“If there’s ever anything I can do to help, just let me know.”
We hear this a lot. It gets tacked onto the end of a conversation as if it would be impolite to walk away without an offer to help. I spent a long time ignoring these sentences as if they were filler. But recently, I started responding differently:
“Actually there is something. We need someone to [insert specific volunteer role] at least [insert frequency]. Could you help with that?”
Sometimes, they say no. Sometimes, I get a new volunteer. In either case, my work is just beginning.
Take these four steps to ensure brand-new volunteers are both engaged and fulfilled:
1. Make expectations clear
Details like “when” and “where” should never be a mystery. Spell out everything that a new volunteer will need to know. What might seem obvious to you may not be to someone without your experience or training. Explain everything you can, answer any questions that result, and adjust your explanation to include those answers in the future. Nobody should have to wonder what’s expected of them.
2. Set a low bar for entry and a high bar for leaders
Make it easy to get started. You probably want to run a background check on all volunteers, but try to keep the hoop-jumping to a minimum. The harder you make it to become a volunteer, the more people you’ll lose in the onboarding process. Be flexible—these people are giving up their time voluntarily, so accommodating their schedule sends the message that you value their time.
Leadership positions, on the other hand, should be a bit more demanding. Anyone who leads others will essentially be representing the church. Don’t be bashful about asking a little more from them.
Keep volunteers in church
Service is not a substitute for corporate worship (Hebrews 10:25). If you have more than one service, volunteers in roles that pull them out of church ought to volunteer at a different service than they attend. If you only have a single weekly service, then you should rotate volunteers through those roles.
Thank them often
You probably owe your volunteers quite a bit, but you cannot treat them like employees. Volunteers don’t want to be compensated for their time, but they do want to know that their sacrifice is appreciated. It doesn’t cost anything for you to say thank you. Do it often (in many different forms) and never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note.
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