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Recruiting That Adds Up

Ali Thompson

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 Bellevue, Washington.

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 gift.

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 colleges."

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 your ministry?

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.

"We have a group of 50 volunteers who spread the word about Olive Crest," says Rudd.

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 alone.

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 volunteers.


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