At my last church