August 6, 2012

Managing Volunteers

As an administrator at a nonprofit and later a church, I was often seeking volunteers. However, it turned out that sometimes volunteers actually created more work. I’d occasionally have to refold the bulletins, or sometimes there was plenty of work to do, but it all required lots of explanation and supervision.

I suspect that many church employees and experienced church leaders have had this experience. Managing volunteers isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the trouble. We want people to feel connected and invested in the church, and not just because they tithe.

Looking back on my own experience, I can glean a few guidelines that might have helped:

  • Know the abilities of the volunteers. Some volunteers may have bookkeeping expertise or be excellent at filing, others may do best folding the bulletins.
  • Always have the work ready before they get there. There’s nothing worse than rushing around while the volunteers wait on you to tell them what to do.
  • Schedule volunteer days for quiet times during the month or week. Unless they are long-time volunteers, having people around, even helpful people, can make a busy, stressful day even more stressful.
  • Have guidelines and process established. If you haven’t clearly established the guidelines for the way the office should work (whether that’s a good filing system or bookkeeping practices), your volunteers will probably just end up frustrated or you’ll end up redoing their work.
  • Relax. Everyone will have more fun if the volunteer coordinator or staff member is relaxed, and enjoys the company of the volunteers. Usually the worst thing that can happen is that volunteers make a little extra work for the staff or more experienced lay leaders, and the church community and staff get to know each other a little better anyway.