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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 15
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2004 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers - those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

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This Issue:

  • If you fire me, I'll sue your pants off" -- how to fire a volunteer in our litigious society.
  • The most powerful technique to make your point to volunteers.


"Fire Me and I'll Sue Your Pants Off"
When Volunteers Sue for Wrongful Termination Because they were Fired

Volunteer managers are not immune from wrongful termination suits. In 1999, two former America Online Inc. volunteers, Brian Williams and Kelly Hallisey, filed a class action lawsuit against the company in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. After putting in several thousand hours as a volunteer, Brian Williams says AOL relieved him of his role after he organized a strike of AOL community leaders. The strike was in protest of AOL's announcement that it would charge guides $5 per month for AOL access -- taking away the free accounts which were the only compensation they received for their work. Since the strike, he says he and Kelly Hallisey have been marked as troublemakers. Williams said, "They fired me to shut me up. We've been labeled security risks due to the strike." This suit raises an issue for all volunteer managers. Doesn't the organization, profit or non-profit, have the right to fire a volunteer, especially if they are leading a strike against the organization?

In every workshop on volunteer management I am asked the question, "How do you fire a volunteer?" Volunteers don't get paid. Why would I want to fire them? Couldn't we just let them continue doing what they want to do when they want to?

Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Volunteer roles are very important to the mission of the organization, and if the job isn't getting done or if the volunteer is lowering the morale of the other volunteers, we have a responsibility to correct the situation. It could be that the reason we want to get rid of a high maintenance volunteer is because they are not fulfilling their responsibilities, or it could be that they are just impossible to work with. We cannot just let the situation go on without action.

Unfortunately, we live in a litigious society and volunteers can actually sue the organization if you do not follow the three parts of releasing a volunteer.

Part I: Clear Communication of Expectations
Part II: Investigation
Part III: The Firing Meeting

Read about these three parts in the article: "Firing High Maintenance Volunteers-How to Fire Volunteers and Move On."

The Most Powerful Technique to Make Your Point to your Volunteers.

How to motivate your volunteers, boards or members by using the most powerful technique to "Make Your Point"

The latest fad for speakers, trainers and presenters is PowerPoint. However, the Pentagon has outlawed PowerPoint.

Why on earth has the Pentagon outlawed PowerPoint? The reason is that when a person puts a ten minute presentation on PowerPoint, it becomes a 30 minute presentation. The amateur, and PowerPoint is so easy everyone is using it, uses all the bells and whistles (sounds, zooms, and swirls) that it distracts from their message. The Pentagon finally said, "Enough! When you have something to say-just say it-and make it brief."

In our highly visual and technical age in which people are hearing over 3000 messages a day, how can you be sure you are going to be heard? How can you know that your volunteers will listen to you.

The most powerful technique to make your point is not PowerPoint. It is not yelling. It is not a gun or a baseball bat. It is the story. The story, even if told at a whisper, can bring your listener-whether one person or an audience of 500-into your world to make your point.

But, not just any story will do. Choose the best motivation story to recruit, motivate, and challenge your volunteers.

There are three main type of motivation stories to use?

1. Who I Am?
2. Who we Are?
3. Where are we going?

Each story is unique and is to be used for a different purpose.

Motivation Story One: Who I Am?

What are these stories?

These are the stories of your values and core beliefs that have shaped your life. They are easy to tell because they are about you.

When do you use these stories?

  • To introduce yourself to a new volunteer, board or group
  • To demonstrate how you have dealt with situations in your past that your volunteers, members or board members are facing.
  • To motivate volunteers who are challenged with issues that you have faced


  • Lance Armstrong: It's not about the bike
  • Victor Frankl: Man's Search for Meaning

Motivation Story Two: Who We Are?

What are these stories?

These are the stories of your organization, it's cause and how it is making a difference.

When do you use these stories?

  • New member orientation
  • Special presentations to outside groups
  • Board meetings-when the board is bored and lost their passion


  • Howard Putnam: The Winds of Turbulence (Story of Southwest Airlines)

The best stories you tell are your stories. I heard Howard Putnam, a former CEO of Southwest Airlines, tell his story of the early days and almost bankruptcy on one of the most successful airlines in business today. We all sat spellbound as he told his story.

Motivation Story Three: Where Are We Going?

What are these stories?

These are the visionary stories that offer a picture of the future.

When do you use these stories?

  • To get your members to think visionary
  • To challenge individuals to let go of the past and embrace change
  • To introduce your board to a creative brainstorming session


  • Martin Luther King: I Have A Dream

What is your dream of the future of your organization? Put it in a story. Martin Luther King created the powerful picture of his children playing together with white children in freedom.

For some examples of how these stories can be used in writing, see the following articles in Volunteer Power. Each of these articles are illustrated with one or several of the motivation stores. Without these stories the articles would be flat and unbelievable.

Note the use of stories to illustrate each important point in the article, "We have it all backwards-How the Volunteer Leader instills Vision."

Another example on the effective use of stories is in the success of one organization and how they changed a California Law. See "The Power of Volunteers-How a group of Volunteers Can Change the World."


Is your organization part of a larger professional association, or a statewide, regional or national organization? Does that group have local, regional or national meetings and conferences? Would you like a Volunteer Power Session presented at one of those meetings?

Our fast paced 1.5-hour session is a stand-alone training designed to introduce staff, board and volunteers to a systematic model for building the volunteer team. Participants learn a practical, effective approach for dynamic volunteer teams.

For more information, or to recommend an organization looking for such a program, please fill out our contact form.

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

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