25 Quick Tips on Leading Volunteers

25 Quick Tips on Leading Volunteers (Vol. 1)

A companion to In the Trenches: A Guide to Leading Volunteers (Outskirts Press, 2010)

Volunteers are your lifeline. The benefits of a good volunteer team are huge. Not only for you, but for your organization, for the accomplishment vision and tasks, and maybe most importantly, for the volunteer themself. In a ministry context,  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 12 that we are a body made up of many parts. A volunteer team is one way we work together as a body to see the Kingdom of God advanced. People have talent and purpose- essentially a part  in the body.  For those who lead volunteer teams, it is simply important to lead in the best way possible. Many of these tips have to do with the leader themselves. As a leader of others, you must grow, learn, and become the best leader you can be. These quick tips will help. 

Tip #1
Do not use people simply as a means to an end, only seeing them as a way to accomplish tasks, goals, and vision. Leaders had a tendency to do this. See people as individuals. Invest in them. Lead by walking with them and not just directing them. How you see each person on your volunteer team will dictate how you lead.  Do you lead by serving or pointing?

Tip #2
Don’t make volunteering difficult.  Keep responsibilities as simple as possible. Give volunteers a defined end, a defined expectation. Don’t micromanage them in the process. If you are, you haven’t truly delegated or the wrong person is carrying out that responsibility. Do your best to get the right person in the right place from the start. It is your responsibility to do that.

Tip #3
Putting the right person in the right volunteering role, especially a lead role, is important. Here are some quick thoughts on that:

How did you qualify the person? Were you patient in getting to know the person before delegating to them? Do you know the person’s character, temperament, faithfulness, time  restrictions? Are they truly skilled for that role? How do they respond when corrected? What can they do right now versus their potential upside? Are you willing to walk with that person to continually bring potential out?

Too quick of delegation often time results in mismatched roles. Have a smart release of delegation to get the right people in the right place.

Tip #4 
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is remove a person from a volunteer role that is not working out. Working in love and grace, never running roughshod over a person, changes are needed at times. When you have to remove someone, if it is not for moral reasons, be sure to have another role for them at the change. Boost their confidence and remind them that they are important to the team in the new role. Be prayerful about it. Be sure the new role is right for them.

Tip #5
Here’s a reminder:  5 things that you should avoid delegating.

  1. The most important thing.
  2. Your greatest strength.
  3. Personal contact with your leaders.
  4. Confrontation.
  5. Blame.

You may do some delegating in numbers 1 through 3, but never completely let It go.

Tip #6
Often problems with volunteers are not a lack of desire or dedication but a lack of training. When a volunteer falls short make sure the reason was not for a lack of training. It is your job to ensure team members are thoroughly trained.

*Have defined expectations of character and specific responsibilities.

*Have protocol of integration into a team.

*If applicable, have a training manual/videos with team basics and expectations. 

*Meet consistently face to face with updates, new things, and reminders. In reminders, keep everyone on the same page.

*Supplement face-to-face meetings with email/social media contact. Never eliminate face-to-face meetings.

*Schedule meetings in advance and stick to your schedule.

*Never assume some things are “common sense”. Train to detail. Train to redundancy.

Tip #7
It is a privilege to serve and to lead a volunteer team. Never forget that. Lead like you understand that. Honor your volunteers. Celebrate your volunteers. Defer praise to your volunteers. You should never be needy for pats on the back, for attention and recognition. Again, don’t reduce your volunteers as simply a means to an end. Their volunteering is something that they do in dedication, but it is not THE thing in their life. Lead with that understanding. Remember, advancement of the Kingdom of God is yours TOGETHER, not you as the lead actor and the team volunteers as supporting, background actors. In other words, your volunteers are not extras in a movie about you.

Tip #8
All organizations need decision-makers and strong leaders. Good leaders do not see themselves as a king and those around them as vassals. As you lead,  remember that good, strong, secure leadership is servant leadership. The way up is down. If you want to be great, be the servant of all (Jesus said that).

Tip #9
Build your team and mode of operations in a way that things can be accomplished without you. You are obviously important, but should not be so important that the team cannot survive without you for a length of time. Build your team in such a way that, in one sense, you are working yourself out of a job. Do not make things completely revolve around you, make things revolve around the team and the team’s purpose. Along with this, one way you leave a legacy is that if you ever walk away from the team, what it is accomplishing does not crash and burn without you. If that is the case there was a lack of leadership and proper building on your part. Always build things in a way that’s not about you and is bigger than you.

Tip #10
Don’t be distant from your team. Don’t try to lead from a distance and simply point and direct. You do not need to be close friends, and you certainly shouldn’t micromanage, but you are in the role of helping to shepherd your team and you cannot shepherd and effectively servant-lead from a distance.

*Pray for them. What are their needs?

*Take time to listen.

*Help carry their burdens.

*Work in lots of grace.

*Encourage consistently.

*Walk with them through their Journey.

*Admonish when necessary.

*Always have an open door. 

Tip #11
You cannot properly or effectively servant-lead those you do not love.

