Why Volunteers Quit, Part 1

Having the right volunteer for the right job is paramount. We look for individuals who have enthusiasm for the the vision of the ministry, who have time to invest and who possess the skills to actually perform the duties required. You will come across “turn-key” volunteers who are immediately ready to run with their responsibility. But most of time we find volunteers who are willing to do whatever we ask but require substantial equipping from leadership in order to succeed.

I have learned much about leading volunteers both from watching other leaders and my own experience. Here is part 1 of what I’ve learned when caring for volunteers that God has provided and what not to do.

10) Don’t take time to properly train your volunteer but expect them to do the job perfectly

Depending on your personality type, you may have an unspoken expectation that any volunteer who steps up to manage your website, design your sermon graphics or run the tech booth is already capable. Without any training, other than to show him or her where the iMac power button is you let them run with full reins. This is a recipe for disaster. You will get frustrated with the results, and if this is during a service, you’ll feel embarrassed and risk doing the worst thing ever (see #1 in part 2).

9) Spend too much time training your volunteer with unnecessary details instead of focusing on the essential details

You take lots of time to train when the only thing your volunteer is responsible for is pressing play on iTunes before and after the service. That being the case, somehow you found it necessary to also explain how to re-format the computer. That’s a bit extreme, but hopefully you get the picture. Part of being an effective leader is painting the big picture and applying that picture to an individual task. I have overwhelmed volunteers with so much info that the one simple thing I needed them to do suddenly became a huge task. They couldn’t cut through the fog that I drove them into. Know what to share and when to share it.

8) “Fix” everything your volunteer did after they’ve completed the task. To really frustrate them, do it while their standing there with you

A volunteer donated their time to design a handout for an upcoming event. They knew what info to include and had an example to copy. After they worked for a couple hours I review what they had. In 10 minutes completely revamped their creation. What I really did in 10 minutes was say, “thanks for trying but clearly you’re not good at this. I probably should have done it in the first place because what took you 2 hours looked bad. Look what I was able to do in 10 minutes? Clearly this isn’t for you.” This actually points to a larger idea. Continue reading number 7.

7) Pick the wrong person for the job

Sometimes all you need to do is be more intentional in what task you assign to a particular volunteer. I’ve had intelligent people work with me but for some reason they couldn’t perform what I thought was a simple task. You would never assign a gifted photographer to data entry. Don’t assign someone who is great at details, proofing and data entry to a task that doesn’t match their skill set. Pick the right person for the job.

6) Tell them their creative product is crap

So you might not actually say this aloud, but words only say 20% of what we are communicating. During my time as a music leader I played mostly with one drummer. Other drummers would come in but none of them played like my primary drummer. During a practice I would instruct the “other” drummer to “play it more like this.” What I communicated was “play like my favorite drummer does.” Just like telling a painter that he used the wrong color paint, telling a musician to play like someone else can be very insulting. There came a day when I played with a gal who’s style wasn’t quite meshing with mine. After realizing I had been frustrating her for several Sunday’s I started to think to myself, “is what she’s playing wrong? No. Does it fit. Yeah. Is it what I want? No. Can I live with it? Yeah.” Over time our styles meshed. I decided to only speak up during the instances where I definitely needed the music to flow a particular way. Other than that, I let it ride and found that when she played we had a really unique vibe that I liked. Not better, not worse, just different.

Hopefully the first five have been helpful tips. Have you been guilty of doing any of these things? Any lessons you could share?