7 Deadly Sins Of Recruiting Volunteers
By Jonathan Mckee & Thomas Mckee
It’s a Wednesday night pre-meeting gathering with our adult leaders-attrition has whittled them down to the committed few. You lay down a desperate challenge: “If we don’t get more volunteers for our outreach event, I’ll just cancel it.” A couple of overworked leaders feel guilty and raise their hands. Another groans, “The trouble with this church is that no one wants to get involved.” And another mumbles, “Good-it’s about time we cancel something.”
Ever feel under the gun when you’re recruiting volunteers? Because we’re panicked, we’re tempted to use anemic recruiting ideas. Deep down, we know that these don’t work, but we fall prey to them because we’re trying to fill our slots quickly. When we give in to that temptation, we not only chase leaders away, we also burn them out.
Let’s look at the seven most common volunteer recruiting sins, paired with methods that actually work.
Sin No.1: Expect Announcements To Get Volunteers
When you really need people to volunteer in your ministry, it’s tempting to try these inadequate methods:
* Just make an announcement.
* Just announce the opening in your newsletter.
* Just give a five-minute plug in your monthly meetings.
* Just do a special mailing touting the benefits of being a part of this special ministry.
Most often, the results are very disappointing. Not only do you not get enough people,
you also get the wrong people. So what’s wrong with these common methods? Well, announcements, newsletters, testimonials, and special mailing are all forms of marketing. Marketing rarely snags volunteer leaders, and it’s no substitute for recruiting.
Most people don’t want to volunteer-they want to be asked. Don’t use volunteer as a verb-stop looking for someone “to volunteer.” That means they must contact you to serve. People hate doing that. So make volunteer a noun. Look for someone to commit (that’s the verb) as a volunteer (the noun). When you recruit, focus on personal invitations.
Sin No.2 Go It Alone
One of the most effective recruiters I (Tom) knew was my father. He’d lived his life in the volunteer world. Early in his marriage, he served as a volunteer Scout leader. Then he served as the volunteer Sunday school superintendent and was always recruiting teachers. When I was a little older, Dad was the minister of education in a large church and recruited hundreds of volunteers. People gave their time cleaning, teaching, working in the kitchen, driving vehicles, gardening, leading music, and coaching in the boys’ and girls’ clubs. While he faced an overwhelming job of recruiting, Dad always filled the slots with great people.
What was his secret? Dad didn’t do it alone. He established a recruiting task force that met once a month with a list of vacancies. They brainstormed possible people to fill the positions. At a given meeting, they might have up to 50 positions to fill. They looked for more than just two legs and a pulse. They looked for people who were a good fit for the need.
This team served as my father’s support group. Each member of the team felt the incredible resp0onsibility and opportunity to work together to run an exciting program. Dad’s own list of contacts was small. But with his team, the list expanded beyond who Dad knew to who everyone around the table knew. I recall him saying something like, “It’s not who you know. It’s who they know.”
Do you have a recruiting team? Or do you try to go it alone?
When you have leader positions to fill, put together a special recruiting task force that operates like a nominating committee. The key element is to brainstorm about people who cold fit the roles you need.
Sin No.3 Recruit Only Volunteers Who Make Long-Term Commitments
Picture yourself as a “target” volunteer-you’re sitting across the table from your church’s youth pastor at Starbucks. After a little chit-chat, he gets to the point: “Would you like to spend the next 10 years of your life volunteering for three hours each Wednesday night, three hours each Sunday morning, a weekly two-hour staff meeting, and…oh yeah…a once-a-month event?”
Yeah, you’ll likely respond like you’ve been stung by a bee. So let’s reimagine that encounter. Youth pastor: “This Saturday morning, we really could use some drivers for our service project.” Potential volunteer: “Sure …I can help this Saturday.” People are much more willing to help with a short-term project. So how do you fill your long-term volunteer needs? Just remember that short=term projects pr4ovide excellent “first dates”-they’re how you find your long-term volunteers. Short-term volunteers have the opportunity to catch your ministry’s vision as they work alongside a passionate leader.
Sin No.4 Assume That “No” Means “Never”
“Sorry, I have too much on my plate right now.” I’m sure you’ve heard this recruiting response before. But don’t make the mistake of crossing these people off your list when you hear it. “No” doesn’t necessarily mean “never.” When you recruit someone for your ministry and that person says “no,” you might feel rejected. Instead, try to think of a “no” as an open door to listen well to the reasons. Sometimes a “no” means “not now.”
