If you've ever spent time doing volunteer work, chances are that you've run into unpleasant and negative people. We all have our off days, and an occasional bit of ill humor is something to overlook. But some people are so divisive and petulant that they repel other volunteers and thereby oppose the organization's goals. Sometimes you can help correct a problem, but other times you may have to ask someone to leave.
Reasons for Negativity
You might wonder why people who seem so unhappy in doing volunteer work would put their time into it. They might actually believe in the espoused cause and simply be blind to the results of their behavior. Unfortunately, there are also people who are genuinely negative. They might enjoy the opportunity to feel put upon, see volunteering as a way to undertake a personal interest in an overly aggressive way, or could even be predatory and see the group as easy pickings.
Handling Negative Behavior
You must handle the two types of people differently. In either case, you want to defer to paid staff or to those in official positions in the organization if possible, as they will have the responsibility for any fallout. If you must be the one to take action, first consider if the behavior is an honest lack of understanding. Then you must work, in as nonconfrontational a way as possible, to help the person see his or her effect. This is where coaching comes into play, as it would in any leadership position. It will take a bit more finesse because, unlike holding a position in a corporation, you cannot simply tell volunteers that they must cooperate with the process. Be sensitive because this is a harder conversation for the recipient than the deliverer. Work to get buy-in from the person all through the process.
When People Must Leave
Should the person display behavior that is extremely disruptive or even illegal or if there have been previous conversations about changing behavior, then the only choice for the good of the organization might be for the person to go. The organization should have a process for this, and you must follow it down to the last letter. There will likely be several warnings, all documented.
At the end, you personally might have to fire the volunteer. You must rid yourself of anger and never fire someone with even a hint of vengeance. The meeting must happen in a private setting, preferably with a third person of the same gender as the volunteer. Know that the reaction is likely to be unpleasant. State the reasons, and give the person a copy of the meeting's purpose in writing. Don't make personal comments, and get any organization property, including keys and identification. Above all, remain calm. If the volunteer has friends in the organization, go to them immediately afterward to say that the person is no longer volunteering, although without providing any personal details. Do not agree to provide a letter of recommendation to the person.