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10 Ways to Lose a Volunteer

Carmen Kamrath

These 10 recruiting missteps can cost you new volunteers. Here's how to avoid them.

Remember that person you had such a crush on in high school? Maybe you flirted and worked overtime to impress your crush, delighted when your efforts resulted in a first date. And things went beautifully on that magical evening; the two of you set a second date and leaned in to say good night. Then it happened: You said or did something that sent your date running to the next county, never to be seen again. Maybe you mentioned something about kids, or perhaps you revealed a personal idiosyncrasy even your mother would cringe at. Whatever happened, you closed your front door that night with the gut feeling that you'd blown any opportunity for a relationship with your crush.

So it goes with potential volunteers who are hesitant about whether to commit to your ministry. As a volunteer recruiter, you think you've done what's necessary to win and impress, only to discover that your words or actions sent the potential volunteer running for the exit -- never to step forward or show interest in your ministry again.

Here are 10 ways not to lose a new volunteer -- and tips to transform those flirting with ministry into dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers.

Misstep #1:

Failing to Recognize the Person in a Crowd

So often children's ministers make this plea from the pulpit: "Just drop your name in the offering and we'll contact you to help." So Mary drops her name in the plate, she likes kids and would like more information -- maybe children's ministry is where she can finally plug in. But a week goes by, then two, and still no one's contacted her. Then, there's hope. Her email inbox has a message from you, but when Mary reads it, she realizes it's a mass email to everyone who responded to the plea. Yes, position openings are listed with a contact number, but Mary hits delete and decides to pass on volunteering if this is the experience she can expect.

Sweep 'Em Off Their Feet: Always follow up within 48 hours of an announcement from the pulpit or in the church bulletin -- and make the contact personal. Call potential volunteers personally or meet with them face-to-face to go over your needs, their interests, and to answer any questions they have about the ministry. People appreciate the personal attention from someone who's currently a leader in the ministry.

Misstep #2:

Asking People to Help As a Favor

Nothing can ruin a relationship, new or seasoned, faster than asking someone to help in your ministry as a favor to you. Of course it's difficult for a person to turn you down if you're positioning your volunteer need as a personal one. Friends may fill your volunteer needs out of obligation to you, but their volunteer experience will be unsatisfactory and unfulfilling if they're serving in an area that's not a good fit for them and is done out of guilt.

Sweep 'Em Off Their Feet: If you have friends or acquaintances who want to serve in children's ministry, you already have a recruiting advantage because you've got an established relationship with them. But don't assume that children's ministry is a good fit for your friends. Have all potential volunteers -- regardless of your relationship with them -- fill out an interest inventory or spiritual gift assessment to make sure the volunteer opportunities available are a good fit on both ends.

Misstep #3:

Throwing Newbies to the Lions

A potential volunteer has filled out all the paperwork and passed the background check -- and you desperately need someone in the preteen class, which hasn't had a consistent volunteer leader in weeks. So you hand over the materials and send your new recruit into the trenches, only to get the materials back at the end of the service with a polite, "Thanks, but I think I'll pass," as your new recruit exits the building -- and your ministry.

Sweep 'Em Off Their Feet: Make sure potential volunteers can observe different areas of service under a seasoned volunteer's leadership. People considering volunteering in children's ministry may want to shadow a current volunteer for a time, or maybe they'd prefer to volunteer with classroom prep or in the kitchen rather than in the classroom. Provide new volunteers with entry point opportunities -- or "ministry in small bites" opportunities -- especially if they're inexperienced. Serving pizza at a preteen event may result in a person realizing that he or she likes kids that age and wants to be more involved in that ministry -- or it may be an eye-opener and solidify that the nursery is a better fit.

Misstep #4:

Giving Potential Recruits a False Impression

A cardinal rule of dating is to be yourself because the truth will eventually come out. The same can be said about courting someone for a volunteer position in your ministry. If you paint a picture of the ministry or volunteer position that isn't accurate, your new volunteers will feel they were recruited under false pretenses and won't be in it for the long haul.

Sweep 'Em Off Their Feet: Describe your ministry accurately. Don't say you have classroom ratios of six kids for every one leader and then stick a new volunteer in a room alone with 15 kids. Develop a volunteer manual for potential volunteers to read that includes your ministry values and mission. Let recruits know what each job's time commitment is each week and what their role would be on the team, including who they'd report to and what team they'd serve on. Have ministry descriptions available for every service opportunity, from small group leaders to clean-up crew.

Misstep #5:

Talking the Talk, But Not Walking the Walk

As a leader you may give a great first impression, presenting your ministry with enthusiasm and passion. But after chatting with current volunteers and observing you in action, a potential volunteer sadly realizes that you're not that excited about the ministry -- and actually feels sorry for you because you're obviously in a job you dread.

Sweep 'Em Off Their Feet: If you love what you're doing, it shows. Your enthusiasm about the ministry is contagious. Your attitude goes a long way in converting interested people into committed volunteers, so check it when you're having a tough time getting volunteers to commit. People may be hesitant because you are, too.

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