Four Ideas To Move Volunteers From Interest To Full Engagement

Two years ago, it finally hit me that the way I was trying to get volunteers engaged on the communications team was not working. I was passionate about getting people plugged in to use their gifts to serve the church, but had no focused volunteer strategy to move people from interest to full engagement. People were getting lost in the process, and I was quickly becoming overwhelmed trying to keep up with everything. It was time for a do-over.

Here are four simple things we did to improve our volunteer engagement for communications:

Create On-Ramp Roles

At first, I would try to find or create the perfect role for every volunteer. The problem I was finding was that most people didn’t know the perfect role or area to start with, so they’d be overwhelmed with all the different options. Instead of creating something custom for each person, I picked a few roles on each team (video, writing, photography, etc) that could be on-ramps to get involved. This isn’t designed to have people stuck in these roles, but to have an easy place to start.

Find A Volunteer Coordinator

It’s crucial to have a quick follow-up process with volunteers who have shared interest in getting involved. My weeks tend to be jammed pack with meetings and production schedules, so it was challenging to get in touch with everyone within 24-48 hours. The game-changer for this follow-up process has been recruiting a volunteer coordinator that has a one-sentence job description: facilitate getting volunteers from interest to full engagement. As soon as we have someone fill out our online volunteer form, the volunteer coordinator follows up with them within 48 hours, gets to know their background and interests, and walks them through the on-ramp roles where they can get started. After they decide on a place to start, the volunteer coordinator hands them off to the team leader in the area they selected for training.

Develop Job Descriptions

After deciding the on-ramp roles for each area, I created a document outlining the teams, positions, job descriptions, qualifications, and time required for every position. This really helped to clearly communicate the expectations involved with each role. The volunteer coordinator uses this as the guide to walk volunteers through the different opportunities to get involved.

Download template for volunteer job descriptions

Realize It’s Not For Everyone

There are some positions that almost anyone can get involved with. However, there are others that require a certain background and skill level for keeping up with the fast-paced creative environment that we work in. The job descriptions indicate roles where a volunteer needs to apply and submit a portfolio of their work (such as production designers or video producers). These are skill based positions that require someone who can work in a freelance type of environment. I had to realize that a communications team is a lot like a band: not every person that wants to sing should be on the stage. If you have any doubts, watch the tryouts at American Idol. If a volunteer doesn’t have the skill level required to serve in an area well, it’s ok to have an honest conversation with them and help find another role they can get involved with.

Question: What are some ways that you’ve been able to move volunteers from interest to full engagement?

  • What a great post. Thx for sharing.

    I have begun developing job descriptions with explicit requirements, expectations and most importantly, term commitments. I had a hard time with volunteers “joining my team” because they had time on their hands and then 3 months into it they no longer had the time (got a job, work picked up, etc). Term commitments ensure that I train only those who plan on being their for the long run. It lowers my number of people interested, but increases the return on investment for those who do engage.

    Lastly, the way I keep my volunteers engaged and moving forward is continuing to cast vision for them on why we do what we do and why it matters. This paired with conversations about how they feel about their service has been great!

    • Great stuff, Dave. Like the idea of term limits. The way I’ve handled that so far has been that I have some people who are serving on an on-going basis, while others are assigned individual projects.

      This post didn’t really get into the vision behind volunteers, but what you’re saying is CRUCIAL to keep volunteers engaged on WHY they’re serving. Our vision as a team is to tell the story of what God’s doing in and through our church. I make a big effort with volunteers to not only thank them for what they do, but to share the results and impact of what they do. With my personality, it’s easy to stay focused on the job at hand. I’ve had to really focus in on making sure I care more about the volunteer than the work they do.

      Thanks for sharing your feedback and advice, Dave!

      • Perry Gagliano

        Great post. You don’t know me but I’m the connections pastor at Cross Church In NWA. This is a great process not only for communications but many other volunteer opportunities as throughout the church. Thanks for sharing.

        • Hey Perry, thanks for checking out the blog. I’m sure you’ve probably already made the connection, but do you know the Pray family there? Andrew Pray was a dear friend of mine and worked on my team. Know you guys have a great church there. Hope to connect sometime!

  • Jann Webster

    We hired our first Communications Coordinator last month and it seems everyone has something they want her to do. Your post helps add focus to things that will make a difference and the spreadsheet provides the practical help that your blog promises. Thanks.

  • Melissa

    An important piece you mention is the time factor. Once someone expresses interest we intentionally capitalize on their motivation. Can you come in this week…can we get you trained this Sunday…Here is the link to the Family Ministries Application/Background check-if you fill it out today-you can be shadowing in an environment THIS weekend, etc. Getting them engaged is easier if the time from interest to connection is quick!

    • Ditto. I’ve lost too many volunteers over the years by waiting too long to get them engaged.

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  • The job description list is great! We’ve recently taken similar steps within our department as we build up a base of volunteers. Clearly defining a volunteer’s role helps them to have a specific purpose and role on the team and gives them ownership of that area. It also helps anyone on staff know what sort of tasks can be delegated to the volunteer within their comfort zone and skill level.