Volunteers Who Do Not Show

This entry to the One Post Challenge comes from Chrissy Weeks. Chrissy is a paralegal at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation (“AVLF”) and President of the Georgia Association of Paralegals.

By Chrissy Weeks

“The world is run by those who show up!” This is not my quote I got it from somewhere and have to admit I am not sure where. But I start with this quote because I am frustrated by those who do not show up being the ones who suddenly want to voice their opinions.

I coordinate hundreds of volunteers each year for both the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation and the Georgia Association of Paralegals. The vast majority of our volunteers are WONDERFUL. They take on unpleasant projects with grace and a smile. They simply do what they are needed to do and report back to us. They are why we exist and why we are able to serve the population that we serve.

Ok now that I have covered my butt – back to the point. I have people sign up for things and then they do not show up! One “volunteer” had the audacity to say “oh, I didn’t realize me not showing up (or even bothering to call you and tell you I was not coming) was a problem”. I had another person tell me that she was confused and was not sure if she was needed. How confusing is: be at this address at 10am. This same “volunteer” then proceeded to tell me that I was not coordinating things very well. Good Lord! People! Butter my butt and call me a biscuit I do not know what else to do but pick you up and take you to things myself.

Well of course it is a problem if you do not show! I now know to pad my volunteers b/c I would rather have too many volunteers. But if too many volunteers simply flake out and think that their participation does not matter for any given event then I am in real trouble. It makes me look bad. When in reality it should be the “volunteer” who looks bad. I dream of posting a volunteer black list. But I am a southerner and still have a few manors left 😉 So I don’t post it. But I do keep that list in my head.

So if you are one of these people who does not show up and who does not call, just know that it does make an impact. And you are on my list! The world will not be run by you b/c you are not the one to show up!

So how do y’all deal with volunteers who do not show? Am I the only one who has this problem (I really hope not)? Do you have some sort of screening process for your volunteers? (we do but it obviously is not water tight).


  1. Sigh says:

    Right there with you… I have found that I can count on people if I ask them to do what they want to do, how they want to do it. If I ask them to do what I think needs to be done, those that say yes sometimes don’t follow through. I think it may be people who feel bad about saying no to my face but have no guilt once I’m out of the picture. Some suggestions:
    1) Nag – nicely – frequent friendly reminders (via multiple channels) let them know you are counting on them
    2) Structure but give freedom – make sure the goal is clear and hope whatever meandering path they take gets them there. If something is really important, give it to someone you know you can count on. If you don’t have someone you know you can count on, apply more structure as gently as possible.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. I guess I do need to work on the nag nicely thing. And the multiple channels is a good thought. I think I am overly attached to email. Maybe a good old fashioned phone call is important too?

  3. Eric says:

    The catch-22 is that if you start recruiting more volunteers than you need, it could reinforce the idea that it’s OK not to show up, given that there will be others coming anyway.

  4. Armando Rayo says:

    Hi Chrissy. No shows are part of the business. You should spend more time focusing on the volunteers that are active and committed instead of getting fustrated with the ones that do no show up. I deal with volunteers every day and the best way I get them to show up is to make relationships with them and make them feel that they are part of the process and give them ownership. Also, do not rely on just one method of communication to get them to show up. It is about calling them, emailing them and meeting with them. It’s time consuming but definitely worthwhile in the long run. Hope that’s helpful. Good luck!

  5. Stacy says:

    Your entry has raised my awareness level of the importance of showing up for things I sign-up for. Also,I think your idea of cushioning extra volunteers is a good idea – never know when someone will get sick or will have to back out. Since people will turn to you to complain if there’s not enough staff, I think it’s good to cover your butt.

  6. Winnie says:

    I can only imagine the tough task that it is organizing volunteers. Having done a lot of volunteer projects, I know that a good leader, who cares, is key.

    Maybe when people sign up make a point of saying how important they are to the event and emphasizing that if they cannot make it at the last minute to call. That might put the pressure on them not to blow it off.

  7. Paige says:

    To start, I understand your woes as volunteer coordinator.Personally, I am a member of a women’s philanthropic organization and co-chair of volunteer coordination.

