Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q: One of my leading volunteers is getting increasingly difficult, but he is one of our founders and very popular with the trustees. Can I get rid of him?

A: Yes, but it might be difficult. In an increasingly professional sector, it is essential that the standards of professional behaviour we adopt with volunteers are as high as those we adopt with staff.

Of course, we feel badly when we have to take action against someone who has devoted time, effort and goodwill to the organisation. For many of us in the sector, the presence of volunteers is at the very heart of what we do.

Some of my members run organisations with few paid employees but thousands of volunteers - just think of the Samaritans, St John Ambulance and the Scout Association. When you think of those bodies, you also think of highly professional attitudes to volunteering.

Deal with the embarrassment

First, you must deal with the issue of embarrassment in tackling this.

How can you take issue with someone's work or behaviour when they have given time for nothing over so many years? Unfortunately, it is often this embarrassment that prevents problems being dealt with at an early stage.

It sounds as if you have been letting this problem go on for some time, so tackle it now - this person's difficult behaviour might be affecting your other volunteers.

Your first job will be to get the support of your chair. If the difficult volunteer has friends among the trustees, then having your chair onside is essential. You need to explain how the 'difficulties' are impeding the work of the organisation, but you also need to tackle the issue in a sensitive way. Indeed, if this is one of the founding volunteers you might want to hold a party to mark his or her 'retirement'. A small presentation might work too, although perhaps a good book rather than a gold watch...

Review your procedures

Use this as a chance to review your procedures and processes in dealing with volunteers. Have a look at introducing a disciplinary policy if you don't already have one. I know this is usually associated with paid staff, but you also need one for volunteers.

Volunteering England - www.volunteering.org.uk - has some very practical advice on this. When introducing procedures, make it clear that they apply to volunteers and don't establish a contract of employment.

There have been a number of difficult cases at employment tribunals, where volunteers have tried to claim that they were 'employees'. But you must not let this put you off having the right procedures so that you can tackle cases of difficulty such as this.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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