Leading Your Volunteer Culture

“Culture—not vision or strategy—is the most powerful factor in any organization.”

—Sam Chand, Cracking Your Church’s Culture Code

Culture is made up of tangibles and intangibles. The tangibles are things like how you dress, how your church environments are maintained, the kind of motivational pieces you put in your volunteers’ hands (i.e., inspirational coffee mugs, candy, etc.).

The intangibles are harder to grasp but are a truer reflection of the underlying personality of your team. Things like values and beliefs, how successes are celebrated and how problems are addressed.

The definition of culture is: the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a social, ethnic or age group.

If this is true, then in order for me to understand the existing culture among my volunteer team, I must pay attention to the behaviors and beliefs characterizing that group of people. A great exercise in evaluation is to identify one behavior you currently see among your volunteer team. Then ask yourself this question: Do you like that behavior? If your answer is yes … great! Don’t change a thing. If you don’t like that behavior … then we’ve got to work on some things.

Here are three important steps that will help you create the volunteer culture you want:

Step 1: Identify your Values – It all begins with the “die on a hill” values of your ministry. What is most important to the ministry and those God calls to serve within it?

Action Step: First, write down an existing value in your ministry. What is the evidence that value is embraced by a volunteer? Second, identify a value you want to see in your ministry. What is the evidence that value is not yet embraced?

Step 2: Infuse your Values – Tie the functions of your ministry to a value. Ask yourself, “How does this event/experience/behavior support a value of our ministry?” Resist instilling policies. Policies are for liabilities, not relationships. There’s a difference between a policy on recruiting (Everyone recruits and everyone serves. So go recruit!) or a culture of invitation (We’re always looking for opportunities to invite others to join what God is doing in our ministry.).

Action Step: Choose a value from Step 1, then identify a function/event within your ministry that supports that value. What evidence will communicate the event/function no longer supports that value. **It’s critical to quantify how much you want the value to be supported. The question is rarely about an event/function that is starkly opposed to a value. The question is when a function kind of supports a value, but not all the way. It benefits your ministry to determine in advance what percentage will satisfy you and/or your leadership.**

Step 3:  Celebrate the Fruit – What is celebrated is repeated. Celebrate the evidence of the right culture (be specific). Do it often. Do it well. Nothing’s more unpalatable than an uninspired, insincere celebration.

Action Step: Think “Minute to Win It” style. Creative ways you’ve celebrated “wins” among your team that are small, inexpensive and to the point.

“Cultural values are things your volunteers are willing to defend, not just you.”