There is a belief among some nonprofit managers that they just can't fire a volunteer. According to Ellis, this stems from three mistaken attitudes:
- Thinking that the threat of punishment is the best way of getting good work;
- Thinking that available punishment guarantees prevention of unwanted behavior; and,
- Failure to understand why volunteers work without salary.
While it is appropriate to fire an under-performing volunteer, it should not be the first option. Ellis recommended trying these positive steps before resorting to discipline or dismissal:
- Careful screening of volunteers when they apply is essential, as it would be for employees. This includes clarification of expectations, on both sides, even if this means writing a letter spelling out the purpose of the volunteer work, anticipated outcomes or products, lengths of commitment and other key mutual decisions.
- Both employees and volunteers deserve full instructions — training, on how to do their work the best way.
- Motivate through approval. Managing through rewards and recognition of work well done is always more effective.
- Finally, understand that it is possible to terminate a volunteer. This is actually not as difficult as many nonprofit managers think. Remember, the manager has a legal right to designate who will be an agent of the organization, paid or not.