Scheduling Volunteers

We’re all jugglers when it comes to our calendars. On top of our regular work/school hours, there are the soccer tournaments, band recitals, business trips, family get-togethers, and weekend getaways. One result: many volunteer no-show’s at church because calendar“something came up.”

One way to work with this reality is to rethink the way you schedule committee meetings, Nursery workers, and Sunday school teachers. Technology brings us more options than ever before. Here are the pro’s and con’s that I and others have found with a variety of scheduling options.

  1. One person creates and distributes a schedule: For most of us, this is the traditional method.
    1. Benefits: the scheduler builds the schedule around the preferences, needs and challenges of each person. The schedule is done on time, with every slot filled.
    2. Challenges: More variables arise as life gets more complicated. When last minute changes occur, the volunteer is usually expected to find a sub, which can be frustrating.
  2. A phone coordinator: For a handyman crew that worked twice a month on Thursday evenings, volunteers committed to coming roughly once a month. A week before each work night, a phone coordinator called each volunteer with info on what was to be done and asked if that volunteer would attend. The leader then knew how many to expect.Benefits: People enjoyed the phone conversations; it was a very relational scheduling method
    1. Challenges: You need someone with the time, energy and passion to make lots of phone calls.
  3. Self-scheduling: People sign themselves up for a date/time of their choosing using either a shared online document (such as google docs) or free online scheduling tools (such as SignUpGenius or VolunteerSpot).
    1. Benefits: Each volunteer picks what they want. People can see which spots are available in real time. The online scheduling tools have templates for your ‘please sign up’ invitation and they send automatic reminders.
    2. Challenge: It can take several reminders to get people to actually sign up; a plan is needed for how to fill empty spots. Some may have trouble accessing the shared document; for some coordinators, there’s a learning curve for using the online scheduling tools.
  4. Software to manage multiple schedules. We’re using Ministry Scheduler Pro to schedule volunteers for our worship-related ministries (ushers, greeters, etc.). It can generate schedules for us, and it also syncs with ministries that self-schedule and ones scheduled by the leader.
    1. Benefits: It honors people’s stated dates available and desired frequency of serving; it avoids scheduling Dad as usher at 9am when Junior is acolyte at 11am; volunteers use it for sub requests; it sends automatic reminders
    2. Challenge: all ministry leaders need to buy in and communicate with the software manager; annual fee based on number of volunteers
  5. Sign up when you show up. Our newest contemporary service asks for volunteers as people arrive (via a chalkboard sign at the front door) or during the service (“We now need some volunteers to pass the offering basket . . .”).
    1. Benefits: no advance commitment for the attendees; keeps things simple
    2. Challenges: works only for tasks that don’t require training; the coordinator must plan for what to do if no one volunteers

The bottom line: if your scheduling method makes life easier for your volunteers, you’ll get and keep more of them!

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