How ministry can get the most from volunteers

Every nonprofit – particularly a ministry – depends on volunteers to achieve goals. Whether those goals have to do with recruiting new members, fundraising or spreading your message to the general public, chances are they’re taken care of by people who aren’t being paid.

There’s no reason an organization shouldn’t utilize a group of people who are willing to help out without cutting into a nonprofit’s already-tight budget. However, sometimes managing them can present a challenge, and make it more difficult to meet your long-term goals. It’s important to know what motivates and drives these individuals, because understanding your volunteers can make them more successful.

Young people
Youth groups often make up a huge portion of a church’s fundraising efforts. Whether they’re gathering online donations by promoting their cause on social media, going door to door, or taking mission trips, they’re vital to your organization’s growth and success. But busy teenagers and young adults have a lot going on – school, their social lives and extracurriculars. How can you motivate them to do their best and really get behind your cause?

What motivates young people to get involved with volunteer work?

A report from the Girl Scout Research Institute on volunteers aged 18-29 found that, luckily, you probably don’t have to push your younger members to volunteer their time. Eighty-five percent of surveyed volunteers said helping their cause was part of their personality and obligation to make a difference in the world.

They research found almost 8 in 10 volunteers said they wanted to work with children, which could be a jumping-off point if you’re looking for ways to get teens interested in a cause. Anything that involves helping youth could generate substantial interest among younger people who want to do good for the world. Twenty-six percent said they were interested in causes that helped the elderly and 24 percent said the same of violence prevention. Politics was the least-chosen category, with only 10 percent saying they wanted to volunteer for a political cause.

Once you’ve found a cause or way to get younger people involved, it’s key to make sure their expectations for volunteering are met. This isn’t difficult and shouldn’t require much effort from ministries. Sixty-nine percent of respondents to the Girl Scout poll said they wanted to volunteer because it was rewarding. Sixty-eight percent said they liked feeling as though they were making a difference. To make sure they truly do understand they’re making a difference, project managers should be sure to take just a few minutes and show younger groups what exactly they’ve accomplished. Whether it’s telling them exactly how much money the group has raised as a whole or showing them photos of a mission project, seeing the results of their efforts will likely ensure teens and young adults feel they’re important in the process and continue their vital work with a church group.

Men are hunters. That means they need specific goals to perform optimally. New research from the UK’s University of Leicester found that men do better in tasks when they’re given targets to hit, even if no financial incentives are offered. Researchers gave men a test and split them into one of three groups. The first group was given no goal, group two was given a low goal and asked to get 10 answers correct and the final group was given a high target and told to get 15 or more questions right. The results showed the two groups with goals performed significantly better than the group that wasn’t given a target.

“Men perform better when given a goal to achieve.”

“The focus of this research was to determine how to motivate people. When we are given a goal, we feel a sense of purpose to achieve it; it naturally helps to focus us,” said Samuel Smithers, the lead researcher on the project in a press release. “The findings demonstrate that setting a goal induces higher effort.

He noted the second group saw a 20 percent improvement rate over the control group, while the high-goal group experienced a 25 percent jump.

Numbers from SHL Talent Management hint recognition is what keeps bringing women back to work they’re devoted to. In a poll, fewer than half of men said being recognized kept them going with their work, as opposed to almost 60 percent of women. Recognizing all of your volunteers is critical and shows appreciation, but as you’re looking through your fundraising software and checking numbers, calling attention to any outstanding performers will be helpful in keeping female members of the group. Sending a group email or noting top performers in your next meeting or sermon are both easy ways to recognize outstanding work and make people feel great about what they’ve accomplished.

Men and women are motivated by different things – giving your male volunteers specific goals to hit may not resonate with the females in the crowd and lead them to underperform or quit the volunteer group altogether. You don’t want that, you just need to understand how they’re thinking and cater to that.

Your organization’s volunteers are all unique and have different reasons for getting involved. No matter what those reasons are, it’s important to motivate them in the right way so they’re useful to your group and have fun while helping the cause. Finding the right way to motivate or show appreciation to these hardworking individuals could mean the difference between a large, healthy volunteer group and a small one that can never seem to meet larger organizational goals.