Transitions With Jean Blog

Even in volunteer work, change can be difficult

September 2, 2018

Dear Jean:

We are a non-profit organization which relies greatly on our senior volunteer corps. It is a dedicated population, the likes of which we will probably never see again. Yet, there are times when we have volunteers who are no longer a good fit for the job that they consider “theirs”. One long-standing volunteer is getting to be a bit cantankerous. We’ve talked to them about their declining hearing and tried putting them in back-room roles. They are unbending. They don’t like technology and want to keep doing things the old way. This person is in a public area, meeting with visitors daily. Sometimes they make comments to visitors that are embarrassing.

Answer: There can be so many causes for a decline in abilities, from changes in health to frustration with things that have nothing to do with their job. The inability to understand technology makes many folks feel ignorant. As you had discussed, first you want to look for causes. When you have addressed that, it is time for a delicate but necessary conversation. Your job is the survival of your business.

I reached out to my “go to” guy for human resource questions, Jay Stephany. Stephany is the District Director of the WISHRM (Wisconsin Society of Human Resource Managers).

“Challenges in a volunteer setting are just like in the workplace. When you have people who are tenured and very passionate about their work, it is time to ask them ‘What about your legacy?’ What do you want to leave this organization when you retire or move on?”

Stephany said, “They had a chance to build that volunteer role to what it is today, and it is also important to talk about succession planning. More people need to know how to do that specific job. That person knows how to do it, but if they weren’t there, suddenly all of that knowledge they brought to the organization would be gone.”

“Celebrate all they have done in their role, but also ask them to Give the Gift.” Stephany described Giving the Gift of Your Knowledge, as a way to pass on their legacy to someone else, to keep the organization strong by continuing what they created.

I mentioned to Stephany that the volunteer’s response might be “But it’s my job!”. He said a good response might be, “yes, it was your job and you’ve done wonderful with it. What are some of the other areas where we can now use your help?” Then transition them into non-customer facing roles.
“Sometimes you have to stick to your guns because you know it is the best move for the entire organization. Remember, your job is be sure your customers have the best experience possible.

Don’t avoid the difficult conversation. There are ways to tactfully talk about it. Ask them to help create the next leader. When all else fails, it is time to plan a great retirement party for them and celebrate all that they have done over the years.”






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