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.
10 Tips for Providing a Great Church Volunteer Experience
1. Provide Organized Systems and Processes
Everyone appreciates organized systems and processes because they make our lives easier. We have all had the experience of going to a service provider only to witness the clerk behind the desk buried under piles of paper and can’t seem to find the paperwork for your visit. Or going to a lender to sign loan papers and the employee frantically digs pieces of paper from here and there trying to gather all of the documents. This kind of disorder frustrates everyone and doesn’t elicit confidence in the process.
Maintain organized systems behind the scenes to create positive processes for volunteers.
“People are smart. If your church is disorganized in the places they can see, they will assume it is even worse behind the scenes.” Andy Stanley, andystanley.com
2. Use Volunteer Time Wisely
Volunteers generously give of their discretionary time and want to use that time wisely. When volunteers show up for a scheduled shift, they want to be productive and make their time count. This requires ensuring there are enough people to do a project but also that there are enough job tasks to keep those people busy. Provide detailed job descriptions so volunteers know what to do and inform them of the approximate time it will take to complete the task.
Overestimating or underestimating the time it will take to accomplish a task can result in a negative experience. However, if you error on the side of overestimating the time needed, volunteers may finish sooner than expected and have the option of going home early. When things take longer than planned it can conflict with other commitments volunteers have and possibly make them think twice the next time an opportunity to help is presented to them.
For example, three volunteers have been recruited to plant flowers around the church campus. They are asked to show up to help from 9:00 am to noon. When they arrive, it’s important to have someone there waiting for them with all the supplies (plants, gloves, hand shovel, mulch, etc.) staged and ready to go.
If the volunteers show up and no one is there to greet them it could result in wasting valuable (free labor) time. However, when volunteers are eagerly greeted and put to work upon arrival they benefit from the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing something significant for the church. Hence – a good use of their time!
3. Provide Clear Expectations
Volunteers are very much like employees in that when they come to work they want to know what is expected of them. The more clear the direction the more comfortable the volunteer will be in completing their assigned tasks. For example, a volunteer might be assigned to empty trash cans during a church event.
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?”
The more detail you can provide the better. It answers their questions before they think to ask them and it eliminates being asked the same questions by multiple people during an event. A clear job description, training on job duties and a mentor (go to person) are crucial to this.
4. Provide Detailed Job Training
Whether a volunteer is scheduled to work in the nursery, as an usher or greeting guests there needs to be training to do their job tasks. This includes a global understanding of the church, specific departmental training and lastly job specific training. All three areas should be covered to ensure the volunteer is comfortable performing their job duties.
For example, if a volunteer is scheduled to work in the nursery, they will need training on sanitation procedures, drop off/pick up procedures, child discipline protocol, and emergency response before they begin their first shift. Detailed training helps volunteers feel confident in completing their job duties and fosters a positive worker experience.
5. Invite Volunteer Ideas
Church volunteers are people who are committed to the organization and its mission. Because of this passion, they have a vested interest in the systems and processes that make church happen. Allowing volunteers to share thoughts, ideas and opinions helps them feel valued and keeps them engaged.
For example, volunteers often have great ideas for improvement. If a volunteer works in the nursery and is given the opportunity to offer suggestions on how to improve how the children are ministered to, they feel valued and involved in the organization.
6. Show Volunteer Appreciation
Volunteers donate many hours of free labor and like to be shown appreciation for their contributions. An occasional thank you goes a long, long way in showing someone that their efforts have been recognized and are appreciated. There are also countless formal ways to recognize and reward volunteers. Invest time and dollars into making volunteers feel appreciated.
7. Demonstrate Care for Them
Whether the volunteer is new to the church or has been around for a while, everyone wants to know they are cared about on a personal level. Volunteers love when church leadership takes an interest in them and encourages them to talk about their family and personal lives. This sense of belonging fosters relationships that are invaluable in times of personal crisis.
8. Commit To Consistent Communication
Volunteers appreciate consistent flows of information. This is achieved by creating a predictable and consistent communication process so volunteers know when to expect what kinds of information. For example, volunteer schedules can be done monthly, quarterly or annually – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is ensuring that the volunteer knows when to expect the schedule in the mail.
9. Fix What’s Broken
Volunteers are the hands and feet of the church and have a good understanding of what is working and what is not. These workers should be given the opportunity to point out areas that may need to be fixed and be given the assurance that it will be.
For example, a volunteer in the parking ministry may use radio headsets to communicate to each other. If a worker points out that some of the equipment is malfunctioning, they should be assured that it will be fixed within a reasonable amount of time.
10. Maintain a Professional Environment
The credibility of a church is built on its ability to create and maintain a professional environment. Volunteers enjoy helping an organization that takes pride in everything that it does. Churches that are committed to quality by continually improving their systems and processes, strive, not for perfection, but professionalism – which everyone appreciates.
Volunteer labor is the engine of the church. Anticipating volunteer needs in exchange for their time commitment is an important step in making sure they have a great experience. One way to do this is to simply ask volunteers how the organization can improve their experience. Creating a great experience for this valuable group of people can go a long way in recruiting and retaining a church’s free labor force.