Training Tools

How Do I Keep Volunteers?

Got volunteers?

Getting them is one thing… but what’s the trick to keeping them?

Glad you asked.

No- not the magazine- the other thing that we don’t have enough of. Yes, no matter how you slice it, our volunteers take time. But think of the alternative. Either you spend 20 hours a week with students and no one else does, or you spend 10 hours with students, and 10 hours a week developing 10 others so that they can EACH spend 5 volunteer hours a week with students. Do the math. Jesus did- that’s why he spent a good amount of time developing the twelve.

I use to block out a weekly breakfast for several of my volunteer guys. This was a great time to ask them how they were doing, be an encouragement to them, and maybe even talk a little about ministry.

My friend Greg was a youth worker at a local church- and he had three times during the week that he would be at a local Denny’s type restaurant. During this time- if volunteer youth leaders dropped by- Greg would pick up their meal. (It’s nice to have the budget for this sort of thing.)

Breakfasts, golfing, retreats, staff-laser-tag, dinners… regardless how you do it- if you invest in your volunteers- your investment will multiply into the lives of students.

If you’re reading this article, then you’re savvy enough with technology to use email, texting or maybe even social networking sites. All of these are a great way to communicate with your volunteer team. All generations use email. But much of the younger generation (under 25) favors text messaging or social networking sites.

Produce a simple weekly-update that you send to volunteer leaders-only. Fill this with encouragement, updates, praises such as kids who made commitments, etc. This is a great tool for reminding them what to bring, what time to show up, what the small group questions of the week are, etc.

Don’t limit yourself to being digital- pick up the phone every once in a while just to check in. If you’ve got one of those cool cell phone plans with free calls after 8:00 PM, program all your volunteer leaders’ numbers in your phone and call them on the way home from seminary class, the grocery store or the gym.

Keep in touch with your volunteers- know what’s going on in their lives- and provide them an avenue of communication so they can stay current with ministry.

Do your volunteers groan when they attend a leadership meeting? How about adding creative twists to staff meetings?

  • Have your meetings over pizza or ice cream. Meetings are always better over food!
  • Have your staff/leadership meetings at the house of one of your student’s parents. Ask them to cook dinner for your staff- then halfway through the meeting, have them come in and share a story of encouragement how the volunteer leaders have made a difference in their son/daughter’s life. Maybe have the student come in and share what they like about the ministry.
  • Highlight a different volunteer each staff/leadership meeting and have every other volunteer share something they like about that highlighted volunteer. If you’re at a restaurant, have everyone buy that person’s meal that night.
  • Do fun “team-building” games where the volunteers have to work together to solve something. For example- have everyone stand in a circle. Now tell everyone to stay where they are, but lean in, reach and grab the hands of two people in the circle other than the people next to them. Now tell them to get untangled and form a perfect circle again- without letting go! (We have a bunch of these on our TEAMBUILDERS page at THE SOURCE website)

Don’t settle for the “normal” dull staff meeting. Use it as a time for fun, encouragement and team-building for your ministry team.

You read it right- perks! That’s all the little fringe benefits that we can provide for our volunteers.

I can hear it now. “But our budget is small” or “non-existent!” I’m so tired of hearing that. Let me assure you- it’s worth budgeting your events so that your staff can always come for free. Here’s an easy example. If you’re taking all your students to a place that costs $8 . . . charge $10 or $12 so you can cover your gas costs and pay for all your volunteer leaders’ admission. Most students that can come up with 8 bucks can come up with a few more.

The key is letting your volunteer leaders know how much you appreciate their time and dedication. I’ve been on countless camps and retreats where I saw staff teams that were required to come up with their own money for events and trips. For many volunteers this was a hardship. For many this was a subconscious message that “they weren’t of any value.” (Note: Some people may think that this robs the staff of the opportunity to give. Well, let them have to take the initiative on that one. Many of my volunteers also donated to our ministry, more than paying for their way. But that was up to them. I always assured them that their time was more than enough. And it was!)

I not only paid for my volunteers on all our events . . . I also gave them additional perks, usually rewarding them for the stuff I wanted them doing. For example: on my week long trips my primary goal was for my leaders to spend time with students one-on-one. So each morning I gave each leader an envelope with $5 in it. I told them to find a time today to take a student out for a milkshake or french fries and a Coke (a pop for you in Michigan). I had 8 staff on that trip for 6 days. That’s 48 envelopes with $5 in it, a total of $240. Sound like a lot? Well that $240 guaranteed that 48 students would get one-on-one attention from an adult for about a half hour. That’s more than a lot of them got at home in a week. Best $240 I ever spent. I just put it in the budget.

Other perks might be a pocket full of game tokens when we are at an arcade, tickets to the Indy-racers when at the Mini-golf complex, or Christmas gifts at a volunteer leaders’ Christmas dinner.

Provide perks for your volunteers letting them know that you value them. The Bible says that where your treasure is your heart will be also. Our heart better be in our volunteers… because they could be doing something else with their time.

Leadership retreats really are another perk that I offer, combined with a great excuse to train my volunteer leaders and equip them for our ministry.

Every summer I used to concentrate on recruiting volunteer leaders. And at the end of every summer I had a mandatory leadership retreat for new recruits and existing volunteers. My volunteer staff all knew that one of the expectations of being on my team was attending this fun weekend once a year. The cool thing was that my volunteers loved it, and soon the word got out. I would take them to my cousin’s 900 acre ranch to ride horses, ride quad-runners, shoot guns . . . and just have a good ol’ time. (In California usually the only time people shoot guns is on the freeway!)

Not only was the weekend free and fun, but I made the weekend attractive to them by encouraging them to bring their spouse or significant other (for those of my young staff who were dating or engaged) along with them. This gave them all a chance to interact and bond with each other.

We spent a lot of time doing team building games or activities, sharing with each other and just hanging out together. Each person took turns sharing their testimony at some time during the weekend, usually followed by tears and lots of hugging. Then I did some basic training in evangelism, discipleship and ministry methods.

Leaders came home from this trip not only trained and equipped, but “a team.” Very often I would bring 10 to 15 individuals up to the ranch… and one team home.

Our volunteers are one of our most important assets. We need to build in to them so that they can build into students. Use these five methods and hold on to your ministry team.

If you enjoyed this article from Jonathan McKee, learn even more about recruiting, managing and keeping volunteers in Jonathan’s book, THE NEW BREED: Recruiting, Training, Managing and Occasionally Even Firing Today’s Volunteers
(Click here for that book at a discounted price)


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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