I work in a rural library in a small town. Just recently we had to tally up our volunteer hours for one of those dreaded reports. It was impressive. Given our size, our library has a good volunteer base. This is unusual as many nonprofit organizations in our town are having a hard time finding volunteers. Our little library doesn’t have that problem, mostly because our library manager is very skilled at both recruiting and retaining volunteers.
Over the past few years I have watched in awe as she approaches and recruits one person after another. Just recently I have begun to wonder if it might be possible to use her approach in a church setting. from watching someone who is a master at recruiting.
Ask people directly
Although we have to advertise when we need board members, the vast majority of the library volunteers are approached personally by the manager, briefly told about the volunteer position, and encouraged to think about it and get back to her. It is made very clear that she does not expect an immediate answer, so no-one feels pressured. This approach seems to work for us. It has been my experience that notices in the bulletin and appeals from the pulpit are not very effective recruiting tools. Generally speaking people need to be approached directly, but in such a way that they feel comfortable declining. If there are people in your congregation that you would like to see involved with children’s ministry go ahead and ask them. It is always possible that they will decline, but maybe they’ll accept. You won’t know unless you try. Over the past 20 years I have had the privilege of working with some incredibly gifted Christian Education leaders. A surprising number had never considered getting involved until I asked. They and the children would have missed out on so much if they had never been approached.
Match people to particular tasks
Everyone has a particular skill set and will enjoy doing certain things more than others. We want our volunteers to enjoy their time at the library, so we make sure to match their preferences with particular tasks. Some like shelving books, others prefer to cover them, and we have one gem of a volunteer who is really good at weeding out old books. It’s the same in the church. People have different gifts, so try to recruit them for tasks that will use those gifts. Be creative in your thinking. It is not necessary for one person to do everything. Perhaps there is someone in your congregation who would love to teach, but hates the thought of preparing the crafts. Could you partner them with another volunteer who adores crafts, but would die a thousand deaths at the thought of teaching? Also, don’t be afraid to recruit volunteers for specific projects. Are there individuals in your congregation who are gifted at cooking, gardening, making movies, quilting, card making, drama, or dance? How might you use their skills in your Christian Education program? It has been my experience that some people are not in a position to give of their time regularly, but are more than happy to help with a specific project. Take advantage of their gifts and talents. Who knows may be they’ll have so much fun they’ll consider volunteering more often J
Make Recruitment an on-going process
At our library we don’t wait for volunteer positions to open up. If we see a likely candidate we ask them immediately. We feel that we can’t really have too many volunteers! It is the same in the church. Don’t wait until the fall to start recruiting, do it all year long. If you find yourself with too many at any particular point (oh to have such a problem) you can always pair people up.
Involve Others in the Recruiting Process
Although our library manager is really good at recruiting volunteers, all of us staff are expected to help with this. One person can’t possible spot all the potential volunteers out there and besides it is better if a number of different people are doing the asking. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to ask everyone involved in children’s ministry (and your priest) to help you recruit volunteers. Encourage your volunteers to talk to others about what you are doing. Tell people how much fun it is! How fulfilling it is. What your needs are. Talk up your programs and ask the teachers to be ready to ask others to help. You may need to sit down together and have some conversation about how to talk to potential volunteers, so that everyone feels comfortable about approaching others. Emphasize that it is something you can’t do alone. Ask for their help.
Of course once you have found your volunteers you will want to do everything you can to keep them. I’ll be talking about that in a few weeks. Meanwhile I’d love to hear from you. How do you recruit volunteers for your children’s ministry. Have you any tips to share. Please join the conversation.