Episode 12 – Non-Productive Volunteers

Your Sports Resource

In this episode, Renata discusses what to do about non-productive volunteers. She talks about changing your mindset to delivery and provides short scripts on what to say to those volunteers who aren’t progressing. Moving your club to behave in a way that delivers wonderful initiatives will attract the right kind of volunteers.

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00:00:00 Introduction

This is the Your Sports Resource Podcast, where each week you’ll learn actionable strategies that you can implement so the operations of your club support your coaching staff and the direction of your organization. We are committed to excellence in youth sports leadership. Let’s get started.


Hello everyone and thank you for joining me today on the Your Sports Resource Podcast. In this episode, I want to talk about a problem that most sports organizations face, which is the non-productive volunteer.


I’ve spoken a few times now about the way to attract and keep volunteers. So go back and listen to previous episodes if you need to hear that information. There’s also articles on www.yoursportsresource.com  and I believe we have a webinar coming up in June that also talks about how to attract and retain volunteers.


But today I want to assume that you’re doing all the right things to attract those volunteers and you have defined and documented expectations and their roles and responsibilities that you communicate with them often, and you clear any roadblocks, and you celebrate those that are doing well. So, you’re doing all the right things, right?


But usually when you have a problem with the volunteer not doing what they’ve agreed to do, well honestly it comes down to the fact that you’ve either attracted a Peacock, or the situation has changed. So, unfortunately, both of those situations are common and the quicker you learn how to deal with these, the better off your organization will be.


So, what is the Peacock? So that’s the person who I think you guys can understand that. But essentially, it’s the person who loves the idea of being on board on a board or leading a piece of work, likes that visibility they want to be viewed as having a personal feather in their cap. They love the show more than the responsibility, I guess is what I’m trying to get at.


On the other side is the change in situation. Now that can come in different forms, right? So, it could be the board wasn’t straightforward with the expectations. Or maybe new things have popped up that weren’t even understood at the time.


You could also have a situation where things for them have changed. Maybe they’ve changed at home and or they’ve changed at work, and they no longer have the capacity or the time to dedicate any longer.


It can be either one of you thought that they had the skills necessary to do the role and then they found out when they got into it. That that wasn’t the case, right? So those are all situational situations.


Now here are the statements that I hear all the time when it comes to non-productive volunteers. It’s usually oh, but it’s just a volunteer role. I hate to push them. We can only ask so much. Maybe I should just take the work on because they don’t have the time you know and so on and so on.


While I can sympathize with that thought process, I very quickly push it to the side because, well honestly, just because you feel bad doesn’t mean that the situation is right. So, it really begins with you changing your mindset.


You, as an organization, I’m going to assume the people that are listening to this are people that have to deal with non-productive volunteers, right? So, you need to change your mindset to understand that your organization is a registered business no matter what form it is. It’s a business.


You must get your head wrapped around that if you ever hope to change the environment or culture of your volunteers. That you are a business, right? So, you have to wrap your head around that thought process. So, what does that mean?


First of all, just quit making excuses, either for them or for yourselves, right? They signed up to do the work so there is no reason for the, I hate to push. It’s just a volunteer role we have to accept what we can get attitude and quit taking over the responsibility of their work.


Now, if it’s a compliance-oriented task. You know, I understand you stepping in because you probably have a due date. I’m talking about tax, legal, that type of thing, right?


But if it’s not, keep the expectations where they sit. Just like you would if it was a staff member or someone in your own personal life. Now that might mean you have to let balls drop. You might have to let people stumble or fail a bit. That might mean that you need to have some difficult conversations.


And it might mean you have, you know, some uncomfortable board meetings, but if your guiding light is your responsibility to your membership and then your vision and values, then you have to act in accordance with that guiding light.


So let me reverse that thought process for you your membership. Do you think they care that you’re dealing with a Peacock? Or someone who doesn’t have the skills or time to deliver what it is that they’re supposed to be delivering? No, they don’t care.


All they know is that they pay a monthly fee and expect delivery. If that doesn’t stop you from the you know, yeah, but I don’t know what will.


