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Empowering Volunteers March 18, 2013

Posted by Gilbert Kingsley in Leadership, Volunteers.
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I was thinking back recently about the year I transitioned from working on a single campus, the University of Rhode Island, to the Student LINC team and coaching multiple campuses from a distance.

I remember how nearly every year while we were visiting churches and ministry partners we would tell about all the great things that God was doing at URI. Invariably someone would tell us how great that was, but how come there wasn’t a ministry at Mansfield University? The answer every year was the same–we didn’t have enough staff to place on the smaller schools.

That year of transition, someone asked me again about Mansfield. Because we were moving to Student LINC, the answer was different. I told them if they knew someone who wanted to have a ministry there, I could coach them.

The issue changed from what I could do to what others could do as I resourced them.

Our team read a very interesting book last Fall, The New Breed: Understanding & Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer, by Jonathan and Thomas McKee.

We say in our ministry that we want to become more of a volunteer-led ministry. Quite honestly, we will never get to all the places we want to get to unless we do utilize volunteers.

Here is an excerpt from the book that I found fascinating. pp.82-83.

Let’s say that Jim, one of your office volunteers, walks toward you holding a football.  Unfortunately, your organization isn’t the NFL.  It’s not even a local rec league.  This football represents a “problem.”  Jim says, “While you were gone on vacation last week, I had a problem with one of our members.”

     As he explains the problem and asks for your help, you make the mistake that many managers make and respond, “Let me think about it, and I’ll get back to you.”  As soon as you speak those words, Jim no longer has to deal with the problem.  He hands off the football to you and leaves feeling great because he’s just unloaded that problem on you.
     Let’s say that you’d just come back from vacation and hadn’t even reached your desk.  You were carrying a “football” of your own before Jim gave you his.  Your own football might have been an idea you got on vacation for a dynamic volunteer staff meeting, and you were determined to start planning it immediately.  But now you’re juggling two different footballs–a project and a problem, and you’ve only been back to work for seven minutes.
     Not three minutes later, you’re sitting at your desk when you get an e-mail from Quincy.  You’re working on a project together, and he needs you to make a phone call to one of your contacts to see if your organization can use their facility.  Within 20 minutes you’re juggling 10 other footballs that you’ve taken from your membership, your staff, your volunteer teams, several board members, e-mail, faxes, and voice mail.  Have you ever tried to juggle 10 footballs?
     How do you juggle these multiple problems, projects, concerns, ideas, and emergencies?  You don’t! Your volunteers are more than capable–and eagerly waiting–to take some of those footballs and run with them.

This illustration came in the chapter on managing volunteers. We think once the volunteer is on board, then we are go to go. But the literature tells us that most volunteers quit because of bad volunteer management. How we recruit, train, and coach them is not only critical to their growth and maturity, but to the overall success of our missions.

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