that change?
  • Who else do they think needs to be heard?

At the end of the day, as an association leader, listening to concerned volunteers, acting on their concerns and openly communicating with them can make all the difference.

2. Be Clear About What Action Will Take Place Next

Now that they have been heard, it is critical to let them know what action you are taking.

This may take a couple of steps, but let them know that. If a change requires board approval, let them know the timeline and keep them informed.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Frustration often comes from a lack of understanding as a result of poor communication, especially if the discussions result in a decision that no action will be taken (which is always a legitimate option on the table when making any organizational decision).

Communication alone will rarely fix any problem, but most problems cannot be fixed without clear communication.

Volunteer Dissatisfaction Can Strengthen Associations

By Listening, Acting and Communicating, Executive Directors and Chairs of associations can use volunteer dissatisfaction as the catalyst for improvement. The resolution of a problem often leads to greater strength for an association, not less, so address volunteer issues head-on as an opportunity for development.

We have written many other articles related to volunteers and you can find those at http://strauss.ca/?s=volunteer.