Last month Iowa Governor Chet Culver made an impressive announcement. He shared that the state of Iowa ranked 5th in the nation for volunteerism. In 2008, some 886,000 people volunteered to serve their communities through civic organizations, churches, clubs, and organizations. In addition, the city of Des Moines ranked 10th in the nation among United States cities for volunteerism with a volunteer rate of 38.2%.
As a pastor, I work with volunteers everyday. So it would stand to reason that this story created immediate interest. Any leader of a not for profit organization understands the value of volunteers. At the same time, any leader of a not for profit organization is always looking for more!
In this month’s edition of Rev! magazine, Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee outline the seven deadly sins of volunteer recruitment.
Sin #1: Expecting public announcements or sign up sheets to get volunteers. Many churches, including my own, utilize this method of recruitment. We make announcements and hope people will respond. According the authors, volunteers don’t want to “volunteer.” They want to be personally asked to become involved in a ministry opportunity. When recruitment is made strictly through announcements or sign up sheets, we place the burden of response on the volunteer. And when we are non specific in our requests, we usually wind up with non specific responses.
Sin #2: Centralizing the enlistment process to an individual or a group. The article encouraged creating a culture of enlistment, where volunteer leaders are free to add members to their teams. This act shows that the leader is trusted to give direction to a particular responsibility, and also allows the volunteer leader the opportunity to build chemistry and teamwork within the ministry that the leader has been charged with.
Sin #3: Recruiting only those who are willing to make long term commitments. Sometimes people, especially new ones, are reluctant to make their first commitment to volunteer in church a long term commitment. In our particular church, Sunday School leaders are asked to commit for one year. Committee members are asked for a three year commitment. The writers encourage that churches develop ways to develop volunteers by providing them with excellent short term projects that will serve as first experiences. Short term success will yield longer term commitments.
Sin #4: Assuming that “no” means “never.” No can mean no, but it can also mean something else. For example, “no” may simply mean “not now” or “not yet.” This is a timing issue which means that the person needs to be followed up on at a later time. The word “no” can also mean that the opportunity is not the best fit for the volunteer. This is a passion issue which means the recruiter needs to help the potential volunteer find a better fit within the organization. Just because a person says “no” does not mean the answer is “no.”
Sin #5: Recruiting warm bodies. Effective enlistment includes presenting the volunteer with a clear and complete written explanation of the responsibilities of the position.
Sin #6: Asking busy people to do busy work. Many times volunteers don’t respond to opportunities because they don’t sense the significance within the request. Committed people need to feel as though they are being asked to make an important contribution. The moment they sense they are doing “busy-work,” they’ll excuse themselves from participation. Volunteers need to feel as though their contributions are meaningful.
Sin #7: Forgetting that a large part of church leadership is devoted to volunteer management. There comes a time in the life of a leader (paid or volunteer) when they have to discern whether they are leaders of people or leaders of leaders of people. Growth in inhibited when leaders do not work toward expanding their leadership base. After all, one can only do so much.