“Love is the ultimate gift of ourselves to others. When we stop giving, we stop loving.” — St. Teresa of Calcutta
Giving and serving are critical components of the Christian life. Cultivating a community of generosity is essential to a vibrant parish. But how do we counter a culture in which only one-third of Americans volunteered in 2018? Sometimes it’s difficult to get volunteers in the door and to keep them committed. Finding yourself with a volunteer shortage? Here are top to bottom tips for refreshing your volunteer process.
Getting volunteers through the door isn’t always easy. Appeals on your website, in the parish bulletin, or in Sunday Mass announcements could work. But they may not connect people to the areas they’re best at or where you need it the most. Here are some intensive and engaging volunteer recruiting ideas:
- Ministry Fair: Host an annual Ministry Fair in your parish’s main gathering space. Each ministry can create a visual display for their work and have existing volunteers share the mission and goals of the ministry. Offer cookies, beverages, and the opportunity to walk through after all the Masses on a given Sunday.
- Gifts and Strengths Identification: Offer seminars or coaching to help parishioners identifying their spiritual gifts and natural talents. In advance, prepare a list of your parish volunteer opportunities to correspond to the talent lists. Offer a final session connecting people directly to the opportunities they could be a good it.
- Attention-Grabbing Postcard: How often do you send your parishioners snail mail? If you have a big event coming up requiring large amounts of volunteers, consider sending a vibrant mailer to all registered parishioners. It can be postcard-sized and heavy on images. For this idea, add an extra page on your parish website for the event. Include this URL on the postcard for easy access to more detailed volunteer information.
Utilize Existing Skills …
Did some new faces show up for setup and tear down of your Lenten fish fries? Do they know what else the parish needs, beyond their manual labor? An accountant might be a good fit for managing the finance committee … and a successful entrepreneur might have some fresh ideas to contribute. Make it your business to know who is in your parish and where their skills lie. You never know just who is waiting for you to ask!
… And Teach Some New Ones!
Looking for help with some spring landscaping? Advertise for volunteers with a “Gardening 101” pitch. Recruit a parishioner green thumb to explain the differences between the bushes and bulbs you’re planting, as well as give basics on maintaining a garden. Not only is the church receiving a service, but your parishioners are leaving better equipped for beautifying their home and community.
Train to Retain
When was the last time you showed up to volunteer somewhere and they handed you a work item and told you to get started? Some of these trial-by-fire experiences can be impactful, especially if the event or organization is well-run and a communal environment is already built. However, those things don’t happen overnight. Initial on-boarding can make a big difference. To all volunteers, offer a compelling presentation of your parish mission statement. Introduce key parish leaders in a friendly, approachable way. Give particular, role-specific training when necessary.
Nothing frustrates willing volunteers more than having nothing to do or not understanding what they’re supposed to do. At your events, make sure whoever gives directions knows how to do so clearly, with detail and warmth. In the in-between moments, share relevant email follow-ups so volunteers know exactly what else is coming down the pike.
Make Information Available
With most of your volunteers coming in during off-hours, they might not have time to call the parish office between 8 and 5. Share key details like times and responsibilities on your parish website, via email, or through your parish communication platform. It’s also important to provide clear leadership. A volunteer might have a sense of who is in charge of an operation — or they might not — but do they know who the expert is for the particular task they’ve been assigned? To ensure smooth information transfer — and to keep volunteers coming back to your efficiently run event — make sure they know where to go for questions and clarification.
Thank Them, Then Thank Them Again!
Gratitude is powerful, both when we acknowledge it and when we receive it. Your parish isn’t owed the help of your parishioners — they offer their time freely. Express gratitude repeatedly. Don’t send your volunteers home without thanking them personally for their service. Make eye contact and genuinely express your gratitude on behalf of the parish. For regular volunteers or a volunteer team, consider other gestures, like mailing them a thank you note or hosting a celebratory lunch when the event is over. Share success stories in the parish bulletin to highlight people who have been especially helpful that week.
How do you keep volunteering fresh at your vibrant parish?