4 Ways to Engage Volunteers

4 Ways to Engage Volunteers

April 30, 2014 by

Three years ago it finally hit me that the way I was trying to get volunteers engaged on the communications team was not working. I was passionate about getting people plugged in to use their gifts to serve the church, but had no focused volunteer strategy to move people from interest to full engagement. People were getting lost in the process, and I was quickly becoming overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything. It was time for a do-over.

Here are four simple things we did to improve our volunteer engagement for communications:

1. Create On-Ramp Roles
At first I would try to find or create the perfect role for every volunteer. The problem I was finding was that most people didn’t know the perfect role or area to start with, so they’d be overwhelmed with all the different options. Instead of creating something custom for each person, I picked a few roles on each team (video, writing, photography, etc.) that could be on-ramps to get involved. This isn’t designed to have people stuck in these roles, but to have an easy place to start.

2. Find A Volunteer Coordinator
It’s crucial to have a quick follow-up process with volunteers who have expressed an interest in getting involved. My weeks tend to be jam-packed with meetings and production schedules, so it was challenging to get in touch with everyone within 24-48 hours. The game-changer for this follow-up process has been recruiting a volunteer coordinator with a one-sentence job description: facilitate getting volunteers from interest to full engagement. As soon as we have someone fill out our online volunteer form, the volunteer coordinator follows up with them within 48 hours, gets to know their background and interests, and walks them through the on-ramp roles where they can get started. After they decide on a place to start, the volunteer coordinator hands them off to the team leader in the area they selected for training.

3. Develop Job Descriptions
After deciding the on-ramp roles for each area, I created a document outlining the teams, positions, job descriptions, qualifications and time required for every position. This really helped to clearly communicate the expectations involved with each role. The volunteer coordinator uses this as the guide to walk volunteers through the different opportunities to get involved.

Download the template for volunteer job descriptions (ZIP, 161 KB).

4. Realize It’s Not For Everyone
There are some positions that almost anyone can get involved with. However, there are others that require a certain background and skill level for keeping up with the fast-paced creative environment we work in. The job descriptions indicate roles where a volunteer needs to apply and submit a portfolio of their work (such as production designers or video producers). These are skill-based positions that require someone who can work in a freelance type of environment. I had to realize that a communications team is a lot like a band: not every person who wants to sing should be on the stage. If you have any doubts, watch the tryouts at American Idol. If a volunteer doesn’t have the skill level required to serve in an area well, it’s OK to have an honest conversation with them and help find another role they can get involved with.

Question: What are some ways that you’ve been able to move volunteers from interest to full engagement?

Post By:

Phil Bowdle

Phil Bowdle got his start in church as a pastor's kid making faces at his dad while he preached. Today Phil is the creative arts pastor at West Ridge Church in Atlanta and author of Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything in Your Church.
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5 Responses to “4 Ways to Engage Volunteers”

  • Dave Shrein
    April 30, 2014

    Communication volunteers are the most difficult category I’ve encountered. I really like the way you’ve outlined it above. I’ve found a rhythm that really works for me in recruiting, training and execution… the one area that I’ve yet to really do a good job is building camaraderie among our team. I know that I need to some parties and get together socials to maximize the bond of our team, but it just takes so much time… which ordinarily wouldn’t be an issue, but life feels like it hasn’t slowed down since 2014 began.

    Thanks for the tips Phil!

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  • Will
    May 1, 2014

    The sample communications job descriptions are SOOOOO helpful. Thank you!

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  • Caleb Warren
    May 2, 2014

    Awesome points. Thanks for sharing.

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  • Carlos
    May 5, 2014

    I love the idea of a Volunteer Coordinator. And the Communications job descriptions are awesome!


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  • Brittney
    May 8, 2014

    What ways have you found to track the number of volunteer hours ? We are looking for an easy online system for our volunters to submit the time they spend helping in our city.

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