Let’s say you are in charge of managing the nursery during church on Sundays. Volunteers rotate so they don’t miss the service every week. But recently you’ve had a number of nursery workers quit for a variety of reasons. Your best worker is pregnant again and can’t be on her feet, a family is moving, and another worker has to care for her elderly parent. Retaining volunteers is a challenge. What do you do?
Volunteers are a precious commodity. In the workforce, an employee has a standard to maintain in order to keep his job or be paid. The paycheck is a strong motivation. In the church, there are few paid positions and most are volunteers. It’s a very different experience to lead volunteers compared to paid employees.
However, even in the workplace the paycheck is not necessarily the best motivation for a job done excellently. Bosses and managers are continually trying to figure out how to improve the morale among their employees because they know it will result in better performance.
Retaining volunteers is critical. So what is it that motivates good performance, loyalty, and consistency. I think there are things that leaders can do to encourage these if you are a children’s ministry leader, a parent leaving children, a Sunday school teacher, or a grandma I think you will benefit from learning how to lead volunteers because the same principles apply.
Here are some practical tips that may help.
Be in constant communication with your workers. They need to know they have your full support. Whether it be a phone call or an email, be in touch weekly. Find out if they are having any problems and if is there anything you can help them with. Even a small problem can be overwhelming if you’re not sure how to handle it. If you are in communication they will feel free to bounce ideas off of you if they are unsure about anything. There is nothing like feeling that your leader cares about you, to foster loyalty. (Hopefully this doesn’t really need saying, but if you are a male or female leading the opposite sex, you have to be very careful to not behave in any way that encourages intimacy.) All of the natural male- female boundaries need to be in place.
Foster a team feeling among the workers. Meetings of the workers to brainstorm together can do this. A leadership style which facilitates rather than dictates works better in retaining volunteers. You can present a problem and ask the team to help with solutions. It’s amazing what great ideas can come from the variety of thinkers on your team. I find frequently I think I have a great idea, but when I get others’ input it molds and improves my original idea. And the workers will have more passion for what they are doing when they have been part of the planning.
Be sure they know they are appreciated. Nothing is worse than working at a task requires long and hard hours and you think nobody cares. A quarterly dinner, it can even be a potluck if there is no budget, with some creative programming to show appreciation might help in retaining volunteers.
Be sure the workers know what is expected of them. Nothing is worse when you’re called to do a job than when you don’t know exactly what the expectations are. Your workers need to be confident that they can do the job set before them. You don’t want to come across as bossy or demanding, but rather encouraging and supportive.
So here’s a start. There’s much more to be said on this topic. We’ll definitely revisit retaining volunteers as well as recruiting. In the meantime, can you leave any questions or any ideas below that you have that you can share with others? We will all benefit from your input.