Volunteers give of their time to help a church fulfill its mission and have basic expectations.
Successful volunteer programs are able to create a positive work experience by providing the organization and support to the volunteer and their job assignments.
People who donate their time naturally expect to have a positive experience.
Effective volunteer management incorporates many things that contribute to a positive experience for the volunteer.
12 Things Volunteers Expect
We all know that some people are more organized than others but most would agree that everyone appreciates organized systems and processes – because they make our lives easier.
Think about going to the doctor’s office and the clerk behind the desk is buried under piles of paper and can’t seem to find the paperwork for your visit; or going to a lender to sign loan papers and the employee digs pieces of paper from here and there trying to gather all of the documents.
This kind of disorder frustrates everyone and doesn’t elicit confidence in the process.
2. Good Use of Time
Volunteers generously give of their time but want to use that time wisely.
When volunteers show up for a scheduled shift, they want to be productive and make their time count.
This requires ensuring there are enough people to do a project but also that there are enough job tasks to keep those people busy while they are there.
It is important to think through all job duties and make sure volunteers know what to do by providing a volunteer job description and the approximate time it will take to accomplish the task.
Overestimating or underestimating the time it will take to accomplish a task can be a negative but if you error on the side of overestimating the time needed, volunteers may finish sooner than expected and have the option of going home early.
When things take longer than planned it can conflict with other commitments volunteers have and possibly make them think twice the next time an opportunity to help is presented to them.
For example, three volunteers have been recruited to plant flowers around the church campus. They are asked to show up to help from 9:00 am to noon. When they arrive, it’s important to have someone there waiting for them with all the supplies (plants, gloves, hand shovel, mulch, etc) staged and ready to go.
If the volunteers show up and no one is there to greet them it could result in wasting valuable (free labor) time. In addition to it wasting time it can also result in having a negative impact on the volunteer experience.
But when volunteers are eagerly greeted and put to work upon arrival they benefit from the good feeling that comes with accomplishing something significant for the church. Hence – a good use of their time!
3. Clear Expectations
Volunteers are very much like employees in that when they come to work they want a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The more clear and concise the direction the more comfortable the volunteer will be in completing their assigned tasks.
For example, a volunteer might be assigned to empty trash cans during an event.
Vague expectations: “You’re assigned to emptying the trash cans”.
Clear expectations: “You’re assigned to emptying the trash cans around the campus. There are 15 cans located here (show on map). Please empty them once an hour and take the full bags of trash to the dumpster on the back side of the building (show on map).
The trash bags and gloves are located in the janitor’s closet (show on map). If you have any questions or perhaps need help with a heavy can please go to the information booth and have them radio the set-up team leader whose name is Jack. Do you have any questions?”
The more detail you can provide a volunteer helps in two ways. It answers their questions before they think to ask them and it eliminates being asked the same questions by multiple people during an event.
A clear job description, training on job duties and a mentor (go to person) are critical to this.
4. Job Training
Whether a volunteer is scheduled to work in the nursery, ushering or greeting guests there is a basic expectation that they will receive the necessary training to do their job tasks.
This includes a global understanding of the church, specific departmental training and lastly job specific training. All three areas should be covered to ensure the volunteer is comfortable performing their job duties.
For example, if a volunteer is scheduled to work in the nursery, they will need training on sanitation procedures, drop off/pick up procedures, child discipline protocol, emergency response before they begin their first shift.
Proper volunteer training helps them feel confident in completing their job duties and fosters a great worker experience.
5. Involved in the Process
Church volunteers are those people who are committed to the organization and have a passion for its mission. Because of this they have a vested interest in the systems and processes that make church happen. Allowing volunteers to share thoughts, ideas and opinions helps them feel valued and keeps them engaged.
For example, if a volunteer works in the nursery and is given the opportunity to offer suggestions on how to improve how the children are ministered to, they feel valued and involved in the organization. In addition the volunteers who do the day-to-day job tasks often have great ideas for improvement.
6. Feel Appreciated
Recognizing a volunteer’s contribution and showing appreciation is critical to volunteer oversight. Volunteers give many hours of free labor and have a basic expectation that there is some level of appreciation for what they do.
A simple thank you once in a while goes a long, long way in showing someone that their efforts have been recognized and are appreciated.
7. Part of a Team
Church members volunteer for many reasons but one of the biggest motivators is the sense of community that comes with working with other congregants.
Feeling like one is part of a team is a major motivator for people and providing the environment that fosters that social interaction is key to a positive experience.
8. Care About Them as a Person
Whether the volunteer is new to the church or has been around for a while, everyone wants to know they are cared about on a personal level.
Volunteers love when they are encouraged to talk about their family and their personal lives and when church leadership takes an interest in them. This sense of belonging helps to foster relationships that are invaluable in times of personal crisis.
9. Consistent communication
I’m a firm believer that there can never be too much communication. We often experience information overload but volunteers appreciate consistent flows of information.
This is achieved by creating a predictable and consistent communication process so volunteers know when to expect what kinds of information.
For example, volunteer schedules can be done monthly, quarterly or annually – it doesn’t matter. What does matter is ensuring that the volunteer knows when to expect the schedule in the mail.
If the communication and information flow is unpredictable the volunteer may not have the needed information in a timely manner. It is important to communicate when and how information will be shared. This helps them to be prepared and can be done as part of the volunteer orientation process.
10. Fix What’s Broken
Volunteers are the hands and feet of the church and are down in the trenches doing the work. Therefore, they have a good understanding of what is working and what is not. These workers appreciate when they are given the opportunity to point out areas that may need to be fixed and the assurance that it will be.
For example, a volunteer in the parking ministry may use radio headsets to communicate to each other. If a worker points out that some of the equipment is malfunctioning, they should be assured that it will be fixed within a reasonable amount of time.
Employees and volunteers alike should be given the (functioning) tools to perform their job duties. It is important to fix the problems that cause worker frustration and make job assignments easier.
11. Follow Through on Promises Made
A leader’s credibility is built on their ability to do what they say and say what they do.
This means every area of leadership but specifically on promises made. When an organization makes a promise to do something, employees and volunteers expect that promise to be followed up on and if things change they expect to be communicated the why there was a change in direction.
12. Error Free Process, Documents and Follow Through
Volunteers enjoy helping an organization that takes pride in everything that it does, and the credibility of a church is built on its ability to create and maintain a professional environment.
Churches that are committed to quality by continually improving their systems and processes, strive for not perfection, but professionalism – which volunteers and church members alike appreciate.
This includes things like a volunteer application that is free from errors and typos or an application process that is streamlined and efficient.
For example, a volunteer has just completed a volunteer application, gets a phone call interviewing them and asking about job interests and are told that they will receive a schedule in a welcome packet within a week. Three or four weeks go by and the volunteer doesn’t hear anything and wonders what happened. It is important for systems to support a positive experience.
The volunteer department is responsible for making sure that volunteer interactions are positive and that every effort is made to provide an efficient, error-free and responsible communication to the volunteer.
Volunteer labor is the engine of any church, ministry or nonprofit. Thinking about what volunteers need and expect, in exchange for their time commitment is an important step in making sure they have a great volunteer experience. Talking to volunteers and asking how the organization can improve their experience is one of the best ways to flush this information out. Meeting the expectations of this valuable group of people can go a long way in recruiting and retaining a church’s free labor force.
photo by: WDNR
Article originally posted April, 2012, updated February 2015.