Secrets to Engaging Volunteers

Ever had an energizing volunteer experience? One that fueled your passion. One that challenged you to become a better person. One filled with meaning and significance. What made that experience powerful? Research shows that for volunteers, the secret is doing something that they love with people they like.\

What they love…

What does that volunteer love? That is the tricky part – it depends. For some people they volunteer for the intangible incentives like >>

  • Gaining experience or learning something new
  • Building a resume with the right experience to advance their career
  • Using a skill set they don’t get to use at work
  • Offering an expertise to the ministry
  • Being mentored by someone who knows more about ministry.

Others may be driven to volunteer because of a sense of commitment to the ministry or being a part of a bigger mission. There is a deeper motivation! We need to tap into that motivation.

We get into trouble if we see the role of volunteers as doing the work that none of the staff want to do. Usually that is work nobody WANTS to do. Instead volunteer roles can be shaped around having a real sense of ownership and a position with meaning. Volunteers need the work they do to be relevant, not leftovers. Taking the time to create roles strategically is worth every minute.

For a few tips on how to do get strategic on roles – check out this article on Strategic Volunteer Engagement or best practice tips in this article on a Volunteer Engagement Plan.

With people they like . . .

We will often recruit ministry volunteers with a social media post, church bulletin, email blast or some other impersonal communication. And we get a few volunteers who are ready to go! Usually we need more recruits than the few that respond to an ad. People are drawn into volunteering because of who they know. If they know YOU, they will say yes, because it is saying YES to you! That’s why personal invitation is so important when it comes to recruiting your volunteers >> they’ll do it for people they like.

Taking the time to invest in engaging conversations with volunteers creates a lasting connection. You have heard the saying that people don’t leave their job, they leave their managers >> the same holds true for volunteers. If they are deeply connected in relationship with a staff person or with other volunteers, that means they will invite friends to join them. Your current volunteers are your best recruiters!

At the end of the day it’s doing what they love with people they like!

Volunteers are not “FREE”. We don’t write them a paycheck, but we invest in them, partner with them in ministry and take the time to get the right people in the right place. That’s a win-win and every dollar you spend, every minute you commit will have a pay-off in your ministry and in the lives of your volunteers.

If you have some volunteers that have lost their energy or are wondering about their passion for ministry – invite them to join a FREE online course: 5 Days to Reset and Recharge Your Passion for Ministry. I am launching on Monday, June 10th. Find out more HERE and share the link with others in ministry!


Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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