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I Hate Recruiting Volunteers

  • “I love children’s ministry—all of the creative parts of developing exciting programs, but I sure don’t like filling vacancies. I hate that part of the job.”
  • “I have a passion for the pastorate-preaching, visioning, visiting and pastoral work. But when I have to recruit volunteers for our ministry teams, I begin thinking that this is not what I signed up for. I hate that part of the job.”
  • “I love youth ministry. I spend most of my time hanging out with kids, planning events, teaching, and presenting the gospel to pre-Christians. But my pastor keeps telling me to spend most of more time recruiting volunteers. I hate that part of the job.”

Do you ever feel like a sales person, trying to fill a monthly sales quota of volunteers? Many of the people quoted above react to the high pressure sales tactics that they feel they have to use to get the prospective volunteer to say, “Yes.” Many ministers and volunteer managers have asked us, “Why do I have such a hard time filling our volunteer vacancies?” Can’t I just make an announcement, or put up a ‘help wanted’ sign to get people to volunteer?”

You’re not alone. When you have a having a hard time filling volunteer vacancies, many of you might be tempted to just give up saying, “I’m not a natural born salesman.”

We’ve got some good news. You don’t have to be one!

What Recruiting is Not

First, recruiting is not marketing!
The first step to recruiting is to understand the difference between recruiting and marketing. Announcements are marketing. Most pastors make the mistake of thinking that mere announcements will get volunteers. Announcements are important, as is marketing, but an announcements is not recruiting.

Here is a workable definition of marketing:

Marketing is anything that puts your ministry in front of someone who is a possible volunteer.

Recruiting starts with marketing, or in the church format-announcements. Understanding the purpose of marketing frees you to be creative, and it recognizes that any contact you have with members of your church or prospective volunteers is marketing. Announcements are marketing. Volunteer fliers are marketing. Special presentations are marketing. Fancy brochures, ad campaigns and even websites are marketing. But all of these marketing tools only act as an adjunct and a support to effective recruiting. Marketing is not recruiting.

Marketing provides the opportunity to get in front of prospective volunteers, but recruiting is the manner in which you determine which of them will become your volunteers. In a sense, marketing is the strategy that will bring you the opportunity to expand your volunteer base, and recruiting is the tactic that-employed properly-will actually grow your volunteer base.

Second, recruiting is not convincing someone to do something
Recruiting is not like selling a product. We are not selling T.V.’s or used cars. We are not asking people to buy a product. And recruiting is not convincing someone to do something. You don’t want to coerce someone to do ministry; they have to discover it for themselves. They have to see the value for themselves.

You can drive people crazy by pestering them, making them feel guilty for not caring for the children, the music ministry, the nursery, a building needing paint, or the homeless, but they usually will resent you for it, and even if you enlist them for a short while, they often will back out of their commitment.

Third, recruiting is not a numbers game called “cold-call selling”
New volunteer managers often make the mistake of trying to approach recruiting like cold-call selling or tele-markeing. Recruiting is not a numbers game where you get as many people as you can to volunteer. The “sales approach” of prospecting for potential volunteers is to contact large numbers of cold contacts. We know churches that sign up hundreds of people knowing that about 80% of them will work for a month and quit. They count on the 20% that stick with the ministry. We are not looking for bodies. We are looking for people who want to really want to make a difference by using their gifts and abilities.

If this is what recruiting is not, then what is recruiting?

Recruiting is like dating.
In our book, The New Breed, we have one chapter entitled, “Recruiting the New Breed of Volunteers– The ‘Courting’ Relationship“. Typical volunteer recruiting is like the total stranger who sees a gorgeous woman and asks, “Hey, would you marry me?” Or perhaps like the woman who stands up in church and announces, “I’m looking for a husband. Anyone interested in marrying me tomorrow see me after the service.” We suggest that the mistake most volunteer managers make is aggressive spouse-hunting, not dating.

How does the dating process work?

Glad you asked. The process works like this:

Ask for a date: Ask the pre-volunteer to help at an event to give them a taste of your ministry. It might be scooping ice-cream or serving at a registration table. Hopefully, this will give the potential volunteer a chance to see your ministry in action. This kind of ministry-visit will present what you do far better than any brochure or video.

The goal isn’t marriage; it’s just to get a date. We have found that when people get a taste, they feel blessed and want to give back, but they don’t rush into long-term commitments.

The First Date: The goal of this date is to get a second date, so at the event, slip up alongside this person and visit. When Jonathan was in youth ministry, he asked Troy, who happens to be over 6 feet and huge, to stand guard at a door for a Campus Life event. During the evening, Jonathan stood by Troy and told him stories about some of the kids. Troy was impressed with the impact of the ministry. He wanted to get involved, but he was a computer programmer, not your typical youth volunteer. Jonathan took Troy to Starbucks, and they talked about the kids. As Jonathan listened, he discovered that Troy had some technology skills that he needed for his ministry. That was ten years ago, and Troy is still using those skills in Jonathan’s ministry today.

The Second Date: The purpose of the second date is to present your work. We love to have second dates at Starbucks. We do a lot of listening, but also talk about our need and how the pre-volunteer might be part of our team. We ask for feedback-how they think that they might help. What are their strengths, talents and experience that might help them. What is their experience? What is their passion?

Although the content of the meeting is important, the actual purpose of the meeting is to get future dates. You ask them, “Is this something that you would be interested in?” When the person responds yes to that question, they have given you permission to ask for the future dates. Be very specific. You take the information that the person gave to you in the first dates and design a job description for the person.

Future Dates: The goal is to ask them if they would make the commitment to be a part of your ministry team. Many volunteers will make a commitment after the second date because in that period of time they have attended your meetings, read information about your organization and are ready to get involved. However, some will need more time. They may say no at first, but don’t be discouraged because “no” often doesn’t mean “no” but “not now.” In six months to a year the volunteer manager needs to ask for another date.

Some impatient, impulsive pastors say, “I don’t have time to meet with each volunteer multiple times to recruit them.” It can sound overwhelming; however, when you look at the time you waste training and retraining the high percentage of volunteers who are quitting, you are way ahead by using the “dating” method.

Bottom line-Recruiting is asking for Dates
Technically, recruiting is what we do once we are in front of a prospective volunteer. Marketing (an announcement) gets us there; recruiting is our behavior once we’re there. Recruiting is a conversation very similar to other conversations you have during the day. The only difference is that instead of chatting about sports or cars or relationships, it is about the possibility of discovering and using the gifts God has given.

Pastors must change their perception of the word volunteer. Volunteer cannot be viewed as a verb. We are not looking for someone “to volunteer.” We are looking for someone to make a commitment (that is the verb) as a volunteer (the noun) in the ministry. When we recognize the significance of volunteer as a noun, we will quit asking for people to volunteer. Instead, we will ask for dates.

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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