So, I think the next time that you’re facing a situation to where you have a nonproductive or if you’re facing that now and you have a nonproductive employee, quit making excuses and actually think about it from the members perspective, OK?


OK, so let’s say you are determined to move into a strong mindset that you’re going to treat your youth sports organization like the business it is, and what you’re going to do with those or what are you going to do with those who aren’t producing.


The first thing you need to do is assess the situation. First, make sure that their lack luster or a lack of productivity isn’t your fault or the fault of the person who is accountable for their work?


For example, if you have a new fundraising event you’re trying to kick off and you may be engaged a volunteer that has experience, but they aren’t producing, make sure that they have the information they need to do what they need to do and ensure that whoever is supposed to be overseeing that work, whoever is accountable, whoever that volunteer reports into. That they are doing the right things. Make sure that they’re helping them clear roadblocks or whatever is needed so they can be successful. OK, so my first step is always to make sure that the problem doesn’t sit with you.


If you find the situation squarely lies with you or the accountable person, not the volunteer. Then openly admit to the volunteer that you have been disengaged and going to correct the situation and offer the proper support that they need. This helps to reengage them and get them excited again about getting back on track.


Now you must follow through, right? You can’t just say that you’re going to do something and not do something that… no one is going to work for empty promises, so you must deliver on that.


But let’s say that you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing, and the situation squarely lies with the volunteer, not producing. Then that is where you begin the funnel of difficult conversations. It doesn’t matter if they’re a board member or any other volunteer, the focus is delivery to the membership. So here is how I would start.


First, I would have an open one-on-one conversation. Something like, hey, I’m noticing that you aren’t making progress. We have an obligation to our membership. Can you explain to me where the issues lie?


Now notice I didn’t say you aren’t delivering what’s your problem? Yeah, I wasn’t going forceful at them, right? I try my best to keep the discussion about the task as much as possible, and I’ve given them the opportunity to speak freely and openly.


Now it’s not my nature to take responses at face value. I would recommend that you approach the conversation. And in that same way, so you give them an opportunity to tell you what’s going on. But you need to kind of pick away and dig deeper and do some follow-on questions and get some agreements out of it. OK, so what I’m saying is don’t ask where the issues lie and then just say OK and then walk away. So, you need to dig deeper and get some agreements.


So, it might go something like, OK, I hear you. So, you need some help here. If I get you this by Thursday, when can we expect to see progress or completion? Or I hear you to me it sounds like you just don’t have the time, and if that’s the case, that’s perfectly fine, we understand, right? So here is where your empathy and understanding from earlier can come into play, but we still have to have a delivery to the membership. Or we still need to deliver to the membership.


So, can I get you someone to help you deliver? Or share the work. Or do we need to find someone else? Now again, completely understand if you have other obligations. I’m not trying to push you to make sure that you over-commit yourself, but I just need to understand what’s happening.


OK, so hopefully you can understand what I did there. I gave them the empathy right, but I’m still focused on serving my membership and you should never feel bad about delivering to your membership.


So that’s how that conversation goes, right? You open it up. You let them speak honestly, and then you dig away. Do you need help? Yes? If I get you help, will you deliver so you’re getting their agreement, OK? If it’s too much, it’s OK if you need to walk away. Empathy again, I understand you’ve got family obligations, right? But let me go ahead and get someone to take over that piece of work.


So, what I will say though, is if you have an agreement that they need someone to help them, then what I would do right there in that instant is confirm with them what tasks they will keep and what tasks they’ll hand over so you can have an appropriate conversation with the new person that you’re trying to bring on to help so they’ll know exactly what they’re getting into OK.


And then get a commitment that they will make progress if you find someone else. And if they want to move on. All you need to do is confirm you know, what about handover, can I get the documents? Can I understand the conversations that you’ve had? Bring us up to date. I want to make sure that the new person has an appropriate handover, right? They can’t just walk away without providing you an update or what’s been done. They probably have done some work, even if it’s just developing a list of contacts or ideas or whatever.


