Have you ever been “recruited” for something? What was that thing? Was it a ministry? A job? The military?
In ministry, we use the term “recruiting” when referring to volunteers all the time. Honestly, I don’t like it very much. I think the word carries negative connotations for many people. I think recruiting can turn people away unless those people are already highly interested.
I’ll give you an example. I knew a church who used to hold recruiting meetings for missions trips. No one ever attended those. They switched it to info meetings and attendance skyrocketed. You see, most people don’t want to be recruited but a lot of people do want to know more information about what’s going on. That one simple change of a word had a dramatic change on their ministry.
Looking back on my own life, as I was thinking about attending graduate school, I attended a TON of info sessions for different universities before I settled on the University of Miami.
What exactly is recruiting?
As a Children’s Ministry Pastor, my primary responsibility was to serve my volunteers as they serve kids. Recruiting was a big part of that. At first, I viewed volunteers as a means to an end. Meaning that I needed volunteers to accomplish my mission. That was a HUGE mistake. That led me to tend to use volunteers without really caring for them.
Things changed, though. I began to view volunteers as individuals with unique gifts and skills who were called by God to serve in a specific way. My responsibility was to recruit and select those individuals who were called to serve in Children’s Ministry. It was at this time that I really began to see fruit in the ministry I was leading. Not only did we begin to develop leaders but those leaders began to develop leaders.
Recruiting Volunteers is never about begging
Begging for volunteers is never acceptable. Begging or guilting people into serving puts the individual in an awkward position and ultimately sets up your ministry for failure. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem convincing someone to serve, but I will never beg someone to serve and I’ll never beg someone to stay. Honestly, I’m more likely to overestimate the work required for the job. I don’t ever want to put someone in a spot where they felt misled about what they’ve accepted.
Succeed in Recruiting Volunteers with these 20 tips
1. It’s all about vision
A big, compelling vision that’s well defined and engaging. I believe that’s what makes so many volunteers join us at Operation Christmas Child, a clear vision.
2. It’s not all about the need
Vision trumps need every single time. You may not think it’s fair, but that’s the way it is.
3. Make the ask
Have you made the ask? It’s not enough to talk about what your vision or needs are. If you haven’t actually asked someone to serve, then you’re likely missing out on a lot of people who think that you’re already good to go.
4. Fully define your structure
What would happen if you received an influx of applicants? Would you know where you need them or will you have to makeup spots? Know what your structure is and where the holes are. Just like a business can clearly identify what the vacancies are, your ministry should be the same. Where are the holes?
5. Don’t be a one man (or woman) show
Here’s an oxymoron. Some leaders are so high capacity that it seems like they have it all together. They’ll have to be a lot more intentional about recruiting other leaders. On the flip side, people view someone who’s doing great things but is obviously dropping the ball sometimes and want to support that person.
6. Stop typecasting people
Don’t be afraid to take a chance on someone and don’t typecast people. Regardless of how that individual has served in the past, God can certainly work in people and equip individuals for new roles.
7. Empower others
The fastest way to lose leaders is not empower them to make decisions. I’m not talking about decisions where you have the final say, that’s not really empowering. I’m talking about decisions where your volunteer has the authority to say yes or no to something. When volunteers realize that you hand out authority coupled with responsibility, you’ll hardly ever lose a leader and it’ll be easier to recruit leaders.
8. Create efficient systems
How do you take someone from interested in volunteering with you to fully onboarded and trained? That’s what systems are for and the larger you are (or want to be) the more efficient system you need.
9. Be clear about volunteer opportunities
When I was a Children’s Ministry Pastor I was notorious for closing down a classroom if we didn’t have a teacher for it. This was an obvious decision for me but it confounded parents and others. I also realized it was something that very few Pastors do.
Why did I do it? If there’s not teacher available, then there’s no trained individual to teach and take care of the kids, so it’s better for kids to stay with their parents. It also lets all those parents know that we have staffing shortages. Very often, parents themselves would want to become volunteers when they realized there are opportunities to serve.
It was also common for us to announce openings in services, within other ministries, and on social media.
10. Equip others to recruit other volunteers
Recruiting is not only your responsibility! It’s also the responsibility of all of your volunteers. Equip them to recruit!
11. Personally recruit
On the other hand, recruiting is not only the responsibility of others, it’s also yours. You need to personally recruit!
12. Don’t rely on mass invitations or social media only
It’s so easy nowadays to rely on social media campaigns, email campaigns, or announcements. Don’t rely on these. At the end of the day, the most effective recruiting is face to face. Nothing will ever replace that.
13. Start showing appreciation to your current volunteers
Stop saying “Thank you” and start showing appreciation to your volunteers. It’s far easier to keep the volunteers you have than to constantly replace them with new ones.
14. Train your volunteers better than ever
A trained volunteer is a happy volunteer. Not only will they do better in their roles, but they’ll tell others about how they’re valued and trained.
15. Learn to be flexible with people
Ministry is about people, once you start prioritizing processes over people, you’ll start to experience problems. If one of your leaders needs a month off, do it. People appreciate it and flexibility breeds goodwill and increases volunteer capital.
16. Don’t focus on your problems
It’s great to communicate vision and it’s good to communicate need, but that doesn’t mean that you should communicate all of your problems. I promise you, communicating your problems to potential volunteers won’t get them to start serving.
17. Start sharing stories
It’s not only about sharing vision, but it’s also about sharing how God is moving in your ministry. Share stories not only in person but all over your social media.
18. Stop going beyond your capacity
If you’re constantly redlining it then honestly, you don’t have the capacity to bring on someone else. You just won’t have the time to properly onboard and train them. Therefore, in this self fulfilling prophecy, you’ll keep redlining it.
Break the cycle by slowing down. That will give you the capacity to properly invest in others.
19. Stop making excuses
I’ve heard all kinds of excuses. People in the city don’t serve. People in this country don’t serve. Millennials don’t serve. We ask too much. I’ve heard it all and I’ve seen ministries that have countered every excuse possible. I’ve seen young professionals serve in New York city, Latinos serve in Latin America, and Millennials serve all across the country. There’s really no excuse to not have a dynamic volunteer ministry. If you’re not attracting and retaining volunteers the problem is you or your ministry.
20. Start praying
Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and to pray that the Lord sends more workers. So do that, start praying for more volunteers.