Volunteer Exits

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On occasions there comes a point at which the relationship between volunteer and organisation cannot continue. This may happen at any stage - during the recruitment and selection process, during training or even after the volunteer has started or has been volunteering for some time. Broad good practice principles apply regardless of when this happens. The aim of this article is to look at the issues associated with releasing volunteers, to introduce the term 'counselling out', what it means, the reasons for it and suggest appropriate approaches to use.

‘Counselling out', what is it?

There is some debate as to whether or not 'counselling' is the most appropriate word to use. However, as counselling is a process often defined as 'to help others help themselves', it would seem to be a legitimate term. In other words, 'counselling out' may be seen as enabling a volunteer to see that it is not appropriate for them to do, or continue to do, voluntary work within a particular setting. Whatever, it is a procedure that needs to be carried out tactfully and with sensitivity - it is NOT just a case of ‘getting rid of’ or ‘finishing’ a volunteer. With this in mind, it is important for organisations to have 'counselling out' procedures within their volunteer policy.

How is the decision made?

There can be several reasons for volunteers being asked to leave, or not being accepted to, an organisation. These may include:

  • Not meeting the criteria as set out in role descriptions.
  • Inappropriate behaviour (e.g. violence, disruptive behaviour etc.).
  • Continued absence or unreliability.
  • Refusing to attend training.
  • Refusing to give suitable references, disclose past convictions, etc.
  • Certain convictions (e.g. they are barred from working with a particular client group).
  • Knowingly giving false information.
  • Expressing views and attitudes, which are racist, homophobic, sexist, etc.
  • Refusing to accept and adopt the 'ethos' of the organisation.
  • A 'gut reaction' of the person recruiting -a very difficult one to define or justify!
  • Self-selection (or deselecting), for whatever reason(s), by the volunteer themselves.

It is important to remember that whatever the reason for not continuing to work with a volunteer, organisations should endeavour to involve the individual in the decision-making process as much as possible.

How to address the situation?

Talking - Many misunderstandings can be resolved through talking and listening! Sometimes simply going through the role description with an individual in detail can be enough to help them identify that they may not be suitable for that role. It is important to be clear and honest with an individual why you do not think that they are suitable for a particular role. Remember they may feel rejected so it’s important to help them understand why the role isn’t for them.

Training - this may enable someone to develop in order to become more skilled and knowledgeable, and thus more suitable, to do the job. Equally, it can help people understand that they are not suited to a role – or equally let you understand that an individual is not suited to a role.

Offering alternatives - there could be one or several reasons why a volunteer is deemed unsuitable for a specific role. Yet, given the opportunity, the same volunteer may prove valuable at achieving other tasks. Attempts should be made to offer volunteers alternative opportunities. Further training may be needed but investing the time and effort will, hopefully, bring rewards. If no alternative roles can be found, the least that can be done is to refer the volunteer. This could be another voluntary organisation that is deemed more suitable or your local Volunteer Centre where a prospective volunteer could look at a much wider range of opportunities or be offered specialist support.

Which other issues need to be considered?

Complaints procedures - ideally as part of their volunteer policy, volunteers should have access to the organisation's 'Complaints Procedure'.

Personal issues - the person responsible for asking a volunteer to leave should do so in a straightforward but sensitive manner. The reasons may well be 'clear cut' but a volunteer still needs to understand them and also have something positive to take with them. Often this can be onward referral to your local Volunteer Centre for additional support.

Sharing information - there may be instances where an organisation obtains information on a person which they feel needs to be shared with others. For example, there may have been a complaint made against a volunteer by a client. This has been investigated, substantiated and the volunteer asked to leave. It may be appropriate to share this information with certain other organisations, despite the issues raised regarding confidentiality and prejudice. Yes, this situation may be difficult, it will entail careful consideration, however, if it is felt there is a possibility of placing an already vulnerable person at potentially even greater risk, then the reasons for disclosing this information will be justified.

This does not, and should not, necessarily mean the volunteer is prevented from doing any further voluntary work. Rather, work undertaken in the future should be concerned with not placing clients (or the volunteer) in an unnecessarily vulnerable/stressful situation.

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