Saying No to Volunteers Factsheet


The Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets have produced a Fact Sheet on Saying No to Volunteers {See below}

As voluntary sector organisations, we know every volunteer’s time and energy is valuable and so we want to say ‘yes’ to as many prospective volunteers as possible. However, while it is important to strive to be inclusive, we must also be prepared to say ‘no’ to people who may be unsuitable. Having to ask a volunteer to leave further down the line is a much harder and more awkward experience for everyone than saying ‘Thanks but, No Thanks’ at the recruitment stage.

It can be challenging for the (potential) volunteer knowing that their help is not needed, so it’s important to handle that situation in a sensitive manner. 

This factsheet covers good practice when saying ‘no’ when someone enquires or applies to volunteer with your organisation, as well as asking a volunteer who is already with your organisation to leave.

1. Get the role description right

Invest some time in getting your role description right as this will help you clearly identify what you are looking for in your volunteer. In the section on ‘skills and experience required’ be clear on what is essential for the role and what is merely desirable. If a volunteer does not meet the ‘essential’ requirements, this makes the decision to turn them down easier.  It will also enable you to give constructive feedback.

2. Adapting the role

Here are some questions to consider before turning them away completely:

  • Can the role be adapted to fit the volunteer?
  • Can you offer additional training or support to help them carry out the role?
  • Can you offer them an alternative role?
  • Can a new role be created that fits the skills or experience of that particular volunteer?
  • Can you consider them again if the role becomes vacant in the future (keep them on file)?
  • However, don’t give people a false sense of hope (see section below on ‘Keeping on file’).

3. Unconscious bias

We sometimes make decisions based on what we want to think are “gut feelings” but may very well be unrecognised bias against the person because of ignorance or assumptions. Think about how you would complete the sentence “We cannot accept you because…” to test whether you might be being discriminatory.

4. Mutual review period

If a role requires a volunteer with particular hard or soft skills, you could consider having a ‘mutual review period’ where both the volunteer and organisation can take stock of whether it’s working for both parties.  The length of the review period can vary depending on the role and how much time the person can volunteer for. However, do not fall into the trap of taking on a volunteer that you have serious concerns about.

If you are concerned about singling out particular volunteers, you could consider having a mutual review period for all new volunteers. This can be good practice to check that all volunteers have settled in well and to address any issues they might have.

5. Tips for saying ‘no’

Set the scene at the interview

  • If relevant, explain that you are interviewing several people for this volunteer role
  • Don’t make promises or raise hopes


  • Don’t put off telling volunteers for too long
  • Think about what you will say.  You might practise with a colleague.
  • Be prepared to answer the question ‘why not me?’

Delivery method

  • If someone has taken the time to come for an interview, they deserve the consideration of a phone call. Don’t shirk your responsibility by resorting to an email or letter.
  • If someone has only completed an application form, but not attended an interview, you can use your judgement on whether to phone or write to them.  If you receive a lot of applications, then email might be a more realistic option.

Having the conversation

  • Don’t give detailed reasons up front for why the applicant was turned down. Once you give a reason, the applicant has the opportunity to refute your assessment, leaving you in the position of defending yourself. You will leave the call feeling flustered and the applicant may feel more upset than ever.
  • While there is no need to spell out the volunteer’s shortcomings, if a volunteer asks a straight question, try to be honest. Make it clear that this isn’t personal.  Try to be objective with your rationale. Did they sign up too late? Do other people have more experience or a different skill set?  You might base the conversation around the requirements set out in the Role Description.
  • Some people want feedback while others don’t. Ask the volunteer if they would like feedback.
  • Try to sandwich feedback, starting with and ending on some positives, with the most important negatives in the middle.
  • If appropriate, try to involve the volunteer in reaching the decision.  Encourage them to identify any problems in the match between their needs/skills/availability and the benefits and demands of the role.
  • Be caring and sensitive. Provide every opportunity for the volunteer to ‘save face’.
  • Be fair and be clear, and also be respectful.
  • Inform them that you will keep their name on file – if this is appropriate.
  • Give them feedback on how they can better improve their odds to apply for similar roles in the future.
  • Try to end on a positive note and to maintain the relationship if possible.
  • Some volunteers may ask if they can appeal a decision. You should be ready to advise whether this is or is not possible (it doesn’t need to be).

6. Signposting

If the volunteer is not suitable for your organisation, you can signpost them to the following:

  • Your local Volunteer Centre, such as Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets
  • Online portals for finding volunteer opportunities such as Team London and
  • Other local organisations – but try to check with those organisations regularly to find out what opportunities they have.  You don’t want to raise the expectations of the volunteer.  If possible, make an introduction.

7. Keeping on file

  • It might be tempting to tell unsuccessful applicants that you will keep their details on file.  However, don’t give people a false sense of hope.  If the volunteer is suitable, but there were just too many applicants, you can keep them on file if it is likely that a role vacancy will come up.
  • Be clear if they need to meet any particular requirements before they can be considered again e.g. they are 17 but will turn 18 soon and have applied for an adult-only role, or they are about to gain a relevant qualification, e.g. a counselling certificate and they have applied for a counselling role.

8. Dismissing serving volunteers

Having to ask a serving volunteer to leave is probably one of the worst tasks a volunteer coordinator has to perform, and seems at odds with the overall ethos of volunteering.

Assessing the problem

Firstly you need to ask, is terminating the placement necessary? What appears to be a serious problem may turn out to be an example of a training need. People learn in different ways and at different paces. The ‘problem’ may end up highlighting ways to improve your induction and training. Often volunteers may be unaware that they are doing anything wrong, so it is vital to have regular supervision meetings where any problems can be raised privately.

Change as good as a rest

Perhaps the volunteer needs a change of role. They may be bored in their current one, or feel underused. Are there any other suitable positions in the organisation? It may help to look at volunteering in terms of a series of tasks rather than fixed or rigid roles.

Point of no return

With the best will in the world, there may be some situations which can only end with asking a volunteer to leave. Some behaviour simply cannot be tolerated. This could be because the volunteer has committed some form of gross misconduct – e.g. severely breached the equal opportunities policy, committed fraud or there has been a safeguarding issue. A volunteer who is disruptive can have a negative impact on the organisation, the client group, and their co-volunteers.

9. Problem solving procedure

Having a clear Problem Solving Procedure for volunteers is vital not only because it gives volunteer managers clear guidelines on how to proceed, but also because it allows volunteers to see that decisions are not being taken on an arbitrary basis.

It should include a process of appealing decisions. Volunteers need to know that they will be treated fairly by their organisation. Being able to appeal prevents dismissal decisions being seen as the whim of individual volunteer managers. However the process should also include who has the final decision.

If you do not have a Problem Solving Procedure, contact Volunteer Centre Tower Hamlets to request a sample and/or help with devising one.

10. Informing the volunteer of the decision

Once a volunteer has been through the problem solving process and a decision has been made to dismiss, the volunteer has to be informed. Such a meeting can be very stressful for both parties.

While it has to be performed with sensitivity, it also should be a clear and direct meeting. Prepare for the meeting. Know what you are going to say in advance. You also have to be prepared psychologically for the volunteer’s reaction, whether it be upset or anger, acceptance or denial.

For once in volunteering, this is not a two way process. The volunteer should have had a chance to put their case earlier in the process. Engaging in debate, let alone arguing, simply muddies the waters at such a meeting. A clear message has to be imparted to the volunteer. For this reason some people suggest that the decision comes better from someone with a degree of seniority, however this could be judged on a case by case basis, based on your knowledge of the volunteer and the situation.

A letter should be sent to the volunteer, detailing the decision.