In the non-profit sector, volunteers are at the heart of what we do. They are the public face of the organization, doing the work of achieving our mandates. It is critical that we give them the support and guidance necessary, and at times the necessary correction, to help them achieve our mandates with maximum effectiveness.
It can be quite intimidating to deal with substandard or inappropriate behaviour. However, there can be some pretty serious consequences to letting things slide. Inappropriate behaviour can negatively influence your organization’s:
Positive discipline is “the process of orienting staff (paid and unpaid) to work rules, performance standards and other organizational standards so that they know what is expected of them and what consequences result from violations. It occurs BEFORE the behaviour becomes inappropriate.” 
The idea behind positive discipline is to avoid problem behaviours by providing volunteers with the information they need to discipline themselves. It is all about holding volunteers accountable.
Here are some tools you can use to implement positive discipline:
Every organization has unwritten rules, which turn into unspoken expectations. Maybe the expectation is that people will arrive early, not just on time. Maybe you expect people to do a job exactly the way you would do it, rather than focusing on the desired outcome.
If someone is failing to meet expectations, ask yourself if you have
It is very important to establish disciplinary policy and procedures ahead of time. That helps you and the volunteer know what steps to expect, and makes it about the job, not about the person. Here are some sample policies you may find useful to read as you draft your own:
Everyone deserves to know if they are not meeting the standards of their job, and they deserve the chance to make things right. The recommended steps are as follows:
Make this informal and informative. Start by telling the volunteer what they are doing well and ask how they feel about the job. When offering advice for improvement, do your best to link it to something they are already doing well.
Give a copy of this written warning to the volunteer and go through it in a one-on-one meeting. Be very clear about what behaviour you are seeing and what different behaviour you need to see. Here is an example of a form you can use to prepare the written warning.
Again, this needs to be put in writing and put into the volunteer’s file. What is the length of time they will be on probation? What behaviour are you looking for? Under what terms will the probation end? Here is an example probationary letter which you can use as a starting point.
Someone who is suspended is sent home for a specific period of time. This gives everyone time to regroup and reset.
Causes for termination include:
Make sure to follow your organization’s policy regarding staff termination. Include your supervisor or Executive Director. Make sure, also, to maintain the dignity of the volunteer throughout the process.
There are also administrative things to take care of, like returning keys and paperwork. Here is a template which may be useful.
To learn more about this tricky but essential aspect of volunteer management, come to our upcoming professional development seminar.
Volunteer Ottawa offers a comprehensive suite of courses related to volunteer management. Click here for more information, and to register. Subscribe to our Event RSS Feed to be among the first to know when a new workshop is added to the schedule.
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