As you know, Volunteers give of their time to help a church fulfill its mission. Successful volunteer programs are able to create a positive experience by providing structure and support for the volunteer and their job assignments.
People who donate their time come to the role with an expectation of having a positive experience. Good volunteer management incorporates many things that contribute to a positive experience for the volunteer.
Patricia Lotich (founder of Smart Church Management) provides great tips that I modified and thought I would share with you.
10 Commandments for Providing a Great Church Volunteer Experience
1. Thou Shalt Make it Easy for People to Volunteer
In a healthy church, people should want to take ownership and be a part of the life change that takes place. Make it as easy as possible for them to do that.
Do you have multiple avenues for people to sign up? Or, is there one form hanging on a clipboard in a poorly lit hallway? In this day of electronic communication, there are so many ways that you can use to get people on board in your ministry teams. I found the website Planning.Center very helpful for People Management, Service Scheduling, and Scheduling Volunteers. It also made it very easy for them to Accept or Decline a Position and Date.
2. Thou Shalt Do Background Checks
This is a no-brainer and a non-negotiable. Background checks protect you, your church leadership, your congregation and your volunteers. When people know that they have all gone through the same process, it helps them to feel more comfortable and that leads to a better experience overall. Some choose to only do check on those working with children. By submitting everyone to background checks, you are making sure that no one person or ministry is singled out. Additionally, you and the congregation can feel safer knowing who is working behind the scenes.
3. Thou Shalt Provide Clear Expectations
Nobody wants vagueness in what is expected of them. By giving clear directions and expectations, you help to encourage their involvement and reduce your stress. Volunteers are very much like employees in that when they come to work they want to know what is expected of them. Here is a great example of how to look at the difference between setting VAGUE and CLEAR expectations:
Vague expectations: “You’re assigned to emptying the trash cans”.
Clear expectations: “You’re assigned to emptying the trash cans around the campus. There are 15 cans located here (show on map). Please empty them once an hour and take the full bags of trash to the dumpster on the back side of the building (show on map). The trash bags and gloves are located in the janitor’s closet (show on map). If you have any questions or perhaps need help with a heavy can please go to the information booth and have them radio the set-up team leader whose name is Jack. Do you have any questions?”
4. Thou Shalt Provide Detailed Job Training
It is easy to forget that not everyone has as much understanding of the tasks or reasons behind the tasks necessary as we do. How can you better help them meet the expectations you set forth in the last commandment? By giving them great training. I highly recommend hands-on training in addition to online and written resources to help refresh their memories.
Set up a series of opportunities for them to learn with a team member and set for the a course of progression for them to be able to do it on their own (if that is possible). Let them know what that training will look like. During this, you can not only help them understand their role on the ministry team, but also how it supports the mission and vision of your church in addition to how it helps move the Kingdom of God forward. Ultimately, their volunteerism whether in children’s ministry, greeting, tech or janitorial has a purpose and a value in God’s mission.
5. Thou Shalt Invite Volunteer Ideas
Volunteers are on our front lines. Often, they have AMAZING ideas on how they and we can be doing a better job. By encouraging their thoughts on the tasks they are doing week to week, you help them to take a deeper level of ownership in what they are doing. When they feel like their thoughts and ideas are being heard, they are more likely to stick with it and do a better and better job.
6. Thou Shalt Show Volunteer Appreciation
Your volunteers provide an amazing (and free) workforce. Often when they are serving on your ministry teams, they are spending time away from their families and time away from worshiping as part of the Body. That doesn’t include the time necessary to train them and any updates/continuing education necessary. You want to make sure they know that you appreciate them. This will enhance their volunteering experience and keep them wanting to “come back for more.”
There are a ton of ways that you can make sure they feel thanked: verbal affirmations, announcements in the bulletin, highlighting them on the website or social media channels, small gift or even a great big celebration for all your volunteers. We highly recommend using a combination of all those options in addition to coming up with your own.
7. Thou Shalt Demonstrate Care for Them
One thing that I didn’t do well in my role was actually caring for our volunteers. It becomes so easy to slip into only thinking of them and their concerns when they are on the schedule (or don’t show up – am I right?) However, we need to remember that each person who volunteers is a person who is loved by God. Also, they are individuals who have successes and failures, joys and disappointments outside of their time on our ministry calendar. By taking just a few moments to personally interact with them and touch base on what is going on in their lives, you build rapport and a relationship with them that will go beyond Sunday morning. Remember the old saying “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.”
8. Thou Shalt Commit To Consistent Communication
You can never over communicate. That is a saying that our pastor drove home for us as I was dealing with volunteers. In this world of fast-paced lives and multiple avenues of communication, it can become harder and harder to make sure our message gets through. That is why we have to use all the means available at our disposal. That is also why we have to make sure that our communication is consistent in timing and messaging.
9. Thou Shalt Fix What’s Broken
When we tell people that we are committed to our volunteers, that means that we need to make sure they have whatever is necessary to do the job we are asking them. If something is not working, we need to make sure it is fixed. I realize that may seem like just another task for your to-do list. However, what if you looked at it as another great opportunity to get someone involved. There are always people in our communities who love to work with their hands and fix items. What if you had a “Fixit Ministry?”
One word of caution with this idea. Make sure they are reliable and can get the tasks done in a timely manner. There is nothing worse than telling somebody that an item will be fixed for them to use and a year later, you are still waiting to put it back into service.
10. Thou Shalt Maintain a Professional Environment
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” – 1 Corinthians 10:31 –
We often talk about doing all things with “excellence.” This should obviously carry over to the working environment that we ask people to volunteer in. Remember, many of them are coming to us from working jobs that take professionalism and excellence seriously. We want our ministry workers know that we care about their experience in working for us as much or more than their jobs do. It also helps to raise the overall perception of their efforts and gives them a sense of “greatness to aspire to.”