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Valuing Volunteers: The Key to Volunteer Retention

Many churches, missions and non-profit organizations rely on volunteers to accomplish their goals.  Volunteerism reduces payroll costs and can be an effective way to engage more people in the important work of the Kingdom of God.

Working with those volunteers can present some unique challenges, though.  Here are a few tips to keep in mind when working with volunteers.

1) Be clear on expectations for volunteers.

This sounds simple enough, but many potential volunteers may not know what is expected and therefore are hesitant to sign up.  Give a clear set of expectations, including time required and skills needed as well as outcomes expected. This can reduce confusion and possible tension, while going a long way toward creating an opportunity that excites people.

2) Be creative in getting things done.

Volunteers may develop different ways of accomplishing tasks and goals than the leader had initially planned.  Willingness to consider a volunteer’s way of doing things may be just the thing that seals the deal in creating a recurring volunteer.  As leaders, it can sometimes be hard to sit back and let others find their way of doing things. However, the results can be pleasantly surprising.

3) Be prepared for them.

People are smart and know when you are not ready for them.  Preparation means having supplies and equipment ready, as well as having real, meaningful work lined up for them from the start.  It is discouraging for a volunteer to show up and watch the leader try to figure out what to do with them.  This also means being ready to help them understand why their tasks are integral parts of the mission/vision of the organization.

4) Be interested in your volunteers as people.

Get to know their names and a little bit about them.  Volunteers are not simply free labor or tools to be used in getting a job done.  They bring with them their own experiences and perspectives and want to be treated with respect and dignity.  That might sound basic, but when the task to be done takes priority over the people, the people often won’t return.   Also, seek ways to provide input to their lives in terms of information, education, training or opportunities to try something new.  If they know you care about them as people, they are more likely to return.

5) Be ready to help them find success.

Even if that means moving them to a different area, make sure you help them succeed.  The old adage that says “you can’t fire a volunteer” is a tricky point.  How do you lovingly and graciously help someone understand the area they are volunteering in is not something they are really suited for? Be ready to have an honest conversation in which both parties come to the same conclusion.  Perhaps there are other volunteering opportunities that might be a better fit.  Those opportunities might even be with a different organization.  And who knows, it could be that the conversation will come as a relief to the volunteer. They may have been struggling but didn’t want to quit or give up on something to which they had committed.  A gracious way out may be just what they need.

6) Be direct in appreciation of their effort.

A simple face-to-face thank you is all most volunteers are looking for, yet many times this simple act is overlooked.  Volunteers gave up something to come work with you and your church.   Be sure to look them in the eye and give them a sincere thanks for their efforts.

While working with church volunteers is not always easy, it can be a fulfilling experience for everyone if done well.  Memories are made.  People are left with a better understanding of the important work being done by the church or organization.  Relationships are built.  And some work gets done along the way.

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