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How to Lead and Keep Your Volunteers

doug fields volunteers

My dentist has a plaque on his wall that reads, “You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!” I hate flossing … but I get the point.

There’s a similar principle in leading volunteers: “You don’t have to encourage/affirm all your volunteers, just the ones you want to keep!”

Most leaders understand how vital the principle of affirmation is when leading volunteers. Good leaders already know this!

Volunteers are not serving for the money (duh, that’s why they’re called “volunteers”) … they have their own reasons for why they volunteer their time (I believe the two biggest reasons are because they either feel called, or someone asked them—but that’s for another post at another time), they have their own inner motivation that connects to their “why” … but a good leader can add to a volunteer’s longevity by delivering some timely encouragement.

Beyond your own delivery of encouragement, I would encourage you to use what I’ve termed “outside” encouragement. This is specific encouragement that comes from outside of you—as the primary leader. You facilitate it, others deploy it.

Think about it, if I encourage you weekly … chances are you’ll be thankful (“Wow, Doug sure is nice to me! Always encouraging.”). But, after several months of this encouragement, it can begin to lose some of its power. But what if I ask a parent to encourage you? Now, there’s a new voice, different words, unique tone and a different motive. That new “outside” encouragement can become very meaningful.

My wife is a volunteer leader of small group of (junior) girls. She was given the attached note. Simple. Thoughtful. And definitely powerful. Some of the other girls gave her Starbucks cards for Christmas, small gifts, etc. … but, it was the note that was the most meaningful. Facilitating this type of leadership is not only easy, it’s powerful!

As a leader, you hold the power to keep your volunteers affirmed. In addition to your encouragement (I’m assuming you do that already), you can direct “outside” encouragement by asking students, parents and even your senior pastor to write an occasional note of appreciation. The power of well-placed words can go a long way. 

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Doug Fields has been in youth ministry since 1979 and former pastor to students at Saddleback Church in Southern California. He's the author of 50+ books, including the best-selling Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry & Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry. He's also the founder of Simply Youth Ministry, an instructor at Azusa Pacific University/HomeWord, and on the leadership team with Youth Specialties. You can connect with Doug through his blog at www.downloadyouthministry.com! More from Doug Fields or visit/subscribe to Doug's blog at www.dougfields.com