Ending the volunteer relationship

Many volunteering roles have a natural lifecycle and volunteers leave for a variety of reasons. In most cases volunteers leave for positive reasons such as interstate moves and gaining paid employment. Sometimes there may be an underperformance or personnel issue with a volunteer that may require ending their relationship with your organisation. Having exit processes in place for all scenarios will enable your organisation to provide a respectful end to any volunteer relationship irrespective of the circumstances.

Alignment with the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement

National Standard 5: Volunteers are supported and developed discusses changes to volunteer involvement, including the need for fair and transparent procedures for ending the involvement of a volunteer.

When a volunteer decides to leave

Attrition is a normal part of any volunteering program. Volunteers come and go for many reasons and their departure can often be cause for celebration. If your volunteer is leaving for positive reasons, consider how you can recognise them for their contribution. Don’t forget to provide exiting volunteers with the opportunity to provide feedback that may help you improve your volunteering programs going forward. Having an exit procedure also ensures that you remove any access to organisational systems and platforms once the volunteer has moved on.

Sometimes volunteers may indicate a desire to leave but be open to suggestions for staying. If your organisation is interested in retaining the volunteer, it is worth exploring the underlying reasons for their desire to leave. There may be personnel issues you are unaware of that are resolvable or the volunteer may simply be looking for a new challenge. You may be able to deploy them into another role or create a new role that meets their changing motivations.

Reasons for ending the volunteer relationship

Sometimes your organisation may be in a position where it needs to end a volunteer’s engagement. Such reasons include:

  • There is no need for their services (e.g., when a program ends).
  • The volunteer is underperforming.
  • The volunteer is not working within the scope of their role, creating a risk for the organisation.
  • The volunteer is breaching policies or procedures.
  • The volunteer is bullying or harassing other volunteers or paid staff.
  • The volunteer’s conduct is unacceptable.
  • The volunteer has done something unlawful.

Volunteers have the moral right to fair grievance procedures; however, they do not legally have standing under unfair dismissal laws. Whilst your organisation has no legal obligation to engage in due process with volunteers and is within its rights to terminate a volunteer relationship at any time, it is considered good practice to work with the volunteer to get to the bottom of any issues.

Remember that your organisation may be legally responsible for the conduct of your volunteers, so any serious issues need to be dealt with promptly and in accordance with law. Depending on the nature of a conflict involving a volunteer, they may have legal rights such as the right to work in safe environment. Be sure to seek independent advice about your legal obligations based on the specific circumstances of any disagreement.

Be as fair and transparent as possible when working towards ending a volunteer relationship. Insofar as practicable, provide an opportunity for the volunteer to have their say. Sometimes underperformance or misconduct might be masking a deeper issue the organisation is unaware of.

If your organisation has taken reasonable steps to resolve any conflicts with a volunteer and it is apparent that a mutually agreeable outcome is not feasible, it is still possible to end the volunteer relationship with dignity and respect. You and the volunteer can decide for them to retire as a friend of the organisation in recognition of their service.

More information

Part 5 of the Not-for-profit Law National Volunteer Guide has a section on ending the volunteer relationship.