7 Ways to Effectively Lead Volunteers

I’ve written on burnout (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and also this one) and volunteer issues before, but the key to avoiding those issues is right-fitting volunteers and placing safe boundaries around their workload.

In my experience, there are three parts (Recruit, Train, Retain) to this process, so I’ve included my Seven Steps of Recruiting, Training and Retaining Volunteers. Feel free to share and comment.

1) Invite someone to learn with you. There’s something powerful about being invited and asked to participate in something bigger than ourselves. Most of the best volunteers I’ve met at hundreds of churches came because someone asked them if they’d like a chance to see what it was like to do what we do! Your pool of current volunteers are the best possible recruiters. Why? Because, chances are, they are friends with people similar to themselves. That means techies know more techies. It also means that your nontechie volunteers (more on that below) know people like them, too. Leveraging the spheres of influence that your volunteers have is the best way to invite new people to your ministry.

Another important recruiting tip is to find college interns, stay-at-home moms and retirees who have the time to give on a Monday through Friday basis. Unlike your other volunteers with full-time jobs, these folks have more flexible schedules and can help you with a host of necessary areas including volunteer scheduling, administrative support, copywriting, organizing, documenting and encouraging other volunteers with handwritten notes. I have had men and women help me out during the week so that I was freed up to do the work that only I could do instead of work that anyone could do. One of my best volunteers was a brilliant administrator; she just kept me organized and helped me with the myriad of daily tasks that I didn’t like or have the time to do.

When you use interns, keep a log of what they do and give them the chance to apply their time and effort toward their high school or college credits. It may mean you need to go and visit with their high school counselor or college professor, but those real world, on-the-job training hours can result in applicable hours toward their degree.

2) Guide someone through the process, initiate them slowly through the ropes and give them a lot of freedom to watch and observe. There’s a great deal of safety in knowing that an invitation to come into the tech booth has no expectation for them to perform. If possible, have a trained techie with the observer to point out what’s happening and to answer their questions. Demystifying the tech is a big part of alleviating their fears.

3) Encourage those who have a giftedness at certain tasks or in certain areas. We all love hearing when we’ve “got it” and like to know we’re doing something well (or have the potential to do so). Your best volunteers will ‘own’ their role, taking your ministry to new heights because of their joy, passion and talent! Plus, really happy volunteers are also highly motivated volunteers who show up early and stay late.

4) Develop the people who show the most interest, have the best servant attitudes and are teachable. I’d much rather have a person who is inexperienced and teachable than an “expert” who can’t be taught. If you’ve got a soccer mom who doesn’t know technology but is highly teachable, pour into her and see where she can serve. I’ve quite often found that soccer moms make some of the best presentation software volunteers and excellent camera operators. Truly, you don’t have to have a techie person to keep up with detail work. They don’t have to know the operating system or even how the camera really works. They just operate with confidence and style!

5) Evaluate honestly. Hurting feelings doesn’t have to be a part of the job, so be gentle when you have to redirect people out of areas where they can’t accomplish the job. Keep written records of evaluation and offer tangible steps for people to either improve or find new ways to serve.