5 ways to shape your volunteers
What is a “volunt-here”?
Everyone knows what the word volunteer means. A volunteer is someone who shows up to assist with a project, an event, or a ministry. It’s that person you use to provide safety and sanity in the bounce house you rented for the church picnic. You remember that bounce house—the one you swore that you would never work at again after last year’s fiasco … when you didn’t know what you were doing and you let 15 kids in at the same time. I bet you still have nightmares of screaming children holding their heads and arms as their parents carried them away, glaring at you the whole time.
Volunteers typically get the worst assignments, usually with little or no training. Many volunteers become one-and-dones. After a terrible experience, the volunteer also decides they never want to volunteer again. Pastors and ministry leaders all have the same problem—not enough consistent volunteers. Most of them settle for any warm body out of desperation, instead of out of need.
I’ve made it my mission to turn volunteers into volunt-heres. A volunt-here is a volunteer who is reliable and consistent. They’re the biggest blessing in my own personal ministry and they can be in yours as well.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Finding volunt-heres is harder than finding the Holy Grail. That’s not true. They found the Holy Grail in Spain just last week. Turning volunteers into volunt-heres is easier than you think. Every volunt-here starts as a volunteer; it’s how you shape and mold them over time that makes the difference.
Here are five practical ways to start shaping and molding your volunteers into reliable and consistent volunt-heres.
- Feed your volunteers and their children. I like the way an old Chinese proverb states it, “He who is hungry is never a good civil servant.” Hungry people don’t want to serve, and when they do, they don’t serve well. Feed your volunteers every time you have an event or ministry. Not everyone will eat your food, but many times the offer of food is enough.
I feed my Sunday morning volunteers every week. And yes, before you ask … it is very expensive. Not everyone eats each week, but the donuts are always gone at the end of the service. I can’t stress this enough. My rule is simple—If you’re running late for church, bring your entire family for a free donut breakfast. I can’t tell you how many times volunteers were either late or absent, because they didn’t have time to feed their children before church.
It’s an easy fix. Feed their children. When you care for their children, you care for the parents. I also let families who regularly serve in children’s ministry eat, even on the weeks they’re not serving. I want them to know I care about them all the time, not just when I’m benefitting from their service. It’s a great motivation to get to church when your kids are begging relentlessly to go and eat their favorite donut.
- Make training available and mandatory. Nothing is more frustrating than an untrained volunteer. They do what they want, how they want, when they want. Untrained volunteers frustrate volunteers who are trained in the right way. Most times, when I have physical training sessions I only have 40-50% of my volunteers show up. This is a common trend in most churches. Everyone has an excuse, or they selfishly don’t care.
It’s difficult to run anything successfully with only half of your volunteers trained. Instead, offer video training. Record yourself teaching your training sessions and email the video link to all of your volunteers. For any that don’t have email or a computer, burn them a DVD copy. Follow the video with a quick survey test, using a service like MailChimp. Send a 5-question survey that the volunteer must pass to be able to serve. Make the questions hard enough that they can’t guess, but obvious enough if they actually watch the video. Doing this, I saw an increase of trained volunteers to around 95%-100%. Don’t make exceptions; if a volunteer doesn’t pass the test, s/he won’t make a good volunt-here, and you’ll have trouble with their ability and consistency later. Save yourself the hassle up front.
You can record the video with a camcorder, phone, iPad, computer, or anything else that shoots video. Now, what if you live in the dark ages and don’t have video capabilities? Offer training during regular serving time, and require every person to come. I did this once for an entire month. I offered it eight times because we have two services. Everyone attended, but it was a long month and the videos are a much better solution.
- Place volunteers in adequate positions. For volunteers to become volunt-heres, they must not only feel they are adequately prepared for the job at hand, but they must also like and enjoy the job they’re doing. A trained volunteer serving in the wrong position or area will not be a long serving volunt-here. S/he will become stressed, burnt-out, or frustrated.
I use personality profile assessments to evaluate the best fits for each volunteer. There are many different companies you can use, but I prefer to use a DISC profile assessment.
A few years ago, I had a highly charismatic individual who wanted to coordinate a large monthly drama program. He was not gifted in administration and became stressed due to the repetitive nature of the position. After a few months, he called it quits. It was a poor fit for him. He needed to be on stage, not behind the scenes.
I realized that I needed to put volunteers in well-suited positions that they can thrive in, long term. I began putting highly charismatic people in positions where they can teach to large groups, and I put supportive people behind the scenes. I placed persuasive driving people in positions of leadership with clearly defined boundaries, and administrative people who love consistency, as teachers and coordinators. An amazing thing happened. Turnover decreased; in fact, it nose-dived. Volunteers became volunt-heres. People wanted to serve, and they looked forward to participating in the ministry. Best of all, the need for substitutes fell to a minimum. My volunteers turned into volunt-heres who became so invested in the ministry that they didn’t want to miss or let anyone down.
You can do this, too. Start by surveying your leaders. Ask them if they’re happy. Use a free online personality assessment to assess some of your disgruntled leaders and volunteers, and then move them to a better fitting position.
- Appreciate them individually. Every spring, I used to hand-write thank you letters for over 200 volunteers. It was a lot of work and it took a lot of time. I liked the personal touch and I wanted to appreciate people personally. Then one day, I received a thank you card. I read it and threw it in the trash. It was nice, but those kinds of sentiments aren’t important to me. I happened to be in the middle of writing all of my thank you cards at the time.
I started thinking about how many people felt the same way about my cards. Every year a handful of people thanked me and told me that they appreciated the cards, but not 200. As a big advocate of Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, I decided to completely change the way I appreciate people.
I gave each of my volunteers a Five Love Languages assessment. We created individualized nametags for each volunteer with their top one or two love languages noted. Next, my staff and I started to appreciate them accordingly. People who scored “gifts” on the test, received small gifts. People who scored “words of affirmation,” still received thank you cards. For “acts of service” people, we found ways to help in the classroom or assist them in some small way. “Touch” people received high-fives, fist pounds, and hugs, and “quality time” people got a quick visit each week when they served.
At first people were leery, but when they started to feel more appreciated, they became more excited, more involved, and more consistent. They became volunt-heres. You can do this too. Start by reading Dr. Chapman’s book. Step outside your comfort zone, identify the love languages of individual volunteers, and appreciate each one in a way that makes them feel valued and special.
I am nobody without my volunteers. They make my ministry run. If they would all quit for some reason—I’d be dead in the water. I would be fired. My most important task is managing volunteers and turning them into volunt-heres, through proper appreciation and utilization, adequate training, and hunger management. These four steps may not sound easy, and I’m not going to lie, they take extra work and effort. But the extra work and effort pays off. And when you look back and realize your ministry is more successful because you have well-trained, reliable volunt-heres, you’ll be thankful. When your volunt-heres begin to excel in their respective ministries, you won’t see them as volunt-heres anymore; you’ll see them as volunt-heroes.
Cyle Young battles poopy diapers and snotty noses to share the message of Christ with another generation. Hear more of his battle stories or share some of your own at cyleyoung.com.