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#MemberMonday: Dealing with Difficult Volunteers

By Brandi McGrath Kong, Director of Member Services and Conferences

Nonprofit organizations like Sertoma are wonderful because they bring together a group of like-minded people united under a common cause. Sertomans are passionate about their missions and goals. They have significant ownership in their clubs and deeply care about Service to Mankind. Their community service work is personal to them, which makes for amazing volunteers!

However, it can also make for challenging volunteers at times. Most conflict is not intentional. It happens because members care so much about what they are doing and want to see their club be successful. The issue is that they can’t always agree on how to get there. 

This is typical of volunteer organizations everywhere. Working with difficult volunteers can make it challenging to be a leader, but with a little work, you’ll find that it can also be a rewarding process that leads to the overall betterment of your club. Here are a few things to consider: 

  1. Be impartial. It can be hard not to take things personally, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to make it about the club and not yourself. Take a look at the situation at hand with a wide lens and try to figure out the true source of the issue. While some people repeatedly bring conflict to your organization, it’s not to say that they never have a legitimate concern.
  2. Be kind and professional. We all know how challenging this one can be, but it rarely helps to fan the flames by using harsh words or a confrontational tone. When at all possible, choose polite language that clearly outlines the unacceptable behavior, specific examples of their actions, and any possible consequences if it continues to occur. 
  3. Be transparent. Don’t cover up issues! Your board chair and governance committee are there to oversee these issues. It is their responsibility to address any offending actions, whether it be by someone else on the board or a regular member. One thing to note, however, is to remember that confidentiality is key. If you can keep it contained to only a few select volunteer leaders, it’s typically best for all parties involved.
  4. Be proactive. Don’t let things fester and boil over. When you deal with conflict head on, you can better keep the lines of communication open. The goal should be to solve the conflict, not cause a bigger one.