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How to Recruit and Keep the Best Volunteers

How to Recruit and Keep the Best Volunteers
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    Benjer McVeigh
Every ministry leader has felt it: the panic of not having enough volunteers for an event or program. Or maybe you’ve got the volunteers, but they aren’t engaged and don’t show up on a regular basis. No one told me when I started out in ministry that leading volunteers would be such a big chunk of my job. In my current position, the people I lead includes one part-time staff member and almost 150 volunteers. Since I lead our church’s small groups, we literally could not do what we do in small groups without great volunteers. Yet I remember hearing very, very little—if anything—about leading volunteers in any seminary classes or leadership books I read when I first started out in ministry. And to be honest: Most of what I’ve learned about leading volunteers I’ve learned the hard way. Whether you need a handful of volunteers on your team or you lead hundreds of volunteers, your life would probably be a lot less stressful if you had more volunteers who were committed to being consistent and helpful in their role, right? Here are a few ways you can recruit and keep more of the best volunteers:

Don’t recruit people to complete a task; recruit people to realize a vision.

The best volunteers want to make a difference. When you recruit people just to do one task, you’ll get people to do that task. But when you recruit volunteers to accomplish a huge goal, you’ll get people who love using their gifts to create something incredible. Show people a compelling vision, you’ll get people who will do everything they can to help it become a reality.

Ask yourself, “What would make me want to volunteer here?”

Put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re inviting to give their free time to serve with you. What would make you want to give a couple of hard-earned free hours in your week to volunteer somewhere? Take a minute and write down the first three or four things that come to mind. Then, make those three or four things a reality in the ministry you lead.

Make volunteering fun.

Seriously. First, you’ll keep away—or perhaps convert—grumpy volunteers. Second, you’ll create a fun culture where people actually enjoy volunteering and look forward to it every week. A fun atmosphere makes for happy volunteers.

Assign leadership rather than a job.

Great volunteers want to make whatever they’re in charge of better. Rather than saying, “This is what you need to do,” try saying, “Here’s what we’re trying to accomplish; do you have any different ideas?” This means giving people the freedom to improve and make better whatever you’ve put them in charge of. Nothing will repel a great volunteer faster than being told, “This is just the way we do it here.” However, if you give volunteers the latitude to change and give leadership to what they’re doing—even if it’s a simple five-minute devotion for 2-year-olds—you’ll keep the best volunteers you have.

Always welcome feedback.

As ministry leaders, we often resist asking for feedback and new ideas because of the tons of unsolicited feedback we get. But your volunteers have great ideas. After all, they’re the ones in the trenches week in and week out seeing what works and what doesn’t work. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before you hear their ideas about what could be done better. Ask them their opinions, and put their ideas into practice.

Say thank you. A lot.

People love to be appreciated. Your volunteers have a lot of things they could be doing with their time, and they choose to spend some of it working for you. For free. Make sure you say thanks each and every time they serve, and get in the habit of sending thank-you notes. Gratitude may the best investment you can make in your volunteer team.   What else would you add to this list?