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Do You Know What Motivates Your Volunteers?

One of the most important aspects of ministry is its volunteers. For organizational leadership, having volunteers is encouraging because it helps in accomplishing your mission. It gives a shared sense of being in ministry together. For a volunteer, it can be equally meaningful because it gives an opportunity for purpose and impact to happen in both a personal and collective way at the same time. Many people who volunteer have a desire to see the world be different and better. Volunteering is a small way to make that happen without the cumbersome responsibilities that go with leading the ministry.

But there is a challenging side of both leading a volunteer and being a volunteer. And left unchecked, leaders and volunteers can be hurtful without realizing what’s happening. The consequences go beyond hurt feelings and strained relationships,.

Understanding Motivation 

Volunteers don’t always have the same motivation for why they serve. While there may be an overarching shared desire to see the mission accomplished, the reason people get into it is different. Ministry leaders often have something that compelled them into doing the work that they do as their job — a defining moment. Volunteers may have had similar moments, but not always at the same level of transformation.

As a ministry leader, it’s important to understand the differences in these perspectives so you can effectively lead volunteers and have a clear understanding of what motivates them. While there are lots of drivers that bring volunteers into an organization, some of the common ones are feelings of obligation, empathy, fulfillment, guilt, or a desire to do ministry that feels more tangible. As a leader, you need to understand that these volunteers are often coming from a different place than you are. The motivations for why we do what we do are personal. It’s important to keep that in mind in your conversations and interactions with others. When we have blinders on, miscommunication easily turns into a decline in motivation.

Here are three simple things you can do as you work with volunteers to make sure that they feel cared for, appreciated, and ultimately understood.

One: Appreciate Them

Say thank you. While this might seem like a no-brainer, much of the volunteer work that has to be done in the day-to-day aspects of the ministry falls into what we would consider the thankless category. Not every volunteer opportunity is glamorous. In fact, most aren’t. Volunteers are doing the work that you may not have the capacity or desire to do. 

Let me give you an example. Someone who runs sound in your church is a volunteer who probably comes to church a lot earlier than others do. They spend time troubleshooting, winding cords, and going to rehearsals. There’s a lot of work that goes into what happens on Sunday mornings that no one sees. This volunteer could be involved every Sunday and rarely anyone says, “Thank you, everything sounded great today!” 

Because of the nature of the job, this volunteer is almost invisible until they’re not. When do we notice the sound guy? When something goes wrong. And that’s when everyone turns around and looks at them crossly. Say thank you for all the times everything went right, which is more than often the case. Running sound is a thankless job, but a thankless job goes a long way when someone says thank you. There are many people who are serving in volunteer roles every day that are not thanked enough. When someone feels appreciated for the work that they do, the motivation is higher.

Two: Listen to Them

I realize this also is probably a no-brainer and feels pretty obvious. But I don’t think leaders are as good of listeners as they think they are. Your volunteers have a perspective and a vantage point that you don’t have. They can see things that you can’t see for yourself. They hear what people won’t tell you. Listening and understanding is a powerful tool in not only seeing growth happen, but also avoids unnecessary conflict and misunderstanding.

Three: Serve with Them

Work alongside your volunteers. There have been many books and speeches given about the importance of servant leadership. There are probably great strategies in terms of how to do this, but serving alongside your volunteers and your team even in the simple things sets an example that is often unseen in many ministries unfortunately. As leaders, people watch us. They observe our behavior. And if we want people to be good at serving others, we have to demonstrate that value matters a lot to us. If the floor needs to be swept, do it. If someone needs a hand, give it. It doesn’t matter what title you have. Your title is irrelevant as it pertains to service. Our title does not give us the right to say that’s not my job. 

As a leader, one of the jobs that you have is to make the people you lead better. Appreciate them, listen to them, and serve with them. Ultimately, this will give you a reason to celebrate together what God has done and how He’s used you as a team to accomplish something greater.

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