Update note: I'm reminding people of this article along with material on how to recognize your church communicators around Valentines' Day because good communication with volunteers is essential all year round. PLEASE especially take note of the advice here to communicate with people according to THEIR preferred communication channel. People are very picky about this today. Some will only talk on the phone; some never answer the phone and you must send them a text; some hate texting, but constantly check email. It is a huge challenge (and a lot of work) for anyone trying to reach all their volunteers, but it is essential work that needs to be done if we are to serve those we work with.
Back to the article on communicating with volunteers
Every church is desperate for volunteers. It's not only important to effectively recruit them, but after they are recruited, it is equally important to work hard to keep them. Unfortunately, the difference between how we treat volunteers when we are recruiting them and after they volunteer is sometimes similar to the difference with some couples between courtship and marriage.
Before the wedding the groom is all flowers and candy; after the wedding, he becomes Mr. Grumpy.
Don’t become Mr. or Mrs. Grumpy to your volunteers. Be as kind, caring, and thankful to them when they have been around for 6 months as you are the first week. Not only is this the proper response for a disciple of Jesus, but volunteers can easily quit if you make it difficult or unpleasant to serve. You can express that thankfulness to them through a variety of church communication projects such as:
Reminders of meetings or volunteer responsibilities
You may be reluctant to do this thinking that you are unnecessarily bothering people, but we need to remember that unlike many of us, the lives of most of our volunteers do not revolve around the church. People may volunteer with the best of intentions, but if they did not write down all the details after signing up in the church lobby or online to do something, it's easy to forget all about it.
Sending out texts, postcards, or emails a few days ahead of any volunteer obligation or meeting or can be a great way to serve your volunteers. This is especially important for commitments that meet monthly or on an irregular basis. Say something like:
“Thanks so much for volunteering to serve on the missions committee! We will be meeting 7-9 PM Thursday night, December 8 at the Jones house on 5555 Any Street. We’ll be looking forward to seeing you.”
You don’t even have to change the message month to month, just change the date and send them out again. This doesn't have to be fancy, just consistent. Your volunteers will love you because they can count on your reminder.
One church secretary in my seminars said at the end of each month she took several hours to go over the calendar for the coming month. She made up postcards, mostly just changing the date from the previous month reminding every one of all the various meetings going on at the church. It didn’t take long to produce them doing them all at once. After they were produced (mostly just on the inkjet printer with the lightweight card stock), she filed them in an index card box according to the day they needed to be sent out. For example, on the 5th she might send out notices for the coming week for the elders meeting, the mission committee, and the choir prayer team. Volunteers loved this and people were much more consistent in showing up for meetings. Postcards are useful, even in this time of digital communication, because they are immediately posted on the refrigerator and everyone in the family is aware of the volunteer's obligation.
You can do the same thing if you send out email reminders. All the email programs today have a feature that allows you to create emails and schedule ahead for when you want to send them out.
Don't dismiss postcards as old-fashioned and not useful—direct mail marketing experts use them as part of successful campaigns because unlike social media, they can go on the refrigerator and that makes them impossible to forget.
Find out how people want to be reminded
If we could send out only text messages, postcards, or only emails, it would certainly make life easier for church communicators. But unfortunately, we are in a time of multi-channel communication with lots of ways to communicate and lots of people preferring different methods.
When people sign up for a volunteer position is a good time to find out how they prefer to be contacted: text, email, or print. It is our job to serve them in ways that make it possible for them to serve our church.
Today we also have computer-based volunteer programs: the many programs out today that organize, schedule, and notify volunteers. Many of them greatly benefit the people who work in the church office.
HOWEVER, they may not be seen as a great benefit to all the members of your congregation who would like to volunteer. Especially if you have a congregation of predominately Baby Boomer and older members, (a huge and dependable volunteer pool) not all of them may be as tech-savvy as the church staff. All of them may not have smartphones (seems impossible, but true). They may greatly resent being asked to use a system that is confusing to them or they may quietly walk away and the church will lose many hours of service and the person will lose ministry fulfillment.
