The Care and Feeding of Volunteers

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It’s that time of year again: time for religious education programs in congregations all over to be recognizing their current volunteers and recruiting volunteers to staff next year’s program.  This can be a stressful time for the staff person, or whoever is responsible for finding all those volunteers.

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Fifty Volunteers!  Can it be done?  (This is for ideal staffing levels, folks, just to be clear.  I could run the program with a team of half that size, but then, well, they would all be doing twice as much work, right?)

Volunteers are what makes these programs run.  It is the sharing of their time, talents, energy – their gifts – with the children and youth that makes this an effective ministry.

So how do we find, recruit, support, and retain these volunteers?  I wrote my 7 Ways to Care For Your Volunteers out on my other blog last year.  Now I’m also interested to read Sharing the Ministry by Jean Morris Trumbauer.  Trumbauer points out that the old models of “Fill the Slot” and “Fuss and Beg” (love those names) for volunteer management are not effective and we should instead work toward an intentional model of shared ministry.

Instead of just focusing on Recruitment, we should divide our time among:

1.  Recruiting

2. Interviewing

3.  Matching

4.  Training

5.  Supervising

6. Supporting

7.  Evaluating

8. Managing Data

9.  Planning

10.  Discovering Gifts

11.  Designing

It’s both a bigger job and a smaller job, because it’s not about finding 50 volunteers by going down the church directory and just calling everyone (whether they are really right for this job or not) and begging and cajoling them to do it (then begging and cajoling them to never quit).  No, it’s not about filling spots, but instead about designing and running a program all year long that is exciting and inviting for volunteers to work on.  It’s about supporting volunteers, appreciating them, and facilitating them in seeing their work as an important ministry and a personal growth/fun/social/enrichment activity all rolled into one.

So the question I’m looking at right now is, where are the 50 people whose gifts will shine in our RE program?  How do I let them know about the opportunities and invite them into the program?  And how will I  train, support, and appreciate them all year long?

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