Recruiting Volunteers: The Practices (Part 2)

Recruiting the very best volunteers is hard work. It can be frustrating, time consuming, and draining. I sat down with one of my youth pastor friends at a winter retreat to hear his frustrations in needing to get more people involved in his ministry (Recruiting Volunteers: The Principles, Part 1). This is part two of our conversation about the two arenas of Recruiting Volunteers: Principles and Practices.

After Brad and I talked in length about The Principles, he exclaimed, "So what do I need to know about these practices?" I smiled and replied, "Well remember, Principles are about what you need to know and what you believe about recruiting volunteers. The Practices are more about what you do to recruit volunteers." I drew a circle on our scratch paper and started talking about the spokes of the recruiting wheel.

The Practices

A professional cyclist spends a lot of energy conditioning to be the best he can be. On an average bike race, the cyclist will crank the wheel over 100 times a minute which is over 2 million times by the end of a race. In the same way the cyclist continuously turns the wheels of his bike to win the race, the best way of recruiting volunteers is an unbroken rhythm of consistently cycling through your recruitment plan.

Recruiting wheel

The Recruiting Wheel

I like to think of recruiting volunteers as a cycle instead of a one time event. The cycle is a continuous grass-rooted method based on relationships, where a lot of one time events (ad in bulletins) or volunteer campaigns focus on just getting the word out in hope for a response! Here are the steps in the Recruiting Wheel:

Identify: Whenever I have a position to fill, I first start out by writing a short job description. This will have details of what the person will be doing, necessary skills to do the job, and my expectations. Without a doubt, when you ask someone to volunteer, the FIRST question they will usually ask is, "What will I be doing?" It doesn't give people confidence when you reply, "I don't know, what do you want to do?"

List: The next thing I do is to make a list of qualified people I like to talk to about filling the position. No more than ten people on the list. I try to think of people who would be a good fit on my team, who have great character, and who have the ability to do the job or have a heart to learn. This is my chance to look for potential "diamonds in the rough" or the person that no one ever thought to use! Remember, Jesus didn't choose the best of the people for his disciples, He choose the ones would do their best.

Prayer: This step is the easiest to do, but also the easiest to overlook. After I make a list of people that could fill the spot, I take time to pray that God will show me which person He wants for the job. I pray, by name, for everyone on the list to allow for God to speak and give direction. One time, I made a list of potentials but when I prayed for those people, I felt God leading me to write a whole new list. The point is, this step intentionally gets God involved in the process!

Network: After that, I start talking to people about the potentials I have in mind to serve. If I am in an organization that has multiple staff, then I will make sure the people on my list aren't already serving in other areas. This step helps me eliminate duds or over committed "super" volunteers from my list. A lot of times I get good leads from other coaches in ministry.

Connection: Now it comes time for meeting with the people on your list. When I contact people for ministry, I tell them up front why I want to meet. I never allow people to serve on my teams without sitting them down, looking them straight in the eyes, and hearing their story. This gives me a chance to hear their heart, passions, and what excites them about serving.

Vision: After I get to know the person better by listening to their story, I take the time to tell them why my ministry is unique. This is one of the most important but under-utilized steps in recruiting volunteers and keeping them in your ministry. The best way to lose volunteers is by getting them serving in your ministry without having them know what is important to the team, what is expected of them, or even the values of the ministry.

Big Ask: So during the meeting with them, I have listened to their story, and I have explained my vision. Now I can move on to asking them to join the team. I start by explaining the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I want them to do. I have seen young leaders sugar-coat undesirable positions because they fear no one in their right mind would want to do that kind of work. But this makes most people feel like they are being sold useless items on an infomercial that no one really wants. I hardly ever ask someone to make a decision on the spot, so I usually say something like, "Go home and think about it for a week. Pray it over with your family and I will get back to you." And I hardly let someone jump on board right away until they have time to consider all the costs!

Follow-up: About a week or so after meeting, I give them a call to see if they have made a decision about serving. If they are on board with serving, then I start the application process with them (that would be another post). If they don't feel led to serve at this time with me, I thank them for considering serving. BUT, I never let someone completely off the hook. This is a great opportunity to follow-up with involvement questions. I ask if they would like to be sent a ministry newsletter, if they would like to be considered for other spots on the team, if they would consider sponsoring a student for missions, or even if they would like to visit our ministry sometime.

The Challenge

At this point Brad spoke up, "Wait a minute Ben, you mean to tell me that you meet with with everyone on your list?" I replied, "Of course not, I stop meeting with people when I have all the spots filled! But when does that ever happen?!" Brad asked, "So what happens when you meet with everyone on your list and you haven't found a volunteer?" I quickly replied, "That's easy, you start a new list and cycle through the process again! It might take you a few lists to find the right person for the spot."

Brad exclaimed, "I don't think I have enough time to do all of that! Maybe if recruiting people was the only thing I had to do!" I laughed and said, "I know what you mean. It does seem like a lot! But in the long run, it pays off. Ever since I started cycling through this process, I've never had a season where I had huge need for leaders!" I added, "Beside that, the more you do it, the better you become at it and the faster it goes!"

Brad thought about it for awhile then huffed, "This might be good for you man, but it won't work in my church environment." I smiled and replied, "My friend, what has been working for you?" Brad didn't answer. "I'm not trying to be mean, but I think you should just try it. And let's say you do all of this and nothing happens, I will owe you a lunch!" Brad laughed and agreed to try it.

Three months later I got an email from Brad with two words, "It works."

So why did this work for Brad? Brad realized that he had to change the way he viewed recruiting (Principles) and dedicate himself to walk through a relational recruitment process (Practices). This continuous combination of the principles and the practices helped to cultivate an atmosphere of recruiting top level leaders within his ministry.