Even this title, Volunteer Hiring, probably gets a lot of strange looks and you can hear the words, “You don’t hire volunteers, they volunteer. Their help is a service and a gift to you.” Their help certainly is a service and a gift, but what does that mean for us, as leaders and managers? Do we openly accept volunteer resources wherever and whenever they are offered? Do we have less of a screening and people management responsibility because they are not hired for pay?
The volunteer force is driving many (if not all) of our local churches. Without them, only a fraction of the ministry impact would be possible. The people are the Church, and aligned with God’s plan, they have the mission and the ability to march the Church forward. However, not all volunteers come to us fully equipped or ready to fill the gap they have in mind. They need mentoring, leadership, and management.
While the approaches we use when we interface with volunteers will differ from those we use with hired workers, we should approach volunteer management with no less discipline, no less structure, and no less commitment.
When recruiting for an employment position, we typically start with a description of the role and a definition of the desired candidate. Let’s approach volunteer positions in exactly the same manner. Making a general call for volunteers, and deciding where to best place them once they answer, is not the best model. Even partially identifying the volunteer need is not sufficient. Calling for volunteers to help with the Student Ministries, for example, is too general. There are many roles required to support a vibrant Student Ministries, and they require a range of aptitudes and levels of commitment.
When you have a specific need, make a call for that role. The more specific you are in the role definition and the requirements, the more likely you will be to find the right volunteer.
If it makes you more comfortable, you can read “Hiring” as “Placement.” Whatever we call it, when we on-board a volunteer, we should be as specific about roles, responsibilities, and license as we are with hiring for pay. When we hire for pay, the new staff typically goes through an induction or orientation process. If done well, the new employee comes out with a good understanding of their role, their top responsibilities, where they fit into the bigger organization, how their outputs affect others’ inputs, and their span and scope of control or authority.
When we onboard a new volunteer, we should follow the very same process. A volunteer who only sees a small piece of the puzzle will often lack the clarity to grasp the importance of their role. Things that may seem like a triviality can be a key strategic alignment action, and it being overlooked in one ministry can impact other connection points or interfaces. It’s important for volunteers to be given an understanding of the whole, and where they, and the ministry they are plugging into, fit strategically. Also, be clear with how much license a volunteer has to put their fingerprints on their role and tasks. In some cases, and in some tasks, you will be able to give creative license to the volunteer, while other times it’ll be important to stay inside the lines. Be clear with the volunteer, which tasks fit in which category.
When we hire for pay, we are always explicit about the time commitment of the role. Whether it’s a standard forty-hour work week, has flextime, or requires overtime, we are always clear with the employee about the commitment and expectations. We are often far less clear with volunteers, in this respect.
Ministry leaders are almost always in need of a stronger volunteer force, and when we nab one, we can unleash the workload. Volunteers can go from excited to contribute to overwhelmed at light speed. This can be particularly the case in smaller churches, where the workers are generally fewer and the level of organization and planning is often less mature.
As ministry leaders and managers, we need to ensure that interested volunteers are presented a clear vision of their role and required commitment. Of course, a prerequisite to us presenting this clearly is that we understand it ourselves. Understand the commitment of the volunteer role you need filled and ensure roles are defined with manageable commitment requirements. John Heywood stated, “Many hands make light work,” and with lighter work our ministries can go further.
Performance Management has been a hot topic for a few years now. The debate continues on the value of annual performance reviews and their place in today’s workforce. Many organizations are abandoning this structured, process driven, performance management technique for a less formal, continual management approach.
There is the old saying that no one should ever be surprised by their manager’s feedback during the annual review. So, if no one should be surprised, no one is probably hearing anything new. And if no one is hearing anything new, maybe we don’t have to spend the endless hours preparing and executing the formal annual performance reviews. Maybe we just need to have regular, informal, open and direct conversations with our staff.
Holding to the theme, the best practice in the workplace is probably the best practice to utilize with our ministry volunteers. Just have a conversation. Tell them how they are doing. Highlight when and where they do great work; encourage and coach them in areas needing more focus and development.
There is a place for every willing volunteer in ministry work; however, it might not be in the place and position they desire. Leaders need to be tuned to discern a volunteer’s gifts and abilities. We should encourage, develop, and place all willing volunteers in ministry.
One final thought to ministry leaders and department managers—be available. Be available to your volunteers. You can’t do it without them—at least not as well as you can do it with them—so be available for them. Be available for their questions. Be available to encourage them. Be available to coach them. Become part of their social circle because it’s too hard to have influence from the outside.