On the other hand, for some people today, even if they have a computer, they rarely look at it for email, and would prefer a text message. Creating what individuals will respond to is a challenge. This may require another level of work for the church staff, but once again, it is our job to serve. If we want to have them as part of the church and help them grow as volunteers, we may need to learn to communicate in a new way, for example, we may need to learn to text. Interacting in other forms of social media may also be essential if they are important to your pool of volunteers. If you aren't comfortable texting or interacting on social media, one of your volunteer recruitment priorities might be finding someone who is and have that person do the reminding through these channels.
Do more than remind people of work to do; thank them
Thank you postcards or emails are great to mix in with the reminders of work to do. In addition, people love to get a personal note from the pastor. One way you can help the pastor is to put a big piece of clip art on a postcard and preprint something like: “We are SO THANKFUL you are part of the Missions Committee!” on the card. Just leave a bit of white space, just enough so the pastor has room to write something short, like “Jim, we couldn’t do it without you! Blessings, Pastor John.”
Short text messages or emails can also be a great encouragement and some of the online greetings cards are a wonderful way to say thank you. I especially like the ones from www.dayspring.com, though there are additional companies out there that have free ecards you can send.
None of these projects take lots of time, work, or money, but expressing your thanks in tangible ways through church communications is a wonderful way to improve your working relationship with your volunteers.
Beyond print or email communications—should you also give your volunteers public or private thank-yous?
In addition to finding out how your volunteers prefer to be contacted, and sending them an email or postal mail thank-yous (which work for everyone), periodically you may want to do more. But before you do, find out what makes your individual volunteers feel appreciated or how they like to be thanked. NEVER take that for granted because what you might think is a great way to express thanks might be something that will cause a volunteer to never take part in a church job again.
True story here: I know a fairly extreme introvert who has a very public volunteering position at her church. It would seem to people who don't know her that she really likes interacting with people in a visible way, but that isn't why she does it. She knows there are huge needs in this ministry area and she does it as a sacrificial service to Jesus. Though she really does enjoy it, every Sunday after church she goes home and sleeps for 2-3 hours from the sheer exhaustion of having to interact with people in her job as a volunteer.
No matter how she loved her job, she almost quit the ministry when she found out there was going to be a public time to thank volunteers at her church because to have her name called and to come up on the platform was more emotionally exhausting than she could handle. Fortunately, her volunteer leader knew how she felt and he assured her that even though her name wouldn't be mentioned and she wouldn't be asked to come up, she was greatly appreciated and loved.
This reminds me of the book Love Languages that talks about how if we really care for someone we need to find out how that person feels loved and not only what makes us feel loved.
Our greatest thank you's and rewards are only a tiny taste of how important our volunteers are to the Lord and how HE will reward them and YOU!
Finally, this article started out with the reminder to be as kind to our volunteers as they work with us as we were when we were recruiting them. In the following passage, the Apostle Peter not only has some excellent advice for leading our volunteers, but a reminder of how our gracious Lord will reward all the hard work of being kind to volunteers:
Here’s my concern: that you care for God’s flock with all the diligence of a shepherd. Not because you have to, but because you want to please God. Not calculating what you can get out of it, but acting spontaneously. Not bossily telling others what to do, but tenderly showing them the way.
When God, who is the best shepherd of all, comes out in the open with his rule, he’ll see that you’ve done it right and commend you lavishly. (1 Peter 1:2-4, the Message).
Paul F says
And don’t forget to give them the TOOLS and AUTHORITY to do their job. It is a rare thing indeed to see a church empower volunteers in the same way they do their paid staff.
Oh yes, one final thing, if you have volunteers that you elect not to utilize, be sure to thank them for the sheer act of volunteering!
Yvon Prehn says
Absolutely WONDERFUL advice! I couldn’t agree more (I do talk about some of these topics in other areas). What you said is so true.
Few things are worse than being assigned impossible jobs or no authority when you are in them.
Our volunteers are our treasures!
Thanks so much for your comments,