Building Trust with Volunteers

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HandsIf you’re a church or ministry leader, chances are that “volunteer coordinator” is a part of your job description. Churches don’t (or shouldn’t) run without volunteers. If something’s going really well in your church, it’s probably because you have great volunteers in that area.

An important part of leading volunteers is gaining and building trust. If volunteers don’t feel like they can trust you, your decisions, or your intentions, your team will either dwindle in numbers or become very unhealthy. Trust is more than just believing you; when volunteers trust their leader, they are willing to follow that leader and do just about anything he or she asks them to. So how do you build trust with your volunteers?

1) Stay organized.
I’ve learned (the hard way) that one of the easiest way to frustrate volunteers is to be disorganized as a leader. Volunteers who don’t know until the last minute when or where you’d like them to serve will quickly turn on their leader. On the other hand, volunteers who know what’s going on in the ministry they serve in appreciate the fact that their leaders go the extra mile to keep them informed. When you help out your volunteers by getting them schedules and needed materials ahead of time, send reminder emails, and show up for meetings and events prepared, you are letting them know that you value their time and effort enough not to waste them.

2) Tell them how they’re making a difference.
Volunteers want to know that as they follow you, the time and effort (and often resources) they give are making a difference. You wouldn’t show up each week for a volunteer job if you thought it was a waste of your time, would you? Neither will most of your volunteers–no matter how good your church coffee is. When you show volunteers tangible ways that they help change someone’s day, or even their lives, they are more likely to trust you when you ask them the take on a new volunteer position or help you launch a new ministry or initiative. This can be as simple as passing along some stats (“Did you know that 50% of the families who have visited our Sunday morning children’s program are still around six months later? Great job!”) or telling stories of life change that has occurred through your team’s area of responsibility. This isn’t stroking your volunteers’ ego; it’s simply letting them know that they are investing their time wisely.

3) Let them help make decisions.
Your volunteers are on the front lines of ministry, and most of them probably want your church to be as effective as you do. Before you switch gears, redesign your program, or restructure your teams, ask your volunteers what they think. They probably already have a pretty strong opinion on how things should go, and they’ll love you for asking to hear them. Chances are, they see problems developing before you do and know what really needs to be fixed. This doesn’t mean that you put every decision to a vote, but by bringing your volunteers into some of the decision-making process, you’ll be putting money in the bank with your teams.

4) Say “Thank you.”
This one is sometimes the hardest for busy pastors and ministry leaders to do because of the more immediate concerns of ministry. However, saying “Thank you” may be the most important way to building trust with volunteers. When you write a thank you note, host a party or dinner for volunteers, or send a Starbucks card, you acknowledge that your volunteers could choose to do many things with their time and that you’re grateful they choose to give some of it to your ministry or church.

What are other ways to build trust with your volunteers?

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