    It sounds as if you have sufficiently reached out to each volunteer so that they know what is required of them, but do you ask for confirmation? The day before our events, we email or call each individual until we receive a confirmed response that they will be at the event. Furthermore, we stress that we understand circumstances arise that may change their volunteer availability, however they MUST verbally communicate or exchange emails with us, so we can prepare for this change.

    As noted above, I believe it is important to give volunteers ownership because they are more likely to take an active role in projects and events. Volunteers must feel a sense of worth to justify the free time they replace with volunteer time. After all, volunteers are the primary reason nonprofits continue to operate.

    This leads to my next thought, there is a mismatch with padding your volunteer staff. Granted, an extra volunteer may be warranted, but if you have too many volunteers at the same event and not enough tasks to keep them all busy, people start to feel like that are “wasting their time”. Thus another suggestion is to try an alternate list. If it is easy to fill the volunteer list, you may ask people with flexible schedules to be alternates should someone back out at the last minute.

    Leading people is always difficult and the incentives given to volunteers have no monetary value. You can only hope that they share the objective of your organization and want to better themselves, the community, and society. So remember to remind them of their importance in your organization and emphasize the ultimate impact of their contribution. If they are unresponsive at that point, adding them to your “blacklist” is justified.

  8. Jessica says:

    Whatever, volunterring rocks my face off. I heart volunteers. Even if they quit at the last minute. At least they tried. Thats more than some lazy mo-fo’s do. Word.

  9. Andrea says:

    I don’t see how having a little extra volunteers could ever be a bad thing. The work would get done faster or be easier and more fun.

    I definately agree that you should nuture the volunteers you have, but I’m sure you already do that. Have them invite their friends and their friends can help keep them accountable.

  10. Dan says:

    Volunteernig is an important part of life. It makes you feel like you’re a part of something. Volunteers who don’t show up are wasting not only my time but their lives. IF you say you’re going to do something…DO IT!

  11. I believe that a shift in the perspective of society at large has caused this problem (at least in part). At one point, saying you were going to do something, meant you were going to do it. In a materialist Capitalist society, however, we demand payment for our time, and when payment is not offered – whether we have offered or are cajoled – we feel as if keeping our word is “optional.” Disgusting, ain’t it?

  12. Catherine says:

    I understand how you feel. When other volunteers do not show up at the animal shelter that I volunteer at a lot of things happen

    Beds don’t get cleaned as fast.
    Not as many phone calls are made to donors and much more.

    If your going to volunteer treat it like a job. Show up and show up on time.

  13. Lori says:

    There is such a thing as recruiting too many volunteers. Typically there is insufficient work space inside local charities, so people get in each other’s way or spend time sharing limited tools and materials. There is an art to planning for the right number of volunteers for the tasks and resources available. Read more at my blog entry “Super greatness from those who show up” at http://www.pmd.org/blog/

  14. Gina says:

    I sometimes wonder if we need a new terminology for “volunteers” on projects. Perhaps if you infer a title based on the task? For instance, instead of asking for volunteers, go ahead and assign duties such as “record keepers”, “interviewers”, etc. In your follow-up communications, give as much detail as possible as to the tasks and duties of each person so they can see how important their role is in the project. This should be sufficient to weed out the deadwood before the event, cutting down on the number of no-shows. Just an idea.

  15. These are all great comments and suggestions. I especially like the idea of giving volunteers titles or preassigned jobs to make sure they know what their task is going to be and adding some “job” status to that position.
    Also I do agree that it is a sad commentary on our society in general that this has become more acceptable.

    How do you guys feel about not accepting people as volunteers in the future when they have not preformed? I have actually had to “fire” volunteers in the past.

    Thanks for all of your great comments!

  16. Gina says:

    Sure. If you have someone who continually signs up for volunteer days but does not show up, naturally you will start to ignore them. Then, if the day does come that they decide to show up, you can make your point by telling them you did not prepare a spot for them to serve since they had never shown up previously. Then, they will either take you more seriously and perhaps stick to their commitments in the future, or they will never bother you again.