How To Handle No-Show Volunteers | Track It Forward

Avoid Stress by Dealing with Volunteer No-Shows the Right Way

Last updated by James McBryan on 03/13/2021

In the last article, we talked about getting volunteers to sign up and take action. But in reality even if you do that, sometimes they don’t show up.  In a job, you would likely reprimand your employees, but it’s counter-productive to take that approach with volunteers who you don’t want to scare away.  Dealing with no-shows and missed shifts the wrong way creates a stressful cycle in which you are constantly thinking about it, wondering if you did the right things, and trying to decide on the next steps.  In order to make sure the work is getting done and protect my sanity when juggling volunteer schedules and the inevitable no-shows, I’ve learned to do the following things:

1) Overstaff and add floater staff

It’s always tempting to create the most efficient volunteer schedule by minimizing the amount of total shifts, however, when one person is missing, the whole thing crumbles.  Try building in redundancy by scheduling two volunteer shifts at the same time.  The additional volunteer shift doesn’t need to duplicate the efforts of the first shift, but can focus on lower priority tasks so those volunteers can serve as backups when other roles need filling.  Alternately, if you don’t have many volunteers to staff additional shifts, make sure there are floaters participating at the event who you can pull to step in if necessary.  People are happy to help out when they are already there.

2) Set up automated reminders

The hardest part about volunteers missing shifts is the unintentional mental bandwidth used thinking about why they didn’t make it, why didn’t they respond to you, why they are ignoring you, etc.  Trust me, it’s not you, it’s them, and it’s likely they just forgot.  The easiest way to handle these situations is to send automated reminders.   I say automated, because it prevents you from taking it personally.  Most scheduling systems actually have automatic reminders or calendar synchronizations to do this for you.  Overall, it makes for less work and less emotion invested by you.  However, it’s worth noting that volunteers do respond to personal messages.  I personally recommend saving those individual messages for personal follow-ups or check-ins, and automating the normal week-to-week notifications.

3) Don’t scold, chastise, or punish

Scolding doesn’t belong in the volunteer world.  It will leave you worse off, feeling like a terrible manager for a gig you’re just volunteering for in the first place.  I usually like to send a friendly follow-up email to the person with no expectation of a response.  For example, something like this usually receives a positive response: “Hey so and so, I noticed that you weren’t able to make your shift yesterday.  No worries, we were able to fill it.  I just wanted to check in to make sure you’re doing alright. James.”  Honestly, if they haven’t already apologized they’re probably beating themselves up already, so no need to beat them up more.  Approach it with kindness; it’ll do good for them and be great for you.

4) Delegate reassignments and check-ins

Don’t get me wrong with all this though, having no-shows is terrible and can take a toll.  Being both the person impacted by the no-shows and the person who has to check in with the missing volunteer is difficult.  Sometimes you’re too close to the situation to address it properly.  If you work with someone else who is the president, a resource manager, or a scheduler whose primary job is to manage volunteer expectations, definitely delegate the responsibility of those follow-up communications to them.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to reduce stress and protect your sanity when it comes to no-shows?  Or do you have any special situations that are harder to deal with?  Let us know and we will absolutely get to your questions!