Are you tired of hearing volunteers say NO?
How do we get people off of the bench and into the game? A good question, but maybe not the only question that needs asking. While motivators are important, they are often not enough to overcome systemic demotivators. Why not take a look at the flip-side? Instead of focusing on motivating, let’s consider what might be demotivating your potential volunteers. Is it possible you could be doing something to discourage folks from raising their hands? I’m not suggesting you are doing this deliberately but you might have some obstacles making it hard to serve at your church. . . . Obstacles you could do something about.
Top Two Volunteer Demotivators
Demotivator #1. “. . . till death do us part“
Volunteers often don’t raise their hands because they feel they will own this job until they die. . . or the Second Coming. In fact, they tell me their preference would be to die. Then they don’t have to be the bad guy by quitting, which makes them feel terrible. To avoid two potential negatives, they sit.
May I suggest a few things for your consideration?
Do you have “test drives” in place, where volunteers might try a particular job short term or X number of times to see if it fits? Do you have built-in “check back” visits with new volunteers to see how they are doing, need some assistance or training, have any questions? Do you have jobs designed with predictable checkpoints that give the volunteer the opportunity to opt-out or continue? PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE make the checkpoint sooner than the all too typical 1 to 2 years! Do you have a Team (volunteer-run, of course) for the “Care and Feeding of Volunteers”? They could even help potential volunteers find the right spots that allow them to use their unique gifts, interests, and skills for Kingdom goals as well as help ministry leaders with their over-all volunteer challenges. Just a thought.
How might you help your volunteers know that “till death do us part” won’t happen to them? After all, if they’ve seen it happen to others . . . ?
Demotivator #2. “The Guilt Game”
(a.k.a. Inaccuracy/ Under-estimating the Job)
In its most benign form, a leader may simply paint the job as less that he/she knows it to be. They count on the fact that volunteers want to do a good job and will rise to the occasion and make it happen once they have accepted. So, how can this possibly be seen as guilt? Look at it the way a volunteer might hear it. “I’m ONLY asking for this LITTLE thing. If you were a GOOD CHRISTIAN, how could you even think of refusing to DO YOUR FAIR SHARE?”
Unfortunately, once bait and switch has happened to them, or happens one too many times, volunteers recognize the pitch. They might even become conditioned to strongly suspect any and all job descriptions to be inaccurate. And even worse, if this is perceived as intentionally manipulative, it is viewed less benignly – and more damaging to your leadership.
I think the IMPORTANT question to ask here is:
Since when did it become an acceptable leadership strategy to diminish a blessing-giving, blessing-receiving, God-connecting opportunity like serving in the center of God’s will?
Volunteers volunteer because they want to make a difference for someone or something. They want to do something good to make a positive impact in the world. If you focus on the Kingdom impact of your job, whatever it is, you’ll find more enthusiastic participants. And, yes, this does include the grunt work jobs. They have a Kingdom impact, too. It’s the leader’s job to help volunteers find that Kingdom gold when they pan through the dirt. (a.k.a. set up chairs, sweep floors, pull weeds, change messy diapers . . . )
VOLUNTEERS ARE NOT LOOKING FOR EASY. They are looking for significant.
Take a look at this newspaper ad appearing in 1913 British Newspaper:
Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success. -Ernest Shackleton, Antarctic Expedition of 1914-1916 (*5,000 responded. Only 28 were selected.)
I think this ad tells us a lot about the human heart. Imagine how we could inspire that human heart with Kingdom tasks that actually change the world for the better, not just accomplish something newspaper-worthy?
TIME TO TALK
Please share your ideas, thoughts, comments, contributions.
Your successful idea or practice can be just the thing that ignites energy into a new or challenged leader. We’d love to hear from you.
1. What kinds of things do you do to help your volunteers find the right places to serve?
2. The “Own the Job Forever” demotivator is a pretty common problem – all denominations, all sizes. At least, that’s what tons of volunteers tell me. If this doesn’t happen at your church, what have you done to prevent it? Or, if it was a problem in the past, how did you successfully change the paradigm?
3. How do you train your leaders to avoid slipping into “Under-Estimating the Job” to recruit volunteers? Or, slipping into “guilt” as a motivator?
4. What are your biggest volunteer challenges right now?
Future Demotivators coming SOON:
#3 Demotivator: (Hidden) Lack of Expectation
#4 Demotivator: Narrow and/or Obstructed Pathways
#5 SelfLimiting Opportunities (that exclude huge groups of potential volunteers)