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Volunteers are great people. They give to your church, ministry or organization for one reason: they want to.

“It’s worthwhile. I think it’s important. I can, I should, so I do.” the reasons are as many as the volunteers themselves. Here are eight tips to help you foster and maintain a great volunteer morale where you serve. I’m coming at this from a ministry standpoint but these transfer easily. Some of these I’ve learned the hard way (save yourself some heartache), some I’ve picked up from others along the way. I hope these help make yours an awesome place to volunteer, with little or no attrition from one year to the next.

1. Once a month or so, imagine what church would be like if your volunteers declared a volunteer skip-day (like you did when you were a high-school senior). Don’t dwell on it too long, you’ll plunge into depression! Instead, thank the Lord for those who serve so faithfully, so willingly alongside you. You’ll never take your people for granted with that jarring no-volunteers image in your recent memory.

2. Say “thanks”. You don’t have to gush or anything, just say “we couldn’t do this without you”. Because you couldn’t. Really. They may politely disagree with you, “Oh, yes you could.” but that’s OK, they don’t see the volunteer-less horror story in the back of your mind.

3. Provide the best resources you can afford for them. Volunteers can’t do anything about what the organization provides, really, but their loyalty sky-rockets when an organization provides good tools to work with. Do your best by them and enjoy the benefits.

4. When you’re working on a problem, and you will eventually if you’re not already, remind yourself “If it’s not positive it’s not E-mail.” You have no control over the day your volunteer had before they check their Email when they get home. You don’t get to choose the tone of voice with which they read your message. You have no way of saying “slow down, you’re reading it too fast and too harsh.” No, If it’s not positive it’s not E-mail. Pick up the phone. Even in the middle of the day when they’re at work and leave a message. “I’m thinking about you this afternoon, I’ll call you when you’re home. Have a great day; talk to you soon.”

5. Volunteers appreciate when you respect their time, so it’s always good to ask, or say, “If you don’t have time to discuss this right this instant, that’s OK, I can sure call back.” Don’t apologize for taking a moment of their time, but do thank them for it at the end of the conversation.

6. There’s no way to tell when you call what’s happening on the other end of the line. Everything could be fine, or they could be dealing with the flu at their house. Your volunteer may be elbow-deep in a budget spreadsheet. Half-way through devotions. Watching a movie. Whatever it is, you need to set the scene for your conversation quickly and positively, even if (especially if) you’re problem-solving. The same is true when they’re in the building. So set the stage quickly and positively. For example: “Hey there… I’m working on something here and I’d like your perspective on things. I’m trying to find a way to make sure the tension on our team right now* doesn’t intensify and ruin a really good thing. You got a second? [*right now is a key phrase. It implies temporariness and expresses hope, both at once.] Beginning this way you’ve expressed a long-range win/win at the very beginning. The person across the table or on the other end of the line can relax. They’re not thrown on the defensive right away. Granted, you may have to “get to the bottom of things” on your way to tension’s end, but you’ll get more help from your volunteers if you include them in the sorting process (especially if they’re contributing to the problem you’re trying to solve 😀 ).

7. Don’t promise things until you’re sure you can make good on your promise. If something goes wrong, like the money being needed elsewhere, which happens a lot in churches and ministry organizations, you’ve in-effect gone back on your word. That’s huge with volunteers. To say “We’re thinking about a), b), c)” in broad-brush terms lets your volunteers know you’re working on something good for up ahead.

8. Affirm your volunteers value with that first-smile warmth when you see them. Every time. Go back to #1 and imagine your ministry without any volunteers if that’ll help. None. See? You really ARE glad to see this one, even if he’s a bit grumpy for your taste. Smile when he walks in and say “hello”. Who knows? Maybe yours is the first smile he’ll see today. Maybe life is grim at work or at home. Start off on the right foot every chance you get.

For years I’ve said managers of volunteers need to be above-average managers, maybe even top-level. There’s no pay check, no pending promotion to keep a volunteer volunteering. They can say “I believe I’ll do something else.” at any point, and simply stop attending, working, contributing. Great morale in your volunteer community, on the other hand, can keep that from happening, because yours is a great place to belong to, a great place to serve, a volunteer community that rocks!

Try these, and see what you think. Do you have a hint or two to add? A lesson learned somewhere along the way? I’d love for you to share it; there’s plenty of room in the comments!

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