a. Causes for Redirecting or Disengaging Volunteers

b. Mediation Process

c. Alternatives to Disengaging a Volunteer

d. Probation

e. Procedure for Disengagement of a Volunteer

f. Procedure for Disengagement of a Volunteer: Volunteer Disengagement Checklist

g. Causes for Immediate Dismissal

h. Procedure for Immediate Dismissal

i. Appeals Process

j. Dismissal of Volunteers in Difficult Situations

Causes for Redirecting or Disengaging Volunteers

The mission of Extension is to create opportunities and supportive environments for culturally diverse youth and adults to be capable, competent, and caring citizens.  (i.e.  “Helping people help themselves.) The time of Extension personnel and volunteer staff should be spent in positive educational programs that support quality experiences for children and youth.

Volunteers (adults and teens) should be provided with a written position description and agree to abide by and sign the “Expectations for Volunteers.”  It is then the responsibility of the volunteer to carry out these responsibilities.  One copy of these documents will be kept on file in the Extension office, and one should be returned to the volunteer.

Volunteers are expected to participate in orientation and educational development activities necessary to carry out their responsibilities. It should be understood by the volunteer that the volunteer is expected to pursue additional avenues of learning, education, and training which are provided.

A volunteer may be reassigned, redirected, dismissed or placed on probation for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to) any infraction of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service “Expectations for Volunteers,” illegal activity, behavior which compromises the health and safety of youth, vulnerable audiences or Extension clientele, violating an Extension policy, willfully violating or causing children to violate rules, being consistently disruptive to the overall program, being consistently unwilling or unable to work amicably with Extension Staff, or failure to rotate the leadership role. The nature and seriousness of the infraction or violation will determine whether the option of reassignment or dismissal should be considered.

A child or youth who has a parent dismissed as a volunteer is still eligible to participate in 4-H Youth Development Programs.  Likewise, an individual whose family member has been dismissed as a volunteer is still eligible to participate in Extension programs.

Mediation Process

Whenever an Extension professional works with people; including clients, members and volunteers, disagreements are bound to occur.  Extension professionals should always be cognizant of the fact that people don’t have to agree in order to work together to achieve a common goal or serve a similar purpose. Generally, these disagreements may be overcome and worked through by engaging in good communication and finding common ground.  When these steps fail, mediation may become necessary. 

There are five steps to the mediation process.  These five steps include:

Step 1. Discuss the incident or situation with the individual or parent (if the individual is a youth) or volunteer / club leader, in presence of third party.

  • Document. If it isn’t written down and dated, it didn’t happen.

(if unresolved)

Step 2.  Contact the Extension agent or supervisor.

  • A third party should be asked to attend the meeting.
  • Be sure the problem is understood.
  • Allow reasonable time to investigate.
  • Document. If it isn’t written down and dated, it didn’t happen.

(if unresolved)

Step 3.  Contact the district director and the state volunteerism specialist.

  • Provide factual information with dates and times to the district director.
  • The district director and state volunteerism specialist may consult with agents to gain background information.
  • Document. If it isn’t written down and dated, it didn’t happen.

(if unresolved)

Step 4. Contact assistant directors (Agriculture and Natural Resources, Family & Consumer Sciences, 4-H Youth Development).

  • Any conflict (including legal and programmatic violations) not resolved will ultimately go to the Director of Extension.
  • Document. If it isn’t written down and dated, it didn’t happen.

(if unresolved)

Step 5.  Contact the Director of Extension.

  • Document. If it isn’t written down and dated, it didn’t happen.

Occasionally, mediation will not resolve a problem or disagreement.  Prior to disengaging a volunteer, Extension professionals serving in the role of volunteer administrators can seek an acceptable alternative to disengagement. 

Alternatives to Disengaging a Volunteer

“The decision to disengage a volunteer from service should be regarded as a last resort. Disengaging a volunteer is an admission that volunteer supervision has failed. Either the screening process, placement, or volunteer role design was faulty (McCurley, 2006). Often, the volunteer's performance is substandard because the person and task weren't well matched or the volunteer doesn't understand what's expected of the role (Branson & Long, 1992). McCurley provides several useful alternatives to disengaging a volunteer.  These alternatives include:

