putting out fires

Firing a Volunteer


Volunteering is a part of America’s culture.   People step forward to help advance a cause or community.

There are more than 1.5 million nonprofit, exempt organizations in the US.   Each has a board of directors and committee structure composed of volunteers.  

While every person intends to add value, there are some behaviors that should be the cause for dismissal.   If coaching and guidelines don’t improve their efforts, firing might be the final straw.

Candace Boothby, CCE, is the CEO and President at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce in Georgia.  She shares her experiences and advice about volunteer management.

Pink Slip

Think you can’t fire a board member, volunteer or even a member?  Well think again.

Giving the pink slip to a troublesome volunteer can sometimes be vital to the overall health of an organization. 

While we always want to do our best to work with difficult people who create challenging situations, there’s nothing in the play book that says we must tolerate bad behaviors. 

The grin and bear it approach only goes so far.   Our first priority should be to the well-being of the organization and the culture we strive to create.  Harboring negative or toxic volunteers undermines the very essence of what we work so hard to nurture day in and day out.

Don’t know what to do with the board member who misses most meetings?  Activate the attendance clause described in the bylaws.  For example, “Any director missing two consecutive meetings is considered to have resigned from the board.”  That’s why you have it.  Use it!

Have a volunteer who consistently clashes with staff and is constantly critical?  Don’t be afraid to suggest they go be successful somewhere else.  Afterall, not everyone fits your customer profile.

Do you have a volunteer that refuses to pay for goods and services received even after you follow your collection policy and exhaust all your resources? Ask yourself, do the rules apply selectively? If not, then let them know that without payment you can’t continue their membership.  Be polite.  Be firm.  Don’t apologize.  Ever.  And remember, it’s always a good practice to keep a volunteer between you and a problem when needed.

Have a member who exhibits insulting behavior?  Well don’t sweat it.  It’s perfectly okay to refund their membership fee and explain that another organization might better meet their needs. 


Have you ever had a volunteer that’s disruptive in their current assignment?  Try and redirect their passions.  If that still doesn’t work, then suggest they apply their passions with another organization. 

Keep it friendly.  Let them know you care, and because you care you want them to be happy.  Just not with your organization. 

Living with bad behavior can make your life a nightmare.  Who needs that?  We have enough stress in our jobs keeping up with all the minutia, and a troublesome volunteer is the last thing we need holding us down. 

Take charge of your situation and be proactive.  Own it.  Remember, you’re the caretaker for the organization.  Embrace that honor.

Giving an unhappy volunteer the freedom to go be successful somewhere else could be the best gift – to them and to you.  So, take a deep breath and feel the freedom that comes with knowing you have choices, and you can indeed fire a volunteer.

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Note:  Bob Harris, CAE provides free governance tips and templates at Candace Boothby, CCE, APR is the CEO and President at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce and past president of the Georgia Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.