Why Your Parish Needs a Volunteer Onboarding Process

August 1, 2019  •   LPi
Group of volunteers sorting donations

There are so many thing to do at any given parish, but limited people available to help out. So, the parish administrator puts a notice in the bulletin, and lo and behold, you find a few people willing to lend a helping hand. However, with nothing but some scheduled hours and a task presented, there isn’t much of a process for volunteers to follow. That’s when things become tricky.

A volunteer creates a social media account for the parish, but the password and login isn’t readily available to the parish administrator. A flyer for the upcoming parish picnic has been finished, but the working file is on the volunteer’s home computer and can’t be accessed to fix a typo. And that person who offered to come in a few hours a week to stuff bulletins? They had to leave early, so only half of the bulletins include the festival insert.

While it’s essential that people offer their time and talent to your parish, it’s equally important that they do so in the correct way — you need a volunteer onboarding process in place before they begin their work. Read on for tips to consider the next time you have someone giving their time and talent to your parish.

1. Show Them Where to “Put Their Coat”

It’s important for new people working for a parish to know the ins and outs of the place. That’s why it’s great to start off on the first day with a small intro to the parish, who works where, who does what, where things are located (like the bathroom), and then be sure to introduce him or her to full- or part-time staff members. All of these things help them feel more invested in the parish and understand just how vital they are to the workings of the church.

In addition to general introductions, be sure to include office policies, how to access computers and the telephone (if applicable), and ways to get in touch with the pastor or certain staff members if an issue arises.

2. Have a Plan in Place Before They Start a Project

When people come in to help volunteer, excitement is high, and initially, the sky’s the limit of what can be done. That’s why it’s important to look at each project and determine whether it’s actually doable. An example of this is when someone comes in with the idea that they will try to do communications for the parish. All these ideas come out — they can redesign the website, run social media, make flyers to hang around local establishments, and more — but as time goes by and life gets in the way, excitement often turns into alarm as they realize that not all of these can be done.

Take an hour to go over tasks and goals with your new volunteers and to determine what is needed and what can realistically be done using specific time and monetary resources. Talk through not only what will be needed to make each task happen, but what might be some challenges to completing them and how they can overcome those challenges. Typically, the more people think about a project, the more honest they are with what they can actually do.

3. Volunteers — Long Term or Short Term?

If you receive a volunteer who only plans to be with the parish for a short time — think a college student home for summer break — be sure to have a plan in place of how any of their projects will transfer over to a new person once they leave.

Take for example, someone coming in to create a social media account for the parish. All summer long they post art and content, share parish events and the bulletin. Then, once late August hits, they’re gone — what happens to that Facebook page or Twitter account? The best way to deal with these types of “what happens next” questions is to ask them before the time comes.

4. Don’t Forget to Say “Thank you”

Finally, do your volunteers know how much you appreciate the time they spend to help the parish grow? If not, be sure to tell them! Gratitude is powerful, both when we acknowledge it and when we receive it. Express gratitude repeatedly, and don’t send your volunteers home without thanking them personally for their service.

A call-out in the bulletin, a phone call from the pastor, a nice gift card or two in appreciation to a job well done … all are wonderful ways to let them know that the church wouldn’t be as successful as it is without their help.

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