  • Re-supervise
    • Review the expectations of the role with the volunteer.  Find a more effective method of communicating and giving feedback.
  • Re-assign
    • Transfer the volunteer to a new position in Extension or a new role in the program.  Perhaps the volunteer was poorly matched for the role; or, the volunteer and the role have grown apart and are no longer a good fit.
  • Re-educate
    • Utilize a different approach to teaching or providing professional development to the volunteer.  Is this individual better suited to one-on-one, small group, on-line or another instructional method?
  • Re-vitalize
    • Provide the volunteer with a sabbatical to another organization.  A sabbatical can be an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective or chance to develop skills that can be applied to the program once the sabbatical is completed.  Re-vitalizing also gives a volunteer suffering from burn-out a chance to re-charge.
  • Refer
    • Referring a volunteer to another agency for a fresh perspective helps to refocus and may provide a new way of viewing an old situation.  Occasionally a change in supervision precipitates the need for a referral.  Volunteers that had a good rapport with one supervisor may simply not be a good fit for a new style of leadership.
  • Retire
    • All volunteers should have the opportunity to end a long relationship with an organization with dignity.  Sometimes an individual is looking for a way to gracefully step away from the volunteer role, but doesn’t want to cut ties to the organization.  Providing an opportunity to retire from the volunteer role but still serve as an emeritus volunteer, or serve as a mentor to a new volunteer is a good alternative.  Whatever the case, the volunteer’s service role and contribution to the organization should be appropriately recognized with a retirement or recognition event.

When disengagement occurs, how can an Extension professional terminate a volunteer's service? Since volunteers aren't paid, why would an Extension professional want to fire a volunteer? (McKee, nd). Often times, an Extension professional simply lets the unproductive or counterproductive volunteers continue doing what they want to do, when they want to it. Unfortunately, this lowers the morale of everyone else involved (McKee). If the volunteer is not furthering the Extension mission, helping to achieve the goals of the program, or is precipitating low morale among others, then the situation must be resolved.”  (Culp & Doyle, 2011).

Branson, Jr., F., & Long, N. D. (1992). Dismissing a volunteer. Journal of Extension [On-line], (30)4. Article 4IAW8. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1992winter/iw8.php

Culp, III, K. & Doyle, J.  (2011).  Disengaging a volunteer: What to do when supervision fails.  Journal of Extension [On-line],49(5).  Article 5TOT3.  Available at:   http://www.joe.org/joe/2011october/tt3.php

McCurley, S. (2006). How to fire a volunteer and live to tell about it. Retrieved from:http://www.worldvolunteerweb.org/resources/how-to-guides/manage-volunteers/ how-do-i-manage-volunteers-additional-reading/doc/how-to-fire-a.html

McKee, T. W. (no date.) Firing high maintenance volunteers: How to fire volunteers and move on. Retrieved from: http://www.volunteerpower.com/articles/Firing.asp


Occasionally, good people make poor decisions.  Other times, volunteers may find themselves in situations in which they face conflicting interests.  These conflicts may include being faced with choosing to do what is best for the program, versus what is best for the program participant.  In other cases, volunteers may simply make a decision without considering the ramifications or consequences of that decision, particularly when placed in a larger context.  (What is best in a particular situation for one person in one club or group may not be the best alternative when viewed from a county- or state-wide perspective.) 

In some cases, good people who make poor decisions should be disengaged from the program.  (For example, an adult camp counselor who gives a teen camp counselor permission to retrieve something from a vehicle after “lights out” might seem like an acceptable choice, until it is learned that the teen engaged in a rendezvous in the car’s backseat.)  In other cases, the agent might decide to place the volunteer on probation, rather than disengage the volunteer from the program.

Volunteers who are placed on probationary status often find themselves in this situation because of a poor driving record (prohibited from transporting program participants while on probation); writing a series of bad checks (prohibited from handling money for Extension programs or activities); or breaking a series of rules (prohibited from participating or conducting an event or activity.)

Extension professionals who consider a probationary status for a volunteer should consider the following steps:

a. Gather information from a variety of people who have first-hand knowledge of the situation.

b. Document the findings, including the names, dates, times, locations and findings.

c. The Extension professional should discuss the situation with the volunteer.  Determine if the situation was influenced or exacerbated by extenuating or special circumstances or conditions. Document the conversation.

d. Consult with the Volunteerism Specialist and the District Director and make a decision. Determine how long the probationary status will last and whether or not any remediation is required.  Determine what limitations or sanctions (if any) will be placed on the volunteer during the probationary status.

e. Communicate the decision to the volunteer.  Depending upon the situation, this may be done in person or in writing.  If done in person, include a third party in the conversation.  Document the method that you utilize.

f. Notify the volunteer, in writing, when the probationary status has been removed.

Procedure for Disengagement of a Volunteer

Step 1. Extension salaried or volunteer staff should verbally counsel with the individual regarding the complaint and discuss alternatives.

  • Such individuals need to be advised of ways to address their complaints through the appropriate mediation process. 
  • Written documentation of this discussion should be kept. 
  • Documentation should be sent to Extension personnel for placement in a secure location (the volunteer’s personnel file). 

Step 2. If the problem persists, Extension personnel and/or volunteers and an additional party will meet with the individual, review the expected appropriate behavior, and outline the specific behaviors which will/will not be accepted.

