A few years back I wrote an article entitled, Death To Volunteer Banquets. A little blunt? For sure. Truthful? Absolutely. The point of the article was to explain how a once a year dinner designed to cast vision and give direction but branded as volunteer appreciation does little to propel your ministry forward.
Volunteer care and appreciation can only be accomplished through strategic means. It can’t be reactive. It must be proactive. In a multisite model, it’s even easier for volunteers to fall through the cracks. Reduce burnout, isolation, and dissatisfaction by systematically creating routines that enable you to personally appreciate each and every one of your team members. Let’s take a closer look at how to do just that.
VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION must be PERSONAL.
Volunteer banquets treat everyone the same. They equalize the volunteer who puts in ten hours at the church office in addition to his or her full time job, with the volunteer who rarely shows up even when you call and offer reminders. Not everyone enjoys getting dressed up or eating in front of other people, and not everyone has another night to give you. What was meant to honor their sacrifice becomes another burden they must bear. Instead, I would encourage you to try a different approach. Think back to some of your all-time favorite presents. I can almost guarantee what set those gifts apart from the rest was how special and unique they were to you. Someone noticed something about you, a problem you dealt with, a preference you had, or an experience that made you feel cherished and loved. I’m not advocating for everyone on your team to get a surprise trip to his or her preferred vacation destination, but I’m sure you see the point. If you truly desire to honor those you lead, you must KNOW enough about them to appreciate them in a way that is special and unique. It must be personal.
Example: A fellow children’s director I know honors graduating seniors with a collegiate mug or water bottle filled with their favorite snack or candy. She matches the mugs to the college or university each will attend in the fall. By recognizing the season he or she is entering the director shows appreciation and support.
Tip: When volunteers sign up to serve in your ministry, have them fill out a favorites form. Ask them to list everything from their favorite restaurant and Starbucks drink to their favorite dessert or hobby. When the time comes to show appreciation, you’ll have ideas of how to uniquely honor them as individuals.
VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION must be ROUTINE.
Saying thank you and offering words of encouragement should come as natural to you as breathing. When you witness someone act in a big picture kind of way or notice a volunteer sacrifice time and energy to move your ministry forward offer in-the-moment praise and IMMEDIATELY make a note in your phone or planner to follow up with a word or gift of appreciation at a later time. I once heard a pastor say, “Gratitude is never silent.” Your words and actions should scream gratefulness.
Example: Before the hustle and bustle of child check-in begins, I set aside 15 minutes to walk around and say hello to each member of my team. I offer compliments on everything from a perfectly set up room to a fresh haircut. Knowing my volunteers and making them feel valued and loved is as much my responsibility as ensuring we have enough veggie straws in the cabinets.
Tip: Have a secret stash of spontaneous gifts you can grab to show on-the-spot appreciation to volunteers when you notice them acting in a way that deserves immediate recognition. Keep a variety of candy, gift cards, lotions, albums, books, or even church t-shirts on hand.
VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION must be SYSTEMIZED
A life in ministry is busy. The work is never done, and for many of us, we indulge in procrastination far too often. I’ve come to realize if something matters to me, I must carve out a new pattern in my life to help establish habits that are healthy and productive. Volunteer appreciation should be no different. Create systems that force the behavior. Schedule time on your calendar to send thank you notes each week. Make it a habit to swing by Starbucks or Krispy Kreme every Sunday morning and pick up sweet treats for different teams of volunteers. Divide your volunteer appreciation budget into a monthly amount and set reminders to spend that money regularly. If you don’t have money set aside in your church budget to honor volunteers, advocate for it. When you systemize your volunteer appreciation it won’t be long before the practice becomes a pattern.
Example: During the holiday season, Elevation honors volunteers by honoring their children. Each year they create a Christmas clubhouse promising seasonal treats and activities to help kids enjoy the long hours spent at church each Christmas.
Tip: Create a card writing station and encourage leaders to utilize it to show appreciation to their teams. Provide beautiful stationary, colorful gel pins, stickers, confetti, and $5 gift cards. Then ask every leader to write two cards to volunteers they caught going above and beyond. Make it easy by only requiring them to write the volunteers’ names on the envelope. You can always go back and add the stamp and address later.
Let’s be honest, all volunteers are not created equal. Some are incredible. They move your ministry forward and you wonder what you would do without them. Others show up and get the job done and while you’re thankful for their service, they may not shine like those showstopper vols you cling to so tightly. Then there are those who you may or may not see during their scheduled service time. They arrive late, rarely smile, and occasionally spout something that has everyone around them rolling their eyes. Their contribution is little more than a ratio met. These types of volunteers are few and far between. They exist, but are definitely in the minority. Over the years, I’ve discovered that almost everyone serving in ministry signed up with altruistic intentions. No matter their “type,” at some point they just wanted to make a difference in the life of a child or student. They wanted families to feel welcome and empowered, and they wanted the personal fulfillment that comes with serving. But ministry is messy. Toddlers throw tantrums. Parents get offended. Supplies go missing. Systems change and then change again. Before you know it, a volunteer is throwing his or her hands in the air and walking out the door, or in most cases, disappearing to never be heard from again.
There are a million different reasons why a volunteer vanishes, but I’ve found more often than not, it’s because they’ve fallen off our radar. For too long in ministry, we’ve relied on a slap on the back or a kind word to keep volunteers energized and moving forward. That’s a great start, but ultimately it’s not enough. Your volunteer base may be the key to execution for your ministry, but it’s crucial to remember these are individuals with interests, concerns, and needs, and one of their greatest needs is to be valued by you, their leader.
In a multisite model, systemizing your volunteer appreciation is essential if you want to build team camaraderie and increase longevity. Whatever system you create must be transferable from one location to another. Systemizing volunteer appreciation doesn’t have to be complex to be complete. Effectiveness is most often found in personal touches and meaningful relationships.
Join me again next Multisite Monday as I talk about First Time Guest follow-up and care.