Setting High Expectations for Volunteers

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Man pushing a boulder on a mountainOne of the realities of leading in a ministry setting is that getting things done means recruiting and leading a lot of volunteers. For me, leading volunteers is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. I get to do ministry as a job, but there are hundreds of volunteers at our church who give some of their free time each week to take part in furthering our mission and vision: to help people meet and follow Jesus.

One of the tensions ministry leaders live in is how to set the bar high for our volunteers while acknowledging the reality that they are unpaid workers giving their time—meaning we can’t really limit their vacation time each year. Volunteers are amazing for what they give, but every pastor knows the feeling of holding the bag because a few volunteers forgot to tell you they’d be out of town or someone volunteered to lead a program but didn’t follow through. How do you lead exceptional teams of volunteers without being a dictator that volunteers eventually don’t want to work with?

Lead with vision

If you’ve been burned by low commitment in the past, it’s tempting to lead volunteers with a heavy hand. A volunteer is late two weeks in a row? They can’t serve if they’re not committed. Someone calls in at the last minute? Your response is…firm. Volunteers are just like anyone else: They want to be a part of something that matters. Inspiring a volunteer is far more effective than being a dictator. Sure, it takes some extra effort, but in the long run, it’s worth it.

Give clear expectations up front

But volunteers do need to be responsible, right? When a volunteers signs on for a new role, let them know ahead of time before they say “yes” what the expectations are. Some volunteer roles don’t require quite the same commitment as others. If you need someone to be there forty-eight weeks out of fifty-two, let them know. Are there meetings you want small group leaders to attend? Make that part of the interview process. It gives the volunteer the opportunity to either commit knowing what they’re getting into or perhaps decide to volunteer for a different role with less of a time commitment or more flexibility.

Write a job description

Just because someone isn’t getting paid to work with you doesn’t mean you can’t give them a job description for their role. It shouldn’t be as involved as a a 40-hour-a-week description, but put down in writing what the purpose of their role is, what it looks like for them to be successful in that role, and what their basic responsibilities are. Your volunteers want to know what their job is and how they can be great at it.

Make them part of the team

Nothing will deplete your volunteer team quicker than making them feel as though you are the Mastermind and they are the minions. If you’re doing your job right, your volunteers collectively account for far more hours worked in your church or organization each week than you do. Make sure your volunteers know that they are just as much of a team member as you are, even if they serve for an hour a couple of times a month. Give them leadership, “insider” information, and let them be a part of decisions they’ll be responsible for carrying out.

Say “Thank you”

Volunteers who feel appreciated are far more likely to give you their all week in and week out. This one is so easy to overlook, but the best investment you can make in your volunteer teams is to say “Thank you!” in a variety of ways throughout the year. Gift cards and thank-you dinners are great, but it doesn’t always have to be that big. If your church has experienced a big “win” like a great Easter Sunday or seeing a life radically transformed by Jesus, send your your team members a quick email to know they were an important part of that.

What did I miss? How do you get the most out of your volunteer teams? I’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment below!

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