I clearly remember the day I uncovered three little words with a huge impact on retaining volunteers.
I was talking to a man who set up coffee and donuts every Sunday. He was new to that ministry, so I asked, “How’s it going?” His answer was a cheerful “Fine . . . great . . .,” but after a bit he mentioned it would be simpler if he didn’t have to hunt down the key to the supply cabinet each week. A week or two later, when I handed him his own key, he was surprised . . . and very happy. That’s when the light bulb went on for me. I realized that if I hadn’t specifically asked, he likely wouldn’t have mentioned the key to me or anyone else, even if he eventually quit because of it.
Since then, nearly every time I’ve asked someone, “How’s it going?” in their ministry, I learn something interesting or important. And about half the time, I can do something, even if it’s only to provide a listening ear, that helps them in their serving.
Sometimes we’re so busy recruiting volunteers, we forget to support the ones we’ve got.
Here are other simple things you can do to support, and retain, your volunteers.
First impressions matter:
- When they start, make sure they know what to do. Don’t assume anything.
- Give them what they need for success: tools (the key!), information (what worked well and what didn’t work so well at the last Lenten supper; the code for the copier); the work space (a table that doesn’t wobble).
- Help them make friends. Introduce them to the people they’ll be working with. Even if they’ll be working from home, introduce them to the person who’ll be using the data they’re entering. Relationships matter.
Throughout their service:
- Go to bat for them. If there’s a problem, you as leader should go to the custodian, the board or the pastor for them.
- Share with your volunteers every positive comment, every statistic, every good thing you hear about the impact of what they’re doing. See “The Power of Stories”
- Say thank you. They’re not seeking thanks or a reward, but no one is interested in doing work that doesn’t matter to anyone else.
- Take the “how’s it going” question a step further and periodically have a planned and scheduled conversation on what’s working well and what could be improved.
Supporting your volunteers is a whole lot easier and quicker than recruiting their replacements.