I will never forget my conversation with a mom that I had while fulfilling my 10 mandatory volunteer hours for the local junior football program in our community. She was serving inspired and dedicated. I could tell she was not helping because she had to, she was serving because she wanted to. While taking jam packed Hefty garbage bags to the dumpster she asked me if I had a child playing football. I told her it was my son’s, who was 9 or 10 at the time, first year of playing football. I then asked if she had a son playing or a daughter cheerleading.
She replied, “No, my son played when he was younger, but he graduated from high school 2 years ago!”
With my jaw dropped and dragging on the ground I managed to ask why on earth she would serve voluntarily with no children playing in the league. Her answer would enlighten me greatly about the importance of validating your volunteers.
She went on to tell me how she looked forward to the volunteer appreciation banquet every year. She told me at the banquet the organization always went above and beyond in appreciating and valuing all those that volunteered their time during the season. She said when leaving the banquet she felt so appreciated and valued it kept her coming back. The appreciation she received was her inspiration behind her endless volunteer hours.
I immediately brought this jaw dropping revelation back regarding volunteering to our church team and we went to work on creating an environment where our volunteers would always feel validated. Here are some vital principles you need in place to validate and keep your volunteers.
1. Appreciate Your Volunteers – We get this right a lot of the time. A Starbucks gift card, a hand written Thank You card can go along way. You don’t have to do a big banquet to honor you volunteers like the junior football organization did because the small things you do to appreciate your volunteers will have a big impact. Gratitude for your volunteers is the starting point for forming the attitude of your volunteers. The key is to not to stop at appreciation.
2. Create Meaningful Opportunities – Volunteers are not just looking to be rewarded; instead, they want their service to be rewarding. There’s a difference. Presenting your potential volunteers with meaningful opportunities has a lot to do with releasing creativity within those opportunities. For example, if you volunteer to be an usher and all you do is have them pass the plate for offering and put on a fake smile the opportunity will go from meaningful to mundane in about two weeks. However if I present you with an opportunity to create a place where at our church we make people feel at home, I just put meaning behind what would otherwise be an ordinary opportunity.
3. Validate Your Volunteers – Every volunteer is a unique individual. Many are extremely talented, more intelligent, and more than able to excel in any volunteer position we have available. Don’t discount volunteers by losing their uniqueness in a labeled position such as greeter, usher, parking lot attendant, etc. It’s important to understand that these opportunities are starting points for promotion within a ministry. If you value your volunteers you will not put a label on them that limits who they can become within your church. Validating your volunteers has to do with recognizing a persons worth goes way beyond their current task.
4. Inspire Your Volunteers – A volunteer needs to be continuously see what they are doing is an important part of a bigger vision. Without vision volunteers vanish. If your volunteers think they are just changing diapers in the nursery instead of changing the destiny of a child they will disappear. If your volunteers feel like they are just being used instead of being used by God, you will lose volunteers. Vision reveals to the volunteer that they are the vehicle God uses to see the vision come to pass.
I will follow up with another post on what this looks like on a practical level but these are the principles I’ve observed and put into practice when validating your volunteers.