The Seven Deadly Sins of Recruiting Volunteers … And How to Generate Excitement and Participation!
The scene: Tuesday night at our monthly membership meeting. A frantic staff member stands before the group of about 300 members and says, “If we don’t get any volunteers for this program, we will assume that you aren’t interested, and we’ll just cancel it.”
Some over-worked members feel guilty and raise their hands. Others groan and say, “The trouble with our organization is that no one wants to get involved.” Others say, under their breath, “Good, it’s about time we cancel some of our activities.”
Sound familiar? We’ve all seen it happen. Well, if you are going to mess up in your volunteer program, you might as well mess up bad. By committing one of the following seven sins, you not only chase members away, but you burn them out.
Sin One: Expect Announcements to Get Volunteers
Here’s a personal example, from my experience as a minister. We needed people in our spiritual center to volunteer for a short-term project. I made the announcement, wrote articles in our newsletter, had people who had been involved give a five-minute plug in several services, and did a special mailing demonstrating the benefits for being a part of this special team. So why didn’t people rush up to volunteer to be part of this exciting opportunity? What had I done wrong?
I went to lunch with a person who was a mover and shaker in our Center and asked him, “Why didn’t you volunteer for this project? I could see your name written all over it.” I’ll never forget his response. John said, “If you wanted me, why didn’t you ask? I’d be happy to work with you on this project, but I would never volunteer.”
I learned an important lesson 20 years ago that I have not forgotten. Many people will never volunteer. Why aren’t people volunteering? Because people want to be asked.
Sin Two: Go It Alone
Too many team leaders try to handle the project themselves – or end up with a small handful of volunteers who sporadically show up at meetings and events. No wonder they get burned out! Here’s the secret: People want to get involved – but they need to feel like their contributions matter!
Look for ways to use the skills people bring to a project – and acknowledge that you cannot do it alone! Also find ways to
combine forces among your volunteer groups. You can also partner with local agencies, which connects your church with your community. For example, Loaves and Fishes is a successful agency in Sacramento that feeds the homeless. They run the Mustard Seed School for the children of homeless families. This organization uses volunteers each day to take care of the meals and school. How do they get this many volunteers? They partner with local organizations—mostly churches.
Sin Three: Recruit Life-time Individuals—Not Short-term Project Teams
Many people are afraid of getting tied into a job for a lifetime and never being able to get out of it. They get burned out and then, not seeing a graceful way out of the position, end up leaving the church as a way to end their volunteer role. After experiencing this once, lots of people never volunteer again.
Try these three “Best Practices” as you invite people to be a part of your team:
#1: Ask for short-term commitments with a specific end date. Volunteers are more willing to say yes to a short-term commitment with an end-date in sight.
#2: Have a clear, exciting mission, and be able to show how it fits in with your church’s vision. Volunteers appreciate the opportunity to support the vision of the church, and enjoy working with a passionate leader.
#3: Make time to get to know your volunteers and discover their passion and interests. You can serve as a mentor for volunteers, preparing them for future opportunities, instead of burning them out with one long drawn-out project. This will ensure the future sustainability of your church.
Sin Four: Assume That “No” Means “Never”
Timing is everything. When we get the courage to approach someone to ask if they will volunteer, and then they say no, we often feel rejection.
Sometimes the no simply means “not now.” Sometimes it means that the prospective volunteer feels that he/she is overworked, or going through a difficult personal situation. When the answer is “no,” here are two great follow-up questions to ask:
#1: Is your “no” a forever “no” – or would it be all right for me to ask you again at a later time when your situation might be different?
#2: When you are able to say “yes,” is there any particular team or project that you would love to be involved in?
Sin Five: Fall Into the BIC (Butt In Chair) Trap
We often fall into the trap of following the BIC syndrome. Because we are in desperate need for a volunteer and need them quickly, we plead our case to anyone who “fogs a mirror” just to get someone to be a “Butt In the Chair.” Consider this TRUTH: Most times the chair is better empty than filled with the wrong person who does nothing or is high maintenance. It’s not about filling spots; it’s about creating teams!
Sin Six: Be People-Driven Rather Than Position-Driven
One of the worst situations we can place someone in is to put them in a volunteer position for which they have no interest, aptitude, or passion. It is easy to get so caught up in wanting to fill vacant volunteer positions that we take an interested person and stick them in an open spot, with no consideration for whether or not they fit the needs of the vacancy.
Here’s an example: Allyson was fairy new to the congregation, and expressed an interest in being part of the Celebration Team. She loved to do behind-the-scenes work and pictured herself folding bulletins, creating name tags, and stuffing envelopes. But she found herself assigned to be the platform facilitator on Sunday mornings, and meet & greet newcomers. As a result of this disastrous appointment, Allyson felt overwhelmed, nervous, inadequate, and disappointed—and eventually quit not only the volunteer position, but the church!
When you look at volunteer teams, think—position. Identify what skills are needed to be successful in these positions, and then I look for people who can have those skills and interests.
Sin Seven: Expect People to Know How to Do It … Out of the Gate
Typically, once a volunteer has been placed in a spot, the training occurs in the moment! It is baptism by fire … and there’s no water in sight! This makes people feel inadequate, and set the stage for some very public failures!
Here’s an example: JoAnn was excited to be asked to participate on the AV team, and felt she had good skills to bring to the job. She was surprised to discover, on her first Sunday working AV for the Sunday morning service, to be asked by the music director to redo the PowerPoint slides with new words. JoAnn had never worked with the PowerPoint in terms of making changes to slides, and no one had prepared her for the potential it might happen. As a result, the slides did not project properly during the service, several words were misspelled, and the images covered some of the words. A little up front training would have eliminated this embarrassing disaster!
If we expect volunteers to give their best, and inspire others to toss their hats into the volunteer ring, we must provide adequate training! Look for ways to ensure the volunteers know exactly what they are expected to do, and have the skills they need to do it. And don’t forget to let them know how much you appreciate them! It is worth the investment of time, and will reap incredible benefits … as together you walk the spiritual path on practical feet!