Here are 6 Ways to Become a Volunteer Magnet—and get your volunteers to stick around!
1. Watch your language
A healthy environment for volunteers is saturated with verbal honor—regular, specific praise for what they’re doing. In his book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, Hans Finzel says, “Organizational researchers have been telling us for years that affirmation motivates people much more than financial incentives, but we still don’t get it.”
2. Listen more intensely
Author Stephen Covey borrowed this from St. Francis of Assisi: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Next to physical survival, says Covey, “the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival—to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated.” He adds that when you listen carefully to another person, you give that person “psychological air.” Once you’ve met that need, the door is open for you to influence and problem-solve. If you don’t meet that need, the door will remain closed.
3. Lead from the big picture
Your job isn’t to serve your volunteers—it’s to serve God! In the soon-to-be-classic book On Being a Servant of God, author Warren Wiersbe says, “Ministry isn’t easy, but you make it more difficult for yourself if you serve people instead of the Lord Jesus Christ. You can’t please everybody, so don’t even try. Just live and work in such a way that your Master will be able to say, ‘You are my beloved servant in whom I am well pleased.’ “ I think this is great advice! And when you practice it, you’ll draw your volunteers away from niggling concerns and into a much bigger mission.
4. Love by your actions
Communicate love to your volunteers by respecting their time. How often have we asked them to show up early only to have them sit around? Doug Fields has a great insight into this: “Could you use 10 hands-on volunteers immediately? How about 20? If you answered yes, what would these leaders do in your ministry? Unless you can assign leaders specific responsibilities with meaning and purpose, they will lose interest and be ineffective. Good leaders don’t want to waste their time standing around.”
Another way to demonstrate your love is to stay committed to difficult volunteers. When you face problem people with respect and courage, you greatly improve the environment for all your volunteers.
5. Laugh a lot
Years ago when Kathy, my wife, and I (and most of our volunteers) were childless, we went out with our ministry team for dessert on most Friday nights for a little post-event fellowship. We had only one rule: no shop talk. Kathy had to regularly remind me of the rule to keep me from turning fun time into an extension of training time. Over the years, I’ve realized how right she was. In fact, once kids came along, we kept the tradition going by getting together with volunteers for date nights. The new tradition was to put names of restaurants into a hat, then pick one for appetizers, one for dinner, and one for dessert. Those nights were highlights for our team, mainly because we laughed hard.
6. Let go of some of your real responsibilities
Nothing frustrates volunteers more than shoddy delegation or excessive supervision. When you delegate, give specific guidelines and expectations. But don’t equate “specific” with claustrophobic oversight. You show confidence in their ability and character when you show them what to do, answer their questions, then step back and let them do it.