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Leading Not Normal Volunteers

by Adam Duckworth

The number one thing I have been asked throughout my entire career—number one, hands down—is, “How do I lead my volunteers better?”

Not too long ago, Sue Miller and I wrote a cutting edge resource called, Not Normal: 7 Quirks of Incredible Volunteers, so that leaders could have a resource that they could place directly into the hands of their volunteers. Our hope was that it would begin to transform the volunteer culture within churches and organizations all over the world. It’s doing just that!

But people were telling us that they needed more. In fact, the questions we kept hearing were, “How do we help our volunteers have these quirks? How can I help my volunteers take their game to the next level?”

So, Leading Not Normal Volunteers was born.

Let’s take one of the questions that we get a lot when developing this resource and talk about it today—“You say one of the best quirks of an Incredible Volunteer is that they are an owner and not a renter. How do I, as a leader, help them do that?”

Here are a couple of things that you can do as a leader to help your volunteers own and not rent:

1. Ask for what you really need.

One of the worst things you can do as someone who leads volunteers is to make a minimal ask.

One of the temptations you might face as someone who leads volunteers is to make the same size ask of everyone. Sometimes we even give the impression that we just need “bodies in rooms.” We think that if you lead like that, you will end up with a lot of renters and very few owners.

You don’t want to scare everyone off right away, but sometimes there are those unique people . . . those who have been around for a while or maybe those people who have known what it has been like to be an owner in another organization and they want to plug in right way. These individuals like difficult and challenging roles.

They are waiting to dive into the deep end and can help you take your program to the next level. We make a mistake when we timidly only ask them to show up once a month.

There is a healthy tension here between giving someone an entry role, and asking someone to serve every single week and to get involved at a higher level. That is where you as the leader come in. It is your responsibility to assess the situation and to evaluate where the volunteer is and then make the ask based on their personality, availability, and willingness to serve.

If the person and the time is right, don’t be afraid to make a big ask. Don’t be afraid to tell them what the ministry or departments needs. When you do, you might end up with some of the most influential owners you have ever seen.

2. Get the right people in the right place.

We think there are a few ways to do this properly. First, you have to make sure you are honest with your new volunteers upfront that the position they are in now will probably not be the position they end up in. When you start these conversations and volunteers understand that they are in an environment that is constantly changing, these conversations become a little easier.

Mention that most volunteers start somewhere that feels right to them at that time. But then many of them discover new things about themselves and want to try a different role. That is great! Assure each volunteer that your goal is to help them find their best fit. This environment is open to them moving and changing what they like to do most, as long as we do the transition well along the way. We want each volunteer to soar under our leadership, and growing and changing comes along with the territory.

You need to evaluate where your volunteers are on a consistent basis. If you are in a smaller organization, this can be done with your own eyes. However, having a multi-tiered coaching structure in place is the best way for you to make this happen. (More on that to come in future publications.) You and your coaches need to constantly be observing, having conversations, and making sure your volunteers and their service roles are well matched.

Or else, simply, your volunteers might have a lack of energy and burn out—developing renters. If you see some of this, it is probably time to start shifting folks around. Start talking to them about what they like to do and what they think could improve in the areas where they serve.

In this article we just scratched the surface! Pick up Leading Not Normal Volunteers to get the entire picture!

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