5 Things Your Volunteers Need From You

At church, I’m the youth pastor. I make the decisions, execute plans, and run the program. I’ve got a team of volunteers that help me accomplish all of that. They rely on me to give them direction. At football, I’m one of 8 assistant coaches. I don’t make the decisions, execute the plans, or run the program. I’m a volunteer and I take direction from the head coach. Being in that role has taught me tons about leadership. It’s been an important lesson for me to be on the volunteer side of things to appreciate and understand that perspective. After 9 years of being a volunteer football coach 5 things have stood out to me as essentials that leaders need to give volunteers in order for them to thrive.

Give Them Vision.
The best thing you can give your volunteers is a clear and compelling reason to be on your team. Cast the vision and repeat it often. Having a clear objective will keep your team engaged AND will draw new people to your team who share a passion for what you’re doing. People want to know that what they’re doing matters and is making an impact. If you’re struggling to draw or retain great people as volunteers, there’s a good chance you need to cast a clearer vision.

Give Them a Voice.
The head coaches I work with in football know A LOT more about football than I do. But, they still give me chances to give input into game plans, play selection, etc. Do they always take my recommendations? Nope. But, sometimes they do. Being heard by the leader makes me feel like I’m contributing to the team. If I was never given a chance to speak up, I’d likely leave. 
The consequence of having highly invested volunteers is that they will have strong opinions. Give them places to share their ideas and to critique yours. You’ll be better for it.

Give Them Responsibility.
There is nothing worse than standing on a football field in the wind, cold, and rain in November doing nothing. It’s miserable. If I’m going to go to practice on those days it’s because I know that I have a job to do that matters to the success of our team. If I had nothing to contribute that day, I’d likely stay home. Why do your volunteers show up to your program every week? What role do they play? What difference does their presence make? If you, as the leader, aren’t sure, I guarantee they don’t know either.

Give Them Tools.
When I show up to football practice each day I’m going to get handed a practice plan detailing everything we’re covering in practice that day. I’ll be told what drills I’m running and the equipment I need for them is already out on the field. From time to time I get videos and articles sent to me with tips and ideas. After games our game film will be broken down and uploaded by our head coach so we can review everything. I am given everything I need (and more) to succeed. Could our volunteer youth leaders say the same thing?

Give Them Recognition.
Literally half my wardrobe is Parkside Stampeder swag. I don’t coach for the free stuff; but hey, it doesn’t hurt either. Every year we get a new shirt or two. We have a year end dinner to celebrate the season. Most importantly, I get told “thank-you” a lot. Your volunteers probably aren’t looking for grand gestures of gratitude. Many of them may not even want public recognition for their efforts. But, it’s critical to find ways to recognize and appreciate their contributions. Someone who feels appreciated will always do more than what’s expected.

I haven’t mastered any of these. In fact, there’s are at least one of these areas that I need to do serious work on. But, putting myself in the position of a volunteer constantly reminds me to look at things from the perspective of my team. To grow yourself as a leader, find a place to volunteer. It might be the best leadership lesson you ever get.