So, if you’re getting them, someone to help them, make sure you have a clear picture of what they’re keeping and what they’re handing over so you can have appropriate conversation, and then if they do, just need to step away, then make sure you get a commitment that a proper handover it will take place.


Now what do you do about that unproductive board member? Most organizations are not in the position where board members are, just simply decision makers, right?


Some boards are but a lot of boards actually have specific tasks that you know board members have tasks that they need to accomplish, and at the very least, even if they do, if you do have a strong volunteer base, they should be overseeing work so accountable for work that is being done by other volunteers, or staff members. So maybe formalize committee subcommittees, or volunteers.


So, I would move in the same way, but my final statement would be a bit different. So again, I would ask about what’s happening and if they have the time to dedicate. And again, I would remind them that this role has expectations and obligations to deliver to the membership, and if they don’t have the time that it’s OK. You know, providing them that, out.


So, here is where I would recommend behaving a bit differently on the other side because a board role is an important role and one that has legal ramifications.


So, if you’re talking and you’re going around in circles and they just say that they don’t have the time, then the statement needs to be something to the effect of them stepping down so the club can find someone else who can fill that space. Now that might sound harsh, but its intent is to deliver to the membership.


So, you might follow it up with again, I get you have a life, and this is more than you expected, but we need a board that is delivering so we need to work through either. You’re making some time or vacating your seat.


Remember, this is in an effort to deliver to our membership. This is not a reflection on you personally, it’s that this seat is an important seat, and we need it to be working on all cylinders. Maybe later when you have the time, you can come back in.


OK, so there’s a right and wrong way to say things, but essentially, you’re getting them to look at opening that seat up for someone who does have the space and the time to actually deliver. And remember, this is not a public conversation. This is a one-on-one, but a necessary conversation.


OK, let me take a moment to tell you about www.yoursportsresource.com. This is a website that is dedicated to the volunteers and leadership staff in youth sports.


There’s a ton of free resources on topics such as Sports Leadership, Board Roles like the President, Secretary, and Treasurer. There’s also information on the Fundraising and the Marketing of your club.


Your sports resource also holds monthly interactive webinars that help you focus your efforts and put your plans into actions just like the one I was talking about earlier on how to attract and keep quality volunteers, and I think that’s coming up in June. The website again is www.yoursportsresource.com.


OK, so what all this does is gives the volunteer whether it’s board member or a regular volunteer a gracious way out, but it sets you on the path that if you’re holding a position in this club, there’s expectations to be met, so don’t let fear of finding someone else to replace them get in the way and that’s what I hear all the time. I’ll never get anybody else. Well, what difference does it make? This one is not producing, so why not go ahead and try to find someone else right?


Remember, your approach will be to set them up for success. Again, go to the website or listen to the other podcasts about this topic. But when you set them up for success and you find the right people with the right skills and capacity or time, it will be fine. As a matter of fact, it’ll be better because you’ll actually start to see delivery, which is what you want, so don’t let fear get in the way.


The biggest thing about the difficult conversations is to not put them off and let the problem fester and this is what a lot of clubs do. So, I want you, when you change your mindset about running this organization like a business. You shouldn’t be letting things fester or slip right, so as soon as you do see things slipping, you’ve got to check it.


While you might be correcting old problems now moving forward, you can’t allow this to continue. It’s accountability and people respect boundaries, expectations and the support to deliver. So, you need to be there to support them once your membership and community see that volunteers actually affect change and bring about wonderful initiatives, you will attract more volunteers.


No one wants to sign up to work with a team who is apathetic in their work, so I know you feel like a lot of times. The fear is that I’ll never find somebody, but the reason why you don’t find somebody is because you have this atmosphere of really not delivering all the time or not delivering much. So, if you change that where the expectation is delivery then you will pull more volunteers in.


OK, I hope all of this was helpful and if you have any questions or concerns you can always write me directly at info@yoursportsresource.com. Thank you for listening and please subscribe, rate and review this podcast so more can hear about how they can improve the leadership of their Sports Club.


Please tune in next week as I actually have a special guest that will talk to you about the ease and the things that you can do to fundraise properly for your Sports Club.