A friend of mine says, “May is the new December. You think you are busy with Christmas but end of the school year beats it hands down.” I think she may be on to something. Not only do schools host end of the year festivities but so do churches. With all these activities for children, volunteers are in high demand. I am a weary volunteer and wish the leaders of the events knew some basic principles about utilizing volunteers.
1- Ask me personally. A group email or note in the worship folder begging for help rarely prompts me (or anyone else) to step up. I respond readily when asked personally. I respond best if you ask me and then say, “Let me know after you have considered it.” There is a phrase in my church called, “voluntold.” A committee will meet and say, “Tell Tammy she is in charge of snacks for Vacation Bible School. She has just been voluntold.” The concept is done with humor and joviality but the reality is you were signed up for a task and not asked. If you need volunteers, ask them personally and give them time to consult calendars to see if they can actually commit to the task.
2- Tell me exactly what you want me to do. In one of my seminary classes, Joyce McKichan Walker of Nassau Presbyterian presented an hour long session on supporting church volunteers. She said, “We have job descriptions for every volunteer opportunity in our church. When you sign up, you receive clear instructions about how to complete the task and the time frame for getting it done. Telling people what you expect is a form of respect. You respect their time and their commitment.” Her words have lived in me. Not only am I clear when I recruit volunteers but I want leaders to tell me clearly what they need of me.
3- Treat my time with respect. More is not always better. I have been asked to assist with school parties as well as our church’s children’s ministry only to show up and discover the leaders have recruited so many helpers there are not enough tasks to go around. When I am faced with this scenario, I feel frustrated by the poor planning of the leaders. And, the next time I am asked by this leader for assistance, I am much more likely to decline.
4- Give me an out. I have noticed a new phenomenon at both church and school. Volunteers are either doing a poor job with the hopes of being asked to resign or they stop showing up. Often these volunteers have told leaders time and again they need a break or they need to step out of the role and the leader said, “Just hang in there until I find somebody.” Sometimes the leaders are really trying to find a replacement and sometimes, they are just hoping the volunteer will stay in place so they don’t have to find another volunteer. A volunteer role is not a forever role. Volunteers need opportunities to step out of roles. They need to be asked if they wish to continue and their desires for departure should be graciously received.
Before the end of May, I have three more events for which I have volunteered my time and resources. I will graciously give of myself. I hope the leaders of the events will be respectful of my gifts.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.