Should Volunteer Groups Accept Everyone?

By Lindsey Novak

March 22, 2018 4 min read

Q: I asked people at our school for volunteers to plan an event. Ten volunteered, and because I spearheaded it, I took the initiative to be the team leader. Within the team, each person had different work experience and abilities, but we were short talent in certain areas. What resulted was that some volunteered for projects that they had never done before. One woman offered to handle the Website, but she had never worked on any aspect of a site. The person who had years of Website experience didn't want to do it. To make everyone happy, we agreed to let people take on the responsibilities they wanted. I discovered quickly this was not a good idea.

The Website volunteer assumed she was in sole control of all decisions, including design and content, even though she had no background or experience. I have been faced with rude and personally insulting emails, such as "I do not approve of using this Website company," and "Did you write this while having a glass of wine." I know she is in a loveless marriage where she treats her husband like a slave, and I now see she relates to everyone in that manner. Can I take away the assigned project from her or kick her off the team completely? My role as a leader has not been communicated to all, so I don't know how much authority I have.

A: Your top priority was to define your role to the group. It sounds like you jumped ahead into information gathering to assign team members to projects. Before you go further with any activities and tasks, hold a meeting and follow a strict agenda.

Number one is to define roles and communication flow. Regardless of the size of any group within an organization, you must create a chain of command — a hierarchy chart — so all members understand the proper communication flow. Knowing who is in authority and whom to email on various tasks will eliminate people being left out of the information loop. You can't assign yourself the leader without explaining to the group why you should assume the role and getting consensus. You should also ask for and choose an assistant to help and take over when you are not available.

Next is to ask for each person's abilities and for their time available to work on the assigned projects. Remember, this is a volunteer group and everyone has the right to decide what they are willing give. If a member specializes in Website content and refuses to take on that task, ask if it's due to time constraints and see if that person is willing to act as a resource for the person who ends up with the assignment. You may need a member in the role of "help desk" to guide a person with no experience. An on-call helper could relieve the stress from an inexperienced person assigned to a specific task.

Open and positive communication is required to achieve any team's goals. Every member must share these goals, so if you are chosen to lead the team, you will be responsible for ensuring all make positive contributions. The woman's email to you was more than rude and unprofessional. It was abusive and offered no constructive criticism. Her behavior may show significant problems in her personality, problems which may warrant relieving her from being on the team. All people have personal problems at various levels, and staying in a bad marriage is no excuse for mistreating others. Negative behavior affects everyone on a team. Although the members are volunteers, they must be positive and their direction must be success driven.

Email life and career coach [email protected] with your workplace questions and experiences. For more information, visit and for past columns, see

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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