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A shortage of volunteers can be a problem. Why won’t people volunteer? What is wrong with them? However, perhaps the problem is actually with the church or organization, and not the so-called selfish people, with bad priorities, who are failing to volunteer. Most of my life, I have been active not only in church, but in various community organizations – and I have observed and experienced all kinds of things. Maybe a leader or volunteer coordinator will see this post, and take these thoughts into consideration?

1.) Who is the person in charge of checking e-mails, returning phone calls, and updating contact info for supporters? Is the system working? Is the right person doing this – someone with organizational skills? People may want to volunteer, but they receive no reply to their inquiry and are unaware of needs.

I’ve encountered this problem several times, and my spouse too. Here is one example: I really wanted to be involved with a certain ministry group. I attended an info meeting, gave my contact info, and requested to be on their list to be informed of upcoming ways of involvement. I never received anything. However, I had exchanged info with another individual who attended the same initial meeting, and they contacted me after awhile to see what had happened to me – as I had not shown up at anything after the initial meeting. Uh, I never received any notification! For several months, I only knew what was going on second-hand by this person kindly keeping me in the loop. It took 3 times of me requesting it to finally be added to the list! But even after this, communication problems remained. I don’t know if the person in charge of this was overwhelmed or incompetent or absent minded or what? I also wondered why the other new volunteer was quickly made a part of things, while I was not. Our skill set and interests were similar. (Who knows?) *

2.) What is the “atmosphere” behind the scenes? Are you seeing people as objects to help your organization, or as people? The instant reply may be “of course we don’t see people as objects!” – but are you sure? Do you take the time to get to know volunteers or potential volunteers? Or are they just faceless names on a list? Are you like a mercenary that only wants to get from people?

Note in the previous point, it was actually another new volunteer who reached out to me – not anyone from the organization. I realize a coordinator or leader can be busy, but if they don’t have time for personal outreach – something is amiss. A personal note or call can speak volumes, and make someone feel they are needed and appreciated. On a positive note, I have noted more organizations are doing this – and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by personal contact of some type – even asking how they could pray for me.

3.) Please don’t make assumptions about people.

“He is under 30, so he would be good at ______.” 

“All women like to _______.”

Please, no. Plenty of people don’t fit the stereotype, and a volunteer mismatched to do something they dislike or are not good at – won’t last long or will not do an ideal job even if they try.

And sometimes, you may need to see a volunteer’s potential. People are not always aware of their capabilities. Some people are self-effacing and may hesitate to proclaim their talents. Sometimes an individual can think they have an ability that they actually do not have. (Yes, I’ve observed that!)

Taking the time to get to know a potential volunteer – along with skillful listening, observation, and prayer – can help you perceive how to best utilize them. If you KNOW the basic skills and passions of your volunteers, you will KNOW who to contact when there is a specific need.

Truly – get to know your people! Multiple times I have observed a talented individual’s skills be completely ignored by a church or group. Sometimes I think they had no idea that a certain person had such skills! Other times, I don’t know…*

–Thanks for listening.

P.S. While this post indicates that I’ve had frustrating or negative experiences, I’ve also had positive ones. At two points in my life, a ministry organization filled a real need in my life. Not only was I able to volunteer, but I became part of a group that was friendly and supportive – at a time when I particularly needed to feel connected and a part of something.  Are you creating this type of atmosphere?

* I refer to certain people being overlooked for unknown reasons. Perhaps some are being overlooked because they are introverts? The bubbly and enthusiastic may draw more attention, but that quiet introvert may be just as passionate and prove a valuable asset if they are only given a chance.