Enabling Parish Leadership

Recruiting Volunteers

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Almost every parish leader needs volunteers.  But we run into obstacles.  “It’s always the same people who help.”  “There’s no one else who knows how to do it.”  “People are too busy.”

People like to volunteer.  It makes them feel worthwhile, especially if they believe in the cause.  But sometimes they don’t know how they can help.  Sometimes they don’t even see themselves as the particular helper you need.

When you need a volunteer, and you can’t think of anyone, don’t despair!  Here’s a method that may help.

Get together with a few members of the staff or other parish leaders.  Explain the kind of assistance you need.  Be specific.  What are the tasks you need?  What skills does the volunteer need to possess?  What character traits would best fit this role?

Then brainstorm.  All of you sit down with your copy of the parish roster.  As you all flip through the names, call out those who might work out.  List all the suggested names.  Don’t omit the ones you don’t know, or the ones you think can’t do it, or the ones you think are too busy.  Make a long list.  If you need 3 volunteers, list 30 people.

Once you have your list, pare it down.  Scratch off the names of people you think would be wrong for the task.  It is generally not wise to scratch off the names of people you think are too busy.  Usually you can let people decide themselves if they are too busy.  Even after eliminating these names, you should still have a substantial list.

Do some of the names jump out at you?  Do they make you think of a few other people?  If you had your ideal volunteer, which one would it be?  On a short list, keep the names of about twice as many people as you need.

Then comes the fun part.  Start calling the names.  Explain what you need.  Tell the person, “Your name came up at our meeting.  People thought you had the talent to do this job.”  You will make them feel affirmed, noticed and appreciated.

Give people the freedom to say no.  If they are too busy, they will tell you.  If they are not interested in this particular project, they’ll tell you that too.  You may also hear something like, “I’d like to help, but not in this way,” or “not at this time.”  Let them know you’d like to invite them again sometime when the right project comes along.

If you still have trouble recruiting the volunteers you need, then examine the project all over again.  If no one in the parish can help, is this really a project that your community can embrace?  Does it fit with the mission of the parish?  Sometimes when potential volunteers say no, the project should be told no as well.

Normally, though, you’ll find the help you need.  You will make people feel great, and the mission of God’s Spirit will continue.

This article first appeared in ParishWorks: Idea Source for Parish Leaders and Decision Makers 8/4 (April 2005):3.

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