Tip #12
Team training is important. You obviously want all of your team to be at these training times and meetings. Because of that, give plenty of heads up time for required meetings. No less than one month’s notice along with weekly reminders. If it’s possible, give out a yearly training/meeting schedule. If you are poor planner, it will show up in how you lead your team. Plan a year of meetings in advance, at least two months before the beginning of a new year. Stick to that plan as much as possible. Remember, volunteers have lives outside of the church and are very busy. The more heads-up you give the more they’ll be present. 

Tip #13
Read Matthew chapter 6 in regards to prayer and fasting. Read Proverbs 2:6. As a leader you must be a person of prayer and fasting. You must pray consistently for wisdom in how you lead. Ministry, and leading others, is an overflow of your heart. You must be in presence of God, learn His voice, and lean on Him. You cannot do this without him. Do you live your life each day in such a way that it shows that you need God?

Tip #14
You must lead from a position that God is becoming greater in your life and you are becoming less. Let go of self-importance, the need for status.  Lead from humility and the likeness of God growing in you. The “celebrity-leader” is a disease in the American Church. Right relationship with God teaches us right relationship with others. How you lead will be in direct proportion to what your relationship with God is like.

Tip #15
Lead from the path of righteousness (Psalm 23). Lead by being led.  Integrity will protect you. Check your motives. Make sure you are not after personal gain. The Fruit of the Spirit must be growing in you (Galatians 5:22). Your character is invaluable.

Tip #16
Here are some tips on time management:

*What is most important?

*Prioritize. What needs done now? What can wait and, in turn, is not detrimental?

*What can be delegated and be accomplished to expectation?

*What can you simplify?

*Limit your time in social media and on the internet.

*More often than not, quit when it is quitting time.

*Are the things being done that make us a church?

*Family!!

*Get proper rest. This affects everything.

*Schedule prayer, scripture, personal worship.

Tip #17
When you are frustrated:

*Pray (maybe you should fast also).

*Build yourself up in Scripture.

*Don’t overreact, be careful what you say, limit complaining.

*Find the “good”, major in it, draw from it.

*Remind yourself of why you do what you do.

*Be thankful for your opportunities.

*Refocus on the big picture.

*If necessary, if possible, change what can be changed.

*You do not have to fight every battle, you don’t always have to prove yourself right.

*You are probably having more impact than you realize.

*Smile, laugh.

*Remember, God is with you.

Tip #18
Take time to invest in others, learn to reduplicate yourself -not making another mini-you, but simply raise up people who can lead. It takes time, effort, patience. Ultimately this is not about a specific vision. It goes beyond that. It is about that person and what God has purposed them to do. That may be something not connected to you and your vision. Are you willing to raise up people that end up not directly benefiting you?

Tip #19
Always be thankful for the purposes in your life. Be thankful for the road you’ve been given to walk on. But when that road gets bumpy, persist. If the bumps are your mistakes, correct, grow, apologize. If the road gets bumpy because people around you make mistakes, train, correct, work in lots of grace. Keep moving on.  The perfect will of God does not mean a perfectly smooth road. The will of God means, in part, that you simply have a road to walk on. Keep going, keep moving. If you fall, get up, bloody knees and all. Persistence and perseverance will win the day.

Tip #20
Lead others, in all things and in all ways, as you want to be led. Put yourself in your volunteers shoes when making decisions, making changes, in how you admonish, and in how you interact. Do unto others as you would have others do to you. This is one way the Law and the Prophets are fulfilled (Matthew 7:12).

Tip #21
You cannot lead each of your volunteers in the exact same way. There is a baseline that you work from in requirements and expectations, but volunteers have different personalities, temperaments, different ways of understanding, different skill sets, ect. As you get to know each of your volunteers, seeing them in different situations and seeing how they perceive things, you will learn how to interact, train, admonish, and lead each volunteer. It’s important to be able to do this. As a leader you must be flexible and do what is best for each volunteer.

Tip #22
Be people-oriented not task-oriented. These two things will overlap in some ways, but if you are people oriented your task list and what you are trying to accomplish will most likely shift and change.

Tip #23
Involve volunteers in planning and brainstorming. It may not be your entire team but maybe some select volunteers. Some of your most innovative and creative ideas will come from the volunteers. Also, don’t be defensive if they bring criticism to you. Listen to it and learn from it. 

Tip #24
Here are some ideas for shaking loose the cobwebs and get ready for a new season:

* Declutter, “spring clean”, rearrange, your workspace/office.

*Shake up your meeting time and place for your team/creative team. Maybe add some new members to creative/planning teams.
*What do you want to begin learning? Who do you want to learn from? How do you want to improve? What is your plan to do these things?

*What can be simplified? What can be cut?

*How can you reduce your budget without reducing effectiveness?  Where is there wasteful spending?

*What can you do to have an impact each day?

*How can you better communicate with your team?

*Is there anything you can give a new look to?

Tip #25
Don’t be scared to ask your volunteers this question: How can I be a better leader to you? 

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