Volunteers & The Head/Heart Connection

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Think of your top volunteers – those people who are committed, consistent and always willing to serve.  What attracted them to serve at your organization?  Was it your sign-up sheet?  Nah.  Maybe it was your training process.  Hmmm…that doesn’t seem right either.  Even without knowing anything about your organization, I feel safe in guessing that your top volunteers started serving because they connected with another volunteer or with a particular program.  As selfless as we would like to be, we don’t give up our time and talent solely out of a sense of duty.  We’re much more likely to make those sacrifices when we see a potential return on our investment – especially a return that we emotionally connect with like seeing children receiving mentoring or the poor valued and helped.

Now, I really like systems and processes (hey, that’s how I’m wired) so I’m not saying we throw those out the window.  However, systems and processes don’t connect with people or capture their hearts.  First, you have to connect with them emotionally to get their attention.  Then, you need to connect with them logically to keep them coming back.

Allow me to explain:  If your volunteer program is struggling, first determine whether you are communicating the vision. Why should people volunteer at your organization?  Will they become part of a team and establish new friendships?  Who will they help?  How will lives be impacted as a result of their service?  You need to answer those questions every single time you ask for volunteers.  Here’s the good news – you already know the answer to these questions.  You just need to take the time to write down the answers and then figure out how best to communicate them.  This could be used for material on your website, bulletin, social media, pre-service announcements (churches), etc.  Another thing I’ve seen that’s very effective are short videos of volunteers sharing their story of how serving has impacted their lives.  That’s better than anyone on staff asking for help since it’s coming straight from a volunteer.

Once you’ve connected and they’ve signed up, you have a short window of time to keep their attention.  This is where the systems and processes come back in (you knew I wasn’t going to leave them out, right?!).  Let’s say a potential volunteer fills out a sign-up form.  Within one business day, that person should receive a phone call or email thanking him for his interest and letting him know when to show up for the next training session (which should be scheduled to occur within a week of any volunteer recruiting drive).  He attends the training session that includes information regarding the time commitment involved, a description of what he’ll be responsible for, etc.  That session should also include time for socializing.  This is where your new volunteers get to meet your staff and volunteer leaders.  Finally, you let him know when and where to arrive for his first service opportunity.   His leaders should introduce him to the team, show him the ropes as a reminder from training and answer any questions.

I’d suggest that each serving team have a fun group outing every couple of months so they have a chance to get to know each other better.  Volunteer leaders can send out birthday or anniversary cards, recognize volunteers who’ve served for six months, a year, etc.  Those events and recognition reconnect with their hearts and help them stay connected with their team. Why would they stop volunteering when they have a group of friends they serve with each week?  Plus they get to see lives changed, connections made, and for churches or ministries – people reached with the Gospel.  That’s a powerful combination!

Recruiting and retaining volunteers isn’t all about getting people excited to serve or all about making sure they go through the proper process – it’s both.  Capture their hearts with the vision, connect with their heads by explaining your expectations and providing training, then continue repeating that process on a regular basis.

How do you connect with your volunteers?