I think this is a really tricky one and is always difficult

I think this is a really tricky one and is always difficult to comment on when you don’t really know the person fully. However, I felt compelled to respond for 2 reasons:

  1. Because this is one of the key questions I always get asked in training and it’s as though there is some sort of hidden box of answers we haven’t yet discovered which will enable us to deal with these type of situations without upsetting anyone – especially ourselves!
  2. Because here at the VC, we recently had to face this challenge ourselves and the issue really resonated with me.

I think that what we perhaps need to overcome is our ‘fear’ here and to ask ourselves, what are we assuming about this scenario that might be limiting our thinking in terms of how we need to deal with it? So, for example, are we assuming that the volunteer may react in a particular way? Perhaps we aren’t assuming and we know, based on previous experience that they will, however what we are possibly assuming is that we don’t know how to respond back – whereas I think generally we do.

volunteer supervisionWhen dealing with this sort of situation I think we have to accept that there is a likelihood that the volunteer may get upset, or possibly even offended – and that is OK – they are entitled to feel how they need to feel in that example. As the manager, it is part of the role to take reasonable, responsible decisions about this type of stuff, otherwise we can end up existing simply to meet the needs of the volunteer, with no real benefit being provided to the organisation and to the wider community, and if this is the case, then it isn’t really volunteering in my opinion. What’s important is then how we respond to their reaction.

In terms of actually giving the person reasons and feedback – this needs to be thought through, with examples and the impact of actions or non-actions fully explained. Asking them what they think may help – sometimes people will surprise you and will actually be aware of the effect they are having – they just needed the opportunity to be able to talk about it. This has happened to me on several occasions. Although I do accept that some people can be difficult and may be in complete denial!

The volunteer in question here at the VC was incredibly upset, in fact initially quite angry and was on the verge of simply storming out of the building when it was explained to her. However, the team here were aware that she was being asked to leave on that particular day, most of us had already either worked with her or at least come into contact with her and were also aware of her vulnerability and so we were prepared in a way for anything. Because of this, a couple of members of the team were able to spend time with her, encourage her to stay for a while and talk it out and eventually she became calm and although she was still upset – she began to understand the reasons involved and could even accept them.

I think what I am trying to say is that there is no magic box of answers for how to deal with this situation, but perhaps the best advice is to treat the person how you would like to be treated if you were in that situation. And, don’t try and deal with it all by yourself. If you are working as part of a team of people who understand the individual and the issue – make sure they are there to help you support the volunteer perhaps in different ways, depending on what they need.

Apologies everyone for incredibly lengthy response – I do hope there is something in here which is a little bit helpful!

I know it can be a very delicate matter, but we have to maintain a focus on what the purpose of the organisation is.

And it is unlikely to have been set up for the benefit of its volunteers.

At the end of the day we recruit volunteers for a reason, and that is to benefit the organisation and its service users. If ongoing supervision is taking place then this would provide a venue to discuss issues around workload and ability. If that’s not in place then it might be worth getting someone she trusts within the organisation to discuss the issues. Is she aware of the situation? Is she aware of her apparent memory problems? If so what sort of support it she getting? The discussion would also give the opportunity to explore the reasons why the volunteer “insists” on coming in.

EG. Does the volunteering provide socialisation that she doesn’t get elsewhere? If so can she be signposted to organisations where she could access social clubs, etc?

If she wants to keep busy and feel like she’s making a difference then is there some other volunteering she could do with another organisation?

Could she become a “Friend of…”? Able to attend any social events, fundraising activities, ,maybe even internal training events, so that she still feels part of the organisation? That way you can contniue to acknowledge her contribution to the organisation without her continuing to volunteer?

The organisation needs to raise the issue with the volunteer as soon as possible to avoid any further frustration from paid staff and other volunteers, as this can potentially develop into ill-will towards the volunteer herself and the organisation for not dealing with the situation.

Its a very difficult situation, and there is no easy way to deal with it, but it needs to be dealt with compassionately, but with conviction that her current role is no longer suitable.