When you're in search of volunteers
for your ministry, it's easy to feel alone in your plight. The
needs are often many; the solutions seemingly few. But the fact is,
there are numerous organizations functioning solely due to the
efforts of volunteers. From hospitals to food pantries to foster
care agencies to humane societies, organizations everywhere recruit
volunteers as the main means to complete their mission. And a lot
of these organizations even have waiting lists. What are their
secrets? Read on for these organizations' surprising insights about
recruiting and retaining volunteers -- and see how those ideas
translate to children's ministry.
RECRUIT FROM YOUR POOL "We advertise our volunteer
opportunities to our current campers," says Jobe Lewis, recruitment
and training manager for Group Workcamps Foundation in Loveland,
Colorado, "because about 80 percent of our volunteers were involved
in camp before they served."
This approach truly is planting seeds that may take time to
blossom, but children's ministers everywhere have seen it happen: A
child participant grows into a ministry servant. So make a big deal
of your teachers in front of your kids. Let them see now what a
wonderful -- and important -- opportunity they'll have to serve
when they get older. Make serving in your ministry something kids
look forward to being "big" enough to do. Then recruit them as soon
as they can serve.
ADVERTISE "Get the word out that you're looking,"
advises Karen Blanchard, executive director for Providence
Ministries for the Needy in Holyoke, Massachussetts.
In a ministry setting where children's safety is top priority, you
may not want to advertise as broadly as some organizations do. But
the principle remains: Advertise! People often would like to serve,
but they don't know how to get connected or don't know what
opportunities exist. Make serving in your ministry something that's
easy to find on your church website, in your bulletin, or in other
public-to-your-church-family places that are available.
ADD VALUE "Help prospective volunteers realize
that their time is more valuable than money," says Cara Rudd,
development associate for Olive Crest, a foster care agency in
In a rough economy, people may want to give, but they don't have
the money to do it. Use this as an opportunity to communicate that
people's gift of time is often more valuable than a financial
RECRUIT TEENAGERS "Teenagers need community
service hours," says Dianne Sagnella, youth volunteer director for
Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. "A lot of our
volunteers come because of our partnerships with high schools and
Invest in the teenagers and college students in your church as
volunteers. Let them know you're happy to sign off on community
service forms or write letters of recommendation. Many high school
and college students are looking for places to serve -- why not in
USE SOCIAL NETWORKING "We use social networking
sites to spread the word," says Rudd.
Start a page for your ministry on Facebook or Twitter, and invite
your volunteers to be fans. Their friends will see that they're a
part of your ministry, and those friends might just want to join in
the action. When they see your ministry popping up as a suggestion
on their Facebook page or as the subject of a friend's tweet, they
have the power to decide whether to investigate -- and they might
just click to see what you're all about.
USE PEOPLE NETWORKS "We have a group of
50 volunteers who spread the word about Olive Crest," says
Chances are your church has at least one or two core volunteers.
Equip these wonderful people to spread the word. Give them talking
points on how to talk to others about your ministry, such as why
they love serving, why it's so important, and even brief anecdotes
about the impact volunteers have on kids' lives. You don't need 50
people; even one or two multiplies the networking you can do
OFFER INCENTIVES "Make it fun for your volunteers
to recruit more volunteers," says Lewis. "Offer incentives for them
if they find you another volunteer."
Whether it's a Starbucks gift card or a silly knickknack, provide
something inexpensive but rewarding for volunteers who recruit more