May 5, 2015

The Challenge in Recruiting - and Retaining - Volunteers

I was at a parish recently for an all day workshop. The parish leaders were struggling to recruit new volunteers and keep the volunteers they had from burning out.

One parishioner made this key observation, “It’s frustrating for our workers to show up for an event that is poorly attended.” Put another way, their volunteers are disheartened when their work doesn`t produce an intended impact or make much of a difference on a specific ministry at their parish. 

Across the United States, nonprofits are seeing a decrease in volunteerism. A September 2014 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes a ten-year low; the same report shows that states with the highest unemployment rate also report the lowest number of volunteer hours.

Just because you have extra time, it doesn`t mean you are going to spend it volunteering.

In the past five years, a number of studies and articles have explored the role of impact and meaning making in job satisfaction. A November 30, 2013 New York Times article states “when individuals adopt what we call a meaning mind-set — that is, they seek connections, give to others, and orient themselves to a larger purpose — clear benefits can result, including improved psychological well-being, more creativity, and enhanced work performance. Workers who find their jobs meaningful are more engaged and less likely to leave their current positions.”

This research has serious implications for our Church and the way we work with volunteers. The novelist and theologian Fredrick Beuchner says that vocation or calling is “that place where the world’s great need and your deep hunger meet.”

Recognizing the role of vocation in volunteer ministry, congregational leaders, recruiting volunteers should move away from thinking about filling a role to make ministry happen, to thinking about the act of volunteering being a life-giving ministry. When recruiting volunteers, we prayerfully ask members “what is God calling you to do” and then seek to connect individual passions with opportunity.

For a volunteer ministry is to thrive, our parishes need to adopt a meaning mind-set. How do we communicate a volunteer’s impact? How do we thank our parishioners and connect their work to our mission?

Do you want more information on volunteers? The Episcopal Church Foundation will provide a free webinar “Planning and Recruiting for Stewardship” on May 6, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. 

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