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Managing and Motivating

This guide is packed with suggestions and questions to ask yourself when dealing with a challenging situation involving volunteers (or anyone you are leading).

It is split into five sections to collect the thoughts under themes.  They cross over and can all be relevant.

The sections are split into two halves.  Motivating contains questions about how you grow, develop and sustain your team.  Managing are some thoughts to deal with when things go wrong.

Use this as you will, there are no right or wrong answers, it is what works best for your group and the people you come into contact with.

TOLERANCE - what are everyone's tolerance levels


How far are you able to push them? - Think about what you are asking them to do and keep an eye on any that you think might be heading toward a breaking point.

How far can you lean on them? - Consider the level of responsibility that you have given them.  Work with the ethical considerations of what you can feasibly ask of volunteers.


What are you willing to put up with? - Define what constitutes challenging behaviour in your organisation and what will and won't be tolerated.

What presses your personal ‘buttons’? - Have a clear idea of actions/behaviours that are triggers for your more negative emotions or feelings.  Try and ‘make peace’ with the notion that some people will display behaviours that simply challenge us but it is your own problem, not theirs.

How often does this challenging behaviour happen? - Review the frequency of this challenging behaviour and whether it’s something that can be attributed to an event or happening.  If it’s something more frequent then it may need to be addressed.

CAUSE - what might be the root of the actions or behaviours


Why are they there in the first place? - Consider a volunteer’s motivations for being involved with your organisation and use that as a reminder when / if they feel challenged or lacking in focus or drive.

Can they ‘sell’ the organisation for you? - Your volunteers are often your strongest salesforce.  Use their words, stories, case studies, social media and ideas to attract and recruit people to your organisation.


What has driven the behaviour? - Look at the bigger picture and establish if the problem or challenge is with the volunteer or another antagonistic force.

Are they the only antagonist? - Establish is there is more than one person involved or if this is a collective behaviour from a group or entire cohort.  This should inform the approach and if it is with working on / with the volunteers or about the system and your style of management.

Are they a ‘victim’ of a situation, system or process? - Reflect on the way in which the volunteers are treated or the culture in which they operate to see if this has created or affected this challenging behaviour

PROCEDURE - are the things you are doing or they have to do forcing the challenging behaviour or empowering people?


Do you have the right people in place? - Does your recruitment approach actually get your suitable volunteers?  When thinking about your roles, consider the realism of your ‘ask’.  Your potential volunteers may come from a range of backgrounds, they may come from one specific place.  Work out who you want to talk to and talk to them directly through an advert or ask that makes sense to them.


What does your policy say in regards to the problem you are having? - Policies are not just some document to have for funding bids, they should be realistic documents that reflect what you DO and CAN do in real life operations.  They will be unique to your organisation and programme.

Who is helping you? - Volunteer Management can be a lonely situation, try and find a sounding board to support you through challenging situations, ideally someone trusted and objective (you can use the WVA team for this).

Are you following what you need to follow? - Ensure that you have a logical and tailored policy and then follow it, the last thing you need in this stressful situation is to be caught out not knowing that you are supposed to do or something pointing out that you have treated them falsely.

INFLUENCE - are they changing other peoples attitudes or behaviours with their behaviour?


Can they support others and ‘role model’? - Utilise those volunteers that ‘get it’ and that embody your organisation’s view of good practice and suppor them to supervise, train, mentor other volunteers that need a boost.


Who else is this affecting? - Is the challenging behaviour encouraging others to do the same?  What level of challenge is it causing to your other volunteers and / or staff?

What power do they have? - Consider how influential their voice is both internally and externally.  Take time to form a plan as to your reply if they take to social media and spread negative messages.  Think about how loud their voice is and who would listen before you react.

Will this have an impact on your service? - Your solution to the challenging behaviour could and should be influenced in terms of speed and severity based on the level of impact.  If the behaviour is challenging the service users then the situation is increasing in urgency.

LEVEL - where do they sit in the group and how does this influence your reaction to the behaviour?


How are volunteers viewed? - Be mindful of how all your volunteers are viewed, referred to and respected in your organisation.  On what level of the hierarchy do they operate?  Consider what level of PR you may need to do either in elevating their position or giving a realistic view of their role.


Is it immediately gross misconduct? - Define what constitutes gross misconduct and know what your process is for dealing with something which means that the volunteer cannot be part of your cohort any further.

Have you tolerated more from others? - Aim for a consistent and fair management style which is tailored to the individual whilst not putting others in positions where they feel devalued or targeted.  Ensure that you are refraining from having ‘favourite’ volunteers.

Does it need to be escalated? - Take a moment to think about the act and if it needs to be brought to the attention of internal or external partners.  Always let your management or committee know if you have had to dismiss a volunteers.  Make sure your duty of care extends to the community when you remove anyone for criminal activity.  Have clear ideas of the agencies you can escalate some challenges to, Police, Safeguarding Board etc.

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Warrington Voluntary Action supports the development of a vibrant, thriving and sustainable VCSE sector to meet the diverse needs of local communities.