Managing Interpersonal Conflict at a Nonprofit Event

The larger your event team, the more likely that there will be an argument at some point. Addressing these conflicts is essential to ensure things continue to run smoothly. Here’s how.

Where people and stress mix, there is conflict.

No matter how passionate your volunteers, no matter how well all their goals align with the core mission of your charity, eventually there will be a disagreement. Events frequently have logistical and security challenges, the kind that can really wear on a person.

It can cause what might otherwise be a minor disagreement to spiral into greater conflict.

As a leader, it’s your job to address those conflicts as they arise and to recognize that an issue exists, and take measures to mitigate it.

First and foremost, pay attention to your people. It’s important that there’s a framework to enable communication amongst event staff and volunteers, and that everyone involved in an event has the ability to make their voice heard. That alone will go a long way towards helping you root out and address any concerns.

Beyond that, assign delegates to each group of volunteers. Their role will be to deal with minor arguments. They’ll only bring leadership in if a conflict is beyond their abilities to deal with.

Finally, a clear conflict management process is a must. Documentation should be available to everyone involved in an event and should be both concise and easy to understand. It should outline who is responsible for resolving conflicts, steps that must be taken before approaching these individuals, and how disciplinary action is to be applied, in the event that it must be.

In devising this process, keep the following in mind:

  • Arguments between volunteers and event staff should never impede an event. Personal disputes must be dealt with privately. Ensure volunteers and event staff are reminded of this.
  • When mitigating a conflict, listen to both sides of the argument independently. Speak to each person involved alone, and be completely impartial in your conversation. Encourage people to stick to facts.
  • Once everyone has had their stories heard, sit down and talk to them about how you can solve the problem. Note that you may be unable to do this during your event. It might have to be dealt with afterward. If so, take measures to ensure that the two parties do not have to interact with one another until the issue is addressed.
  • Document everything. Every conversation and action in your conflict resolution process should be recorded.
  • Guidelines for volunteer behavior should be simple and clear, along with the consequences for violating these guidelines.

My last word of advice is that not everything that looks like conflict necessarily is conflict. Some people are, unfortunately, just toxic. They want to stir up trouble and want to pit people against one another.

It’s important that you’re able to recognize such people and their behavior for what they are. Someone who is constantly and publicly negative or hostile is likely just looking to create trouble, and keeping them around will only harm your organization.

Conflict resolution is as much a part of a nonprofit event as anything else. Learning how to recognize, address, and resolve problems is an important part of your skillset. Follow the guidelines above, and you should be just fine.

About the Author

Brad Wayland is the Chief Strategy Officer at BlueCotton, a site with high-quality, easy-to-design custom t-shirts.