Of course, sometimes a “no” means that a prospect would rather do something other than the role you’ve described. When the answer is no, probe to find out what the person likes to do, then see if there’s a match for that in your ministry. You might be surprised at what people say.
Sin No.5 Recruit Any Ol’ B.I.C.
As leaders, it’s easy to get sucked into the B.I.C. syndrome-a “Bottom In the Chair.” We desperately need a volunteer, so we plead our case to anyone with a pulse. Often that chair would’ve bee better empty than filled with the wrong bottom.
So what does work? R &R-roles and responsibilities. Effective recruiting demands a clear, complete, and brief presentation of the roles and responsibilities in your ministry. This not only helps people know what to do once they get started, it also helps them evaluate if they’re a good fit to begin with. If we can help them not only understand the “what” and “why” of their work, but help them fit where they can really make a difference, retention will increase exponentially.
The leader of an urban after-school teen center recruited Joan, who loved doing behind-the-scenes work. When she was placed on the “development committee,” she imagined herself organizing, stuffing envelopes, and other various office tasks. But she soon learned she’s be doing fundraising on the phone. Joan had a passion for the cause, but it felt like a bait-and-switch. So she quit.
Here’s the bottom line: First determine what specific skills you need, then go and find people with those skills who best meet your needs.
Sin No.6 Ask Busy People To Do Busy Work
We have a very busy family friend, Don Leraas. Don is a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He’s a master electrician, drives 18-wheelers, and works on his own classic Chevys. He previously served as the project manager on may of the half-rise buildings in Silicon Valley. We’ve never seen a time when Don wasn’t busy.
Don also serves as a youth volunteer. He loves kids. He uses his knowledge as a driver to help plan trips for the youth group. After his hard day’s work, you might find him working with a group of kids, designing and creating the lighting sets for their play or musical group. He’s also in charge of all the buses at the church-training drivers, and making sure that the vehicles are road-ready.
Should we feel guilty about asking Don to drive on a mission trip for the youth group? Absolutely not. He’d be upset if we didn’t ask him. And, no, you can’t have his phone number! The key is, don’t ask people to just do busywork. We ask Don to be in charge of the transportation because he loves it. Volunteers like Don don’t just want to “wash a bus.” As professionals, they want to be asked to be in charge of something significant that they also love. Of course, we do need people to do busywork. But long-term volunteers like to be recruited for things that tap into their expertise, not for their B.I.C.
Sin No.7 Remain Ignorant About Volunteer Management
So you know you major responsibility is to “grow disciples,” and you believe you can do it, primarily, by using your speaking skills. So you do most of the hands-on ministry yourself, rather than recruiting and training volunteers. If your training, education, and experience have not prepared you to be a volunteer manager, it’s time to get proactive about it (one way-pick up a copy of your book The New Breed).
Defining The Win For Your Small Groups
By Johnny Scott
Are your small groups stuck in molasses-they’re not growing the way you’d hoped, but you don’t know why? The solution may be as simple as “defining the win” for them. It means that everyone involved understands your goals.
So how do you do that? First ask yourself, and your adult leaders, what a great small group “looks like.” Have you unconsciously defined your “win” too narrowly? For example, maybe a win for you happens only when your small group kids have a breakthrough moment where God’s Word comes alive for them. Of course, those moments can be rare because we’re in the seed-planting business. A better win for your ministry might be helping your small group kids start to articulate their faith in an environment saturated with caring adults. That’s a major win for a small group.
A win in your small group ministry can be as simple as:
* Pairing caring adults with teenagers.
* Trusting the Holy Spirit that more is sinki9ng in than meets the eye.
* Seeing kids coming back for more.
* Asking (not answering) questions that cause teenagers to consider God’s perspective.
* Knowing your kids were loved and not manipulated.
* Looking a teenager in the eye and simply listening as long as he needs to talk.
* Establishing a climate of honesty in the group.
The win for your small groups may vary from group to group. But as long as you know what success looks like, you’ll find it more often.
This article “The 7 Deadly Sins Of Recruiting Volunteers” by Jonathan McKee and Thomas Mckee is excerpted from Group Magazine, Nov/Dec 2008.