  • The individual should sign a copy of the notes from the meeting as an acknowledgement of the volunteer’s attendance and participation in the conference. 
  • The individual should receive a written copy of the minutes with an outline of the specific behavior changes expected and a description of the behavior which will not be accepted. 
  • Copies of this letter should go to all persons involved in the conference and to the area program director or individual who supervises the Extension personnel. 
  • Parents who have concerns which cannot be resolved at the county level may contact the appropriate district director. 

Step 3. If the problem persists, the Extension personnel, in concurrence with their district director or supervisor, may write a letter to the volunteer indicating that volunteering for any youth development program sponsored by the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service will no longer be allowed.

  • A registered or certified letter should be sent to the individual causing the disruptive behavior.

Step 4. Any conflict not resolved will ultimately be reviewed by the assistant Extension director(s) or Director of Extension.

Individuals who do not follow the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service Expectations for Volunteers and who are a continuing disruptive force, despite appropriate and sincere efforts to resolve their concerns, may be barred from volunteering for programs sponsored by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. The Kentucky State Police and/or local law enforcement officials may be contacted and asked to remove that individual from the premises.

When volunteer disengagement is considered, Extension professionals should complete the following “Procedure for Disengagement of a Volunteer – Volunteer Disengagement Checklist.”


Procedure for Disengagement of a Volunteer


Causes for Immediate Dismissal

Volunteer service should never be terminated on-the-spot without adhering to due process.  The following situations should require the agent to place the volunteer in question on immediate leave, while the incident is investigated.  These situations include:

  • Theft
  • Misappropriation or mismanagement of funds
  • Public intoxication at an Extension event or activity
  • Drug trafficking or use
  • Child abuse
  • Battery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Sex with a minor

Procedure for Immediate Dismissal

1. The agent is notified or observes the incident

2. Verification with at least two parties (the agent may serve as one) is substantiated

3. The District Director and Volunteerism Specialist are notified.

4. The incident, along with verification, is documented

5. The volunteer is notified that s/he is being placed on immediate leave, during which time the incident will be thoroughly investigated.

6. The investigation is appropriately investigated, using a wide variety of sources.  (The specific sources will vary, depending upon the nature of the incident.)

7. The agent consults with the District Director and the Volunteerism Specialist, to determine the volunteer interview questions.

8. The volunteer is interviewed.

9. The agent, District Director and Volunteer Specialist make a determination regarding the outcome of the investigation and the action taken.

10. The volunteer is notified in writing, by registered mail, of the decision.

Appeals Process

Occasionally, it may be necessary to release or dismiss an individual from volunteer service.  On rare occasions, a volunteer may want to appeal this decision.  Should that occur, the following steps are the prescribed protocol for appealing a decision to disengage a volunteer.

  1. The released volunteer submits a written appeal to the appropriate District Director.
  2. The District Director and the State Volunteerism Specialist will convene an appeals committee.  The Appeals Committee will consist of the following individuals:
    1. The District Director
    2. The Extension Specialist for Volunteerism
    3. The supervising Agent
    4. The Client Protection Committee Chair or another representative from that committee, should the chair be unavailable.
    5. A volunteer, serving in a similar, parallel capacity, from another county.
  3. Documentation from the Client Protection Committee, along with a copy of the written appeal, will be submitted to the Appeals Committee.
  4. The released volunteer will be invited to appear before the Appeals Committee to present his/her case.
  5. The Appeals Committee will render a decision within five (5) business days and communicate that decision to the released volunteer.  Three decisions could be rendered:
    1. The decision to dismiss the volunteer could be affirmed.
    2. The released volunteer could be re-instated, either on probation or could serve under specified conditions.
    3. The original decision to release the volunteer could be overturned and the volunteer could be re-instated.

Dismissal of Volunteers in Difficult Situations

Volunteering is not an inherent right.  Rather, volunteering is a privilege that Kentucky Cooperative Extension extends to individuals who share the same vision, mission, values and purpose of Extension and its six program areas (4-H, FCS, ANR, Horticulture, Fine Arts and Community & Economic Development.)

Occasionally, agents find themselves in difficult situations involving volunteers or volunteer applicants. Sometimes, the Extension organization and its programs are best served by rejecting a volunteer applicant or by terminating the service of a volunteer.  This situation will not occur often, but when it does, it places the agent and the county Extension program in an extremely volatile and untenable position.  Sometimes, the volunteer or the volunteer applicant is well-connected in the community or the CEC, either politically or by a family relationship.  The pressure on the agent and the influence on the program can be intolerable.  In these rare situations, it may be in the best interest of the agent and the program, for the Director of Extension to intervene.  The Director’s Clause was developed to deal with these isolated situations.

At the discretion of the Extension Professional, Client Protection Committee, Director of Extension or designee, any individual may be denied the opportunity to serve as a volunteer, resource person or have any contact whatsoever in any Extension program or with any Extension clientele, for any reason, or for no reason.