TAP INTO FEELINGS “Many of our volunteers were
transformed by a foster care experience of their own,” says Rudd,
“and they want to give back.”
Evoke emotion and memories. Find out how existing and potential
volunteers were touched by caring adults during their childhood,
and offer prospective volunteers the opportunity to play that role
in a child’s life.
GET ORGANIZED “Be ready when people sign up,”
advises Denise Green, volunteer manager for Seattle Children’s
Hospital in Seattle, Washington.
Have job descriptions and training overviews ready for people who
express interest in serving. Return calls or emails within 24
hours. Make it easy for people not only to find your ministry, but
to also plug into it.
MATCH PEOPLE AND JOBS “Don’t find people for the
job,” says Green. “Find people for the niche.”
Kids LOVE these Sunday School resources!
Seattle Children’s Hospital places volunteers strategically
according to who’ll work best with whom. When new volunteers
demonstrate interest in serving, Green considers which team they
best fit. For many volunteers, the people they serve with become an
extended family. The same can be true in your ministry if you’re
strategic in placing volunteers together to build
SCREEN WELL “A good screening process adds a level
of seriousness for your volunteers,” says Lewis.
Don’t just take in anyone who walks in off the street. Require
applications. Do background checks. Call references. Even though
this may seem to complicate things, it’ll actually signal to your
potential volunteers that yours is a smooth-running ministry.
TRAIN VOLUNTEERS “A prepared volunteer is a happy
volunteer,” says Lewis.
Beef up your training process. Ensure your first-time volunteers
walk in on their first day knowing what to expect and feeling
prepared. Ask volunteers who’ve served only one or two years what
information would’ve given them a better start, and implement their
OFFER ALTERNATIVES “If you must say no
to a potential volunteer,” says Blanchard, “offer an
Let’s say you’ve gotten to the point that you have a waiting list.
Or maybe you need more volunteers in one area, but you’re full
where someone wants to serve. Providence Ministries sometimes has
to turn down volunteers, but Blanchard says she always offers an
alternative — perhaps another role or a different schedule — when
people could serve. While you don’t want to pressure people into
serving in a role that’s not a good fit for them, it’s beneficial
to search for alternatives rather than turning someone away. Maybe
the person could serve as a backup or seasonal staff. Perhaps the
person might even be willing to sign up early for the following
year of ministry. Do what you can to find a place; if you turn the
person away, chances are slim he or she will return again to serve
in the future.
EXPAND POSITIONS “Volunteer positions include
getting donations from businesses, researching grants, organizing
events, greeting people, delivering flowers, doing office work,
stocking food pantry shelves, sorting clothes, preparing and
serving meals for community kitchen…the list goes on,” says
Think broader. Not everyone is good at teaching. Maybe someone
can’t get away from the house consistently on a Sunday morning but
would be happy to coordinate supplies and prepare during the week
so Sunday mornings are more efficient for your teachers. An artist
could paint a mural on your nursery wall. Find a variety of ways
people can serve so they can use and explore their gifts in service
to children. Creating more volunteer needs may seem
counterintuitive, but people are more likely to sign up and stick
around if they’re serving in a capacity that fits them.
KEEP IT ENGAGING “We keep our volunteers engaged,”
Volunteers won’t stick around if they don’t feel like they’re
needed. They won’t spread the word to prospective volunteers,
either. Talk to your volunteers regularly about how they feel. Take
action as needed to refresh those who are beginning to burn out,
reassign those who don’t like their role, and find new tasks for
those who don’t feel maximized.
MAKE IT MATTER “Our volunteers keep
serving because it’s rewarding to see how a child’s life has been
transformed,” says Rudd.
We’re in the business of transforming kids’ lives. Don’t simply
invite people to teach or to serve; instead invite them to be part
of transforming a child’s life. Emphasize the rewards. Find middle
or high school students who grew up in your children’s ministry,
and let them share how children’s ministry volunteers impacted
them. Have your kids make thank-you cards for your volunteers.
Include stories of transformation in your newsletters or
USE NAMES “We retain volunteers by
trying to get to know everyone,” says Green. “We greet them, know
their names, and say thank you every time they’re here.”
What could be more budget-friendly than a simple greeting and thank
you? Volunteers rarely tire of being known and appreciated. If you
have a lot of volunteers and you have a hard time remembering
names, create a photo album with names and faces that you can
review and reference. And thank your volunteers by name each
RECOGNIZE CONTRIBUTIONS “We recognize our
volunteers with food, awards, gifts, and evaluations,” says
You may have a limited budget. Maybe food and gifts aren’t an
option for you. But it’s quite affordable to print out certificates
for your volunteers and award them with fun titles like, “Best Baby
Comforter” or “Best Moses Impersonator.” Get creative and have fun
with it. Evaluations are another budget-friendly tool that can help
volunteers feel recognized. When you give them an evaluation, they
know how they’ve impacted your ministry, how they can improve, and
that you’ve paid attention to what they’ve done for your
GET PERSONAL “We make it personal,” says Lewis.
“We call each of our volunteers to thank them after their service,
and we have gifts waiting at camp for returning volunteers.”
It’ll take time, but make sure your volunteers feel personally
appreciated. If you have a large pool of volunteers, create a
pyramid of volunteer leaders to help you make the calls. You might
even consider placing “years of service” on your volunteer badges
to honor returnees.
HONOR VOLUNTEERS “We recognize our volunteers
during National Volunteer Week,” says Green.
Mark your calendar now. Start planning ways you can recognize your
volunteers during this week of appreciation (usually in April). You
may even make it a week-long celebration by sending thank-you
emails or cards each day.
Ali Thompson is a veteran children’s ministry
volunteer recruiter and an editor for Group.
Karen Blanchard, executive director for Providence
Ministries for the Needy in Holyoke, Massachussetts. Providence
relies on numerous volunteers each year.
Denise Green, volunteer manager for Seattle
Children’s Hospital in Seattle, Washington. The hospital relies
upon about 1,100 volunteers annually.
Jobe Lewis, recruitment and training manager
for Group Workcamps Foundation in Loveland, Colorado. GWF recruits
about 800 volunteers for service every summer.
Cara Rudd, development associate for Olive
Crest, a foster care agency in Bellevue, Washington. Olive Crest
relies upon the efforts of its staff of 70 core
Dianne Sagnella, youth volunteer director for
Yale/New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. The hospital
recruits about 200 youth volunteers each