Unreliable Volunteers: When your YB Co-Chair goes Dark

Yearbook chair frustrated over unreliable yearbook volunteers

You planned your year and recruited your team. Roles are set. Parents and teachers are submitting photos. And then, an unreliable volunteer sets back your yearbook exponentially. Take heart: you’re not the first yearbook adviser to experience this!

Volunteer Unreliability Factor 3/10 – Deer in the headlights

Ready, set… nothing. Whether fear of failure or a general spirit of uncertainty are acting as hindrances, it’s time to step in as a coach. Let’s face it, many of our parent volunteers are publishing and journalism amateurs. Take some time with the new recruits to show not tell: design a layout together, photograph an event together, get students’ quotes together. Build confidence! Consistent communication, including genuine appreciation, inspires unity and helps volunteer yearbook staffers push on towards your goal.

Volunteer Unreliability Factor 7/10 – Oops… (s)he did it again

Early detection, while uncomfortable, can eliminate problems later on. The first time someone is a no-show, address it (kindly). 

When you do get that face-to-face moment, maintain your professionalism:

  • Communicate with specifics: instead of “You’re always unreliable,” try “You volunteered to take Fun Run photos and did not have a backup in place when you were a no-show. What is your plan to get pictures?”
  • Keep it focused: the conversation should center around yearbook responsibilities and not on personal issues. You’re not meeting to be a relationship counselor, life coach, or even a friend. You’re a project manager looking to complete a job.
  • Be proactive: document what will happen next. If your yearbook co-chair wants to remain in the role, write out what it will look like with clear expectations and deadlines. Also include an “out” clause if your volunteer continues to be unreliable.

A word of caution: it’s easy to fire off a text or email, and like we tell our children, easy isn’t always best. As we know, much of communication is non-verbal, so a face-to-face session allows you (and your volunteer) to assess body language and tone.

Volunteer Unreliability Factor 10/10 – the Worst-Case Scenario

What do you do when a volunteer up and quits in the middle of your yearbook and is unreachable, unresponsive, and, frankly, unrepentant?

  1. Plan for human error and phone a friend
    Within your yearbook staff, build in a group of utility players; this may be a working mom who cannot help at every event or a school secretary that does too much already. Have a few friends you can call to help with one-off tasks. The leader of your parent org may have a list of volunteers to plug in.
  2. Promote from within
    Your next yearbook co-chair may just be on your staff already. Once you’ve communicated the need—again using specific, job-focused language—the team may have a solution! (You recruited the best for a reason!)
  3. Flip your lid
    Not really. It was just fun to write.
  4. Remember your purpose
    As cliche as it is, remember the kids. It’s the students who will open the yearbook you helped create, pour over its pages, and never once reminisce on the unreliable volunteer who temporarily thwarted progress. Why? Because you’re a project manager who completed the job.

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