Volunteer Engagement Strategy

Volunteers provide free labor for churches, and the secret to recruiting and retaining great volunteers, is to keep them engaged.

This requires a volunteer engagement strategy which is based on the organizations’ ability to help them feel like what they do adds value, helps fulfill the mission and that they make a difference.

Organizations that do a good job of engaging their volunteers find that the volunteers are excited about what they do and give more than is asked of them.

Engaged volunteers are committed to the cause and serve as advocates for the organization. However, when volunteers are not engaged they lose interest quickly and will eventually step down from their role.

Volunteer Engagement Strategy240You will find that organizations that have a strong volunteer engagement model, understand leaderships’ role in creating an environment that fosters engagement.

This involves developing a volunteer engagement strategy that includes creating systems and process that develop and reward volunteer efforts as well as streamlined communication processes that keep information flowing.

So what can your organization do to create a culture that fosters volunteer engagement?

9 Tips for Engaging Your Volunteers

1. Mission and Vision

Volunteers do what they do because the rally behind a cause and believe in the mission. However, once volunteers are on board and actively involved, it is leadership’s responsibility to keep that passion alive. One way to fuel the passion fire is to continually restate the mission and vision as a reminder for what they are participating in.

Therefore, it is important to have a written mission and vision statement that can be memorized and recited by the volunteers. Volunteers who are emotionally attached to a mission, believe in what they do, and are loyal and committed to the organization.

2. Structured Communication

Structured and consistent church communication is one of the most important things an organization can do to foster engaged volunteers. Volunteers that give of their time, and a portion of their life, have a natural interest in what is happening behind the scenes.

They want to know when there are new endeavors being planned, how well the organization is achieving its mission and how what they do contributes to its success.  Sharing performance data helps the volunteer see the big picture and further their passion for the organization.

For example, share numbers of how many kids participate in children’s church, how many adults participate in bible studies or how church attendance has grown.

3. Interaction with Supervisor

Never underestimate the value of supervisor interaction. Particularly volunteers who have been with the organization for a while, enjoy interacting with their supervisor and look forward to sharing  both personal experiences, as well as highlights of their volunteer experience.

These interactions also creates a great opportunity to learn ways the organization can better support the volunteers. Volunteers want to know that they are cared for as individuals – so asking about their family, their job, their hobbies or other personal interests makes them feel valued.

4. Volunteer Development

Engaged volunteers value opportunities to develop and grow in their role. And, organizations that utilize large numbers of volunteers, need to be constantly looking for ways to develop and promote them to leadership positions.

This can be done by creating a process to identify those volunteers with leadership potential and having a defined developmental plan for them. This process can be as simple as making notes on volunteer performance and keeping a log of volunteers that demonstrate leadership characteristics.

Keep in mind, not every volunteer (like not every employee) has the drive or the interest to take on more responsibility so targeting those people, who show an interest and desire, can help you stay focused on those who have that potential.

5. Create Team Environment

Volunteer engagement is dependent, in part, on how well volunteers interact, get along and participate on a team. People want to feel like they belong to a community, and other volunteers are often the only family volunteers have. Creating a team environment, where volunteers get along and work well together, helps to create that environment.

6. Create a Culture of Trust

Volunteers need to be able to trust their leadership and are constantly watching to see if their behaviors reflect their words. They want to follow leaders who do what they say, say what they do and are the same regardless of who is around.

Credibility is strengthened or lost based on how well a leader demonstrates consistency in their behaviors – both in their personal and professional lives.

7. Clear Expectations

Volunteers need to have a good understanding of their responsibilities and what is expected of them. This is done by providing them with a detailed volunteer job description as well as the training and tools to perform their job.

Volunteers feel vulnerable when they don’t have the necessary resources to perform job tasks. Consequently, the more detail and structure you can provide makes them feel comfortable in their role and valued as a volunteer.

8. Recognition

Volunteers like to be acknowledged as a valued part of the organization and a major responsibility of volunteer leadership is to show volunteers care and appreciation for their efforts. This can be done in many different ways but the key is to send a consistent message of gratitude.

9. Volunteer Feedback

Because volunteers contribute so much of their time, they want to feel like they can participate in the improvement process and that their ideas matter. They want to have a voice in how jobs are performed because they are often on the front-line and know the best approach to performing job tasks.

Volunteers feel valued when an organization actively solicits feedback and incorporates their ideas into how volunteer jobs are carried out.

Volunteers have great perspectives and can unleash a lot of great ideas that can help the organization continue to improve.  If you want to see a volunteer light up, let them know that the organization will be implementing one of their improvement ideas!

Developing a culture that engages volunteers will not only have a positive impact on the volunteer but will also affect the customers that the volunteer interacts with. This will result in one more thing that can reinforce the mission of the organization.

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photo by:  Flicker

Article originally published July, 2012, updated, July, 2014.