I recently became the president of a small volunteer group (10-15 members). Average age is 24.

On Sunday 16th, we had the first meeting of my year as a President. We have a secretary, A, whose #1 responsibility is to keep minutes of our monthly meetings and within a few days write them up in our template, send the draft to the president, who then edits it/approves it and has it circulated to the rest of the team. Writing the draft takes about 2 hours; I was last year's secretary and it never took me longer than that.

Now, 2+ weeks later, I still have not received it. I asked about it a couple of times, with a positive and non-judgemental attitude, and A apologized, citing a tough moment at work right before their summer break and promising to send the document by Sunday 30th (yesterday), which has not happened.

While I understand work can get in the way (A is an intern in a lawyer's office) and that A's commitment is not in question (she is one of the most active and committed people in the group), I believe that once people take on a task, they have a responsibility to carry it out, or warn in advance that they cannot do it.

I would like to approach A, asking her for the draft, and telling her that I would prefer that this situation did not happen again, especially as we go into the year. At the same time, I would like to push A to keep doing her best work, because I know she is capable of it.

How do I reprimand volunteers for what they did/did not do, without them losing their motivation or interest?

  • 2
    I'm surprised a legal intern has time for volunteer activities.
    – 2rs2ts
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 22:39
  • 1
    It may simply be that A has bitten off more than they can chew and needs to pass the secretarial duties to someone else (for now at least). I imagine being a legal intern would be quite time consuming and stressful. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 1:49
  • 3
    Have you asked A whether he/she has time to do it at all? On a sidenote, be very careful with reprimanding volunteers. It's something people do in their spare time and out of goodwill. I myself would never rely on mission-critical things done by volunteers. Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 13:55

2 Answers 2


This would be a tough one. On one hand, you don't have the traditional work-place incentives (such as money) or disincentives (reprimands, notices, warnings) in terms of performance. But there are things I think you have plenty of: empathy and experience.

Experience: You've done the work before, what takes you 2hrs, might be 4 hours for someone else. You don't know until you see someone else does it. Find some time with the volunteer and try to find a way to have deliverable due in a timely manner, and if the job is too big for one person who isn't you, perhaps share the burden a little? Make it a team effort to transcribe?

Empathy: As a volunteering group, your biggest strengths: passion - an intrinsic interest and motivation perform work without pay, one among many; would also be your biggest deficit, now that you are in a leadership role, you will have utilize your ability to influence people in a charismatic and "think of us as a team working together towards a goal" manner rather than through a cash transaction "here is $X, do this by this time".

My suggestion: don't reprimand. Sit down and talk with your secretary and see what his/her plate is like and most importantly, will be moving forward. See if the issue is technical (bad recording device, making it difficult to hear and transcribe) or functional (workload for him/her is 4 hours, so find another team mate who wouldn't mind chipping in). Once the baseline is established, check in periodically and ensure that the workflow process becomes habitual (whomever can take care of it autonomously) rather than conscious (whomever needs to be reminded to do it, often times needing some hand-holding).

Stepping into a leadership role is often times exciting and will catch you unawares, what you presume to be incompetence might be attributed to factors you are unaware of. A good course of action is to keep in close touch with your team and make them feel as though they can come to you with problems, even if it would be detrimental. The axiom, "A stitch in time, saves nine" makes sense here, but what it doesn't confer is that you need psychological environment where people are willing to tell you that a stitch is needed. Fostering that environment is difficult and time-consuming, but once it's established, problems would often resolve themselves without your knowledge.

  • Thank you for your answer. In the end everything turned out fine, I asked her if there was anything I could do to help her with it, she apologized for the delay and sent me the draft within a few hours. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 21:41
  • That's great news, let your people know that you are always approachable and available for help when they need it. You will earn their loyalty and dedication through small acts like this. Take care and I wish you the best! Until next time.
    – Bluebird
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 0:19

How do I reprimand volunteers for what they did/did not do ?

Please, don't.

As a former president of a group of volunteers, I faced the same issues.

In such a group, when people won't perform a task, it's just because they lacked time or lost interest. You first need to figure out which one is involved. Once it's done, talk to her/him/them.

Then, adapt your words/actions to the needs of the individual and of the group.

  1. Don't point out responsabilities or put the blame on any person.
  2. Point out the needs for the group, and the goal to achieve.
  3. Asks for ideas from the group, give yours.

Our secretary once faced the same problem. I called her, she said she was having a hard time at work and with private matters. "Can I help you in any way ?". No, she said. "Let me know if I can do something for you. About [ task A ], I'll see what we can do, let me ask the group, I'll handle this. Is it OK with you ?". Yes. OK, then, proceed. WE, as a group, found a way out (another volunteer and myself teamed up to do the report).

Tip of the day #1: In order to avoid such problems, we had (from the beginning), elected a back-up person for every management role: president, secretary, accountant.

Tip of the day #2: before scheduled meetings, make a worksheet that shows the points that will be discussed/voted. Prepare the final draw. Then, secretary will have less work to fill the blanks.

Never forget, in such a group, that communication is the key. Because people could not always be on time or perform duties as expected, I set up a private forum and a mailing-list, in order to keep the group aware of what was happening.

You first duty, as a group, is to help your people, so they can help others :)

  • I like your answer because you said exactly what I thought and gave suggestions that in some way are already in place. I said "reprimand" because I needed to make it clear that I wanted to point out to her that I did not like the delay, but in no way I would have told her off. She is responsible for keeping in touch with one of the groups we work with, and she has done an amazing job so far. I do not want to push her away from it. We generally have backup people, but they come into play when the main role is not present. Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 21:39

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