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Best Practices For Managing Volunteers.
It was a Saturday morning, my day off, and my phone started to blow up with text messages from a volunteer. She was asking me questions about the upcoming Confirmation retreat. At first, I ignored the text messages, but they would not stop, so I responded, “Thanks for the questions. I’ll have a better way of answering them tomorrow.” The texting stopped.
The problem was not my volunteer because I had never told her, “Don’t text me on my days off.” She probably didn’t know my days off, considering she had seen me at church on the weekend before. It would be unfair for me to be upset with her because I had never given her this expectation.
While you don’t pay volunteers, you still need to manage them well. That means:
GIVING THEM CLEAR EXPECTATIONS
We tend to want just to throw volunteers into the trenches and say, “See you at the end of the day.” But, as you are bringing new people onto your team, it is critical to let them know the following:
- When to show up and when to leave.
- What they need to do to prepare.
- Who they should report when they have a question.
- How you will most frequently communicate with them.
- A basic description of what their role does and should accomplish.
Additionally, it’s essential to create boundaries and let them know when you are and are not accessible. If you want your volunteers to behave in a certain way, make sure you lay it out clearly when bringing them on board with you.
INVESTING IN THEIR ONGOING FORMATION
Your volunteers might start strong; however, they can develop bad habits over time. Start by hosting biannual or quarterly meetings where you meet with them to evaluate the health of the ministry and train them on a specific aspect (e.g., what you are learning about Gen Z, how to lead a discussion, etc.) of your ministry.
Make sure at these meetings you provide them with refreshments and food. Always start your gatherings with time in prayer, and don’t forget about fellowship. Leaders will attend these meetings if they feel you value their time by providing an excellent experience.
If you identify high-capacity leaders, double your efforts toward their formation. You could bring your volunteers to a workshop or conference, invite them to attend staff meetings, or sign them up to take a class. If your volunteers feel the investment, they’ll return it at a level that lessens your burden and increases your capacity.
CONNECTING THEM TO A TEAM
When you manage several people, it’s essential to show how everyone is interconnected. Whether at your meetings or doing something social, ensure you incorporate time when team members get to know one another. A few ideas:
- Invite the group to pray together.
- Start a meeting with an icebreaker game.
- Sign up for a team-building experience (e.g., ropes course, cooking class, axe throwing).
Encourage your volunteers to communicate and collaborate. It’s okay if they make decisions without you being there as long as what they decide is aligned with the vision and mission. When your volunteers feel like they are a part of a team, they’ll be easier to manage.
Most people who get involved in ministry don’t expect to find themselves taking on the challenges of management. But, if you want to lead people towards a specific vision, you need to make sure that people are clear on expectations, growing in their craft, and working as a team.
Suppose you do not feel equipped to manage. In that case, I recommend finding some training that can help you with basic human skills (e.g., conflict resolution, empathetic listening, and collective brainstorming). Don’t take your volunteers for granted; pour into them and let them know that you care. While managing can feel like a lot of work (and it can be), the result will be a healthy team that gets stuff done and accompanies you in fulfilling the vision God has placed on your heart.
What have you learned about managing a team? What works and what has not?
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