Volunteer Conflict Resolution

Modified on Mon, 07 Aug 2023 at 09:54 AM

Disclaimer: this information is only intended for general advice. It does not constitute legal advice.

Unfortunately, disputes may occur between you and other people at the organisation where you volunteer.

This can be upsetting for all involved. You may feel that your commitment to the organisation and its cause has been rendered worthless. You may also be concerned about your reputation within the organisation, or the broader community.

Giving feedback

Feedback can be given to volunteers both formally and informally. On a day-to-day basis, informal feedback can be part of supervision of activities. Formal feedback is usually given as part of a formal check in or review process. Formal feedback should be guided by your organisation’s policies and procedures.

If feedback is provided effectively, it can both motivate and inspire a volunteer to do better. However, when feedback is handled poorly, it can result in lack of motivation, frustration, and possible damage to the relationship. Effective feedback is more likely to ensure that a volunteer will continue in their role.

In the case of any formal feedback, document the feedback to finalise the process and provide records for any future needs as per your organisation’s policies and procedures.

Resolving disputes

There are no equivalent ‘Fair Work’ regulations for volunteers and in most cases no external body can intervene in disputes amongst volunteers or between volunteers and organisations.
Your first step should be to consider how you would like to resolve the issue:

  • Do you wish to continue in your volunteer role, or in a different role within the organisation?
  • Is this conflict affecting your relationships with other people, either inside or outside the organisation?
  • For some people, walking away will be a heartbreaking option, but may be the least taxing emotionally and practically.

Anti-Discrimination Act
In some circumstances, it may also be against the law to discriminate against or harass a volunteer on the other grounds covered by the Act. This may be the case if the volunteer receives a benefit that is more than out of pocket expenses in return for their voluntary work. However, because volunteers are not generally regarded as employees, they may not be covered by some parts of the Anti-Discrimination Act.

However, it is good practice not to discriminate against or harass any volunteer workers, in the same way that the law prohibits discrimination against and harassment of paid workers.

Taking a stand
Members and committees
Certain volunteers in legally incorporated organisations may have rights under the law, e.g. if they serve on the committee, or are a signed-up member of the organisation. If this is the case, you should refer to your organisation’s rules or constitution. You are entitled to contact the relevant regulating body for advice and assistance. Find out more about legal incorporation and relevant regulating bodies.

Internal policies
If you decide to pursue the matter, refer to your organisation’s policies and procedures for grievances or conflict. If a policy doesn’t exist, or isn’t made available, think of someone within the organisation you can approach to help work through the issue. For example:

  • Your supervisor.
  • The volunteer manager.
  • The head of the program, area or department.
  • A member of the committee of management.

Don’t be afraid to raise the matter with someone senior if need be. Satisfied, happy volunteers help not-for-profit organisations achieve their mission in the community and should concern all senior officers of an organisation.

Mediation services may be considered, in New South Wales the Community Justice Centre provides free mediation services. Participation in mediation is voluntary. You do not have to participate if you don't want to.

Legal advice
If you wish to pursue the issue through civil law, you will need formal legal advice. Contact your local Community Legal Centre, or your solicitor.

Not-for-profit Law Information Hub
Justice Connect’s Not-For-Profit Law Information Hub can help to ensure volunteers and volunteer-involving organisations receive up-to-date legal advice.

Not-for-profit Law ‘helps the helpers’ by providing tailored legal information, advice and training to not-for-profit community organisations. By relieving the burden of legal issues, organisations can better focus their time and energy on achieving their mission – whether that’s supporting vulnerable people, delivering community services, enhancing diversity or bringing together the community.

Quick Guides

These downloadable resources have been developed under the National Volunteer Management Activity project. 

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