Let Your Volunteers Win

Recently my six-year-old, Hunter, was working on his Christmas list. He came to two items that cost $11.99 each, and it took him about thirty seconds to add them together in his head (without using his fingers). I've met many adults who couldn't do that kind of math as quickly wit a calculator!

When Hunter began learning math, he didn't start with calculus. You don't throw a trigonometry question at a six-year-old. Complex fractions or long division problems are not typically where you start. Why? You want to give the child an early win. You want him to have some successes under his belt before you throw something more challenging at him. If a child is constantly bombarded with problems that are too difficult, he will eventually become discouraged and stop trying

The same holds true throughout life, especially with volunteers. A man can feel very secure and confident in his profession or in his role as a husband and father, but he could come to church as a volunteer and feel very much like a fish out of water. You need to look for ways to give "early wins" to your volunteers-and to celebrate those wins.

Let's say you're in charge of the nursery at your church. Five other volunteers have been helping you for years, but you really need more. So the pastor does a big "make a difference with your life" type of service, and Bob and Susan sign up to be on your team.

Your team is happy for the help. However, they don't know Bob and Susan well enough yet to trust them. Conversely, Bob and Susan don't know your team. They aren't convinced they'll even like your team, and they are nervous about their new roles.

They don't know what they're supposed to do, and everything feels awkward. They know your team has been together for years, so they feel a bit like they're at someone else's family reunion.

It's your job to give them a win as fast as you possibly can! You want to reduce the tension and the awkwardness and give them confidence right away. Here are two ideas:

Listen carefully to their words. If Susan has an idea, even if it's not a new idea, let the whole group know what a great idea Susan had. It will quickly give her (and the team) a sense that she is adding value. And it will give Susan the confidence to be an active participant on the team.

Make sure you place people in roles they like. One of the worst things you can do to volunteers is to place them in positions that meet your needs rather than those that fit their passions and gifts. After a few weeks, ask Bob and Susan how they feel, what they enjoy, and what they suggest.

Whatever your strategy may be, keep in mind the need to create an early win for every new volunteer. Whether it's a six-year-old facing a math problem or a forty-six-year-old stepping into a role in the church nursery, we all need to be affirmed so we can each take our next step with confidence. 

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 76 of my book "Simply Strategic Volunteers."

Tim StevensComment