Avoiding Stress in Dealing With Volunteer No-Shows | Track It Forward

Avoiding Stress in Dealing With Volunteer No-Shows

Written by James McBryan

One of the biggest struggles in volunteer coordinating is dealing with no shows. It’s not only hard to work with fewer volunteers than expected, but it’s also frustrating.

Why do people not show?

And what can you do to make sure people actually do what they signed up for?

Is it really your job to reprimand them?

To hold them accountable?

This is volunteering, not the end of the world.

But it’s so easy to feel that way, I know a lot of us have been there too. You don’t want to keep them accountable because it would feel like work, and volunteering should be fun.

You don’t want to reprimand them in the way you could if they were an employee because it could potentially scare them away.

You don’t want to scare them away because you need them.

Luckily, there are a few easy tips you can implement in your organization to avoid the stressful cycle that no-shows and missed shifts create. We talked with a bunch of organizers and here are their pro-tips in how they dealt with no-shows.


It might seem counterintuitive to overstaff an event if you’re worried about volunteers not showing up. However, by overstaffing, you are guaranteeing that if one person doesn’t show, the whole thing won’t crumble and it won’t stress you out. Melissa, our Customer Support Specialist suggests laying out what you need in advance and creating specific roles and jobs for volunteers prevents them from feeling useless. At one event where Melissa volunteered, they purposely overstaffed but had additional tasks written on a whiteboard. This allowed volunteers to continue to stay busy, even if there were more volunteers than expected.

Set up Automated Reminders

We all have a million and one things going on in our lives, and it’s incredibly easy for things to slip through the cracks. By setting up automated reminders, you’re giving volunteers that additional push they need. Automated reminders sent in the weeks and days before your event will ensure that your event remains relevant for your volunteers. Automated reminders also ensure that the event doesn’t sneak up on anyone.

Don’t Chastise, but do Check-In

You want to make sure your volunteers want to continue to volunteer by keeping things friendly. Sending a passive-aggressive text or email will alienate people. You can still bring it up, just do so in a kinder manner like: “Hey! I noticed that you weren’t able to make your shift yesterday. I just wanted to check-in and make sure you’re doing okay”.

Importance of RSVPing

Utilizing RSVP’s is incredibly helpful. People are less likely to show if they didn’t RSVP because they assume that their participation isn’t necessary for the success of the event. Sammy, our Junior Marketing Coordinator, prioritized RSVPing for her organization in college. She initially started using RSVP to track attendance but found that people felt greater responsibility when they have committed to something in advance and were more likely to show up.

Focus on the Mission

Mira Reverente, Chief Volunteer Officer at Got Volunteers? suggested appealing to volunteers’ emotions. Mentioning who the event benefits and what the event achieves make volunteers more likely to show up because they want to avoid feeling guilty.

Dismissal from Volunteering

Creating a “no show” policy is another great way to show your volunteers how seriously you take absences. Toy Potts Lambeth, Volunteer Services Coordinator at NC Zoo created a policy where if a volunteer is a no show three times, they will either be dismissed or reassigned to an alternate position that is less impacted by no shows. Putting the responsibility on your volunteers and creating clear rules lets them know where you stand.

Volunteer Screening

To avoid no shows in the first place, Skye Donald utilizes a screening and training system that her organization uses to weed out less enthusiastic volunteers right away. Using this system ensures she always get responsible and reliable volunteers:

Most Importantly: Don’t Get Frustrated

The most important thing to remember is to not get too frustrated or emotional when dealing with no shows. For our founder James, the best advice he ever received was to not get worked up and angry at a volunteer. Thinking from a volunteer’s perspective as to why they didn’t show became more beneficial than dwelling on the negative. Like most things in life, a positive outlook will always get you far.

Special thanks to Skye Donald, Mira Reverente and Toy Potts Lambeth for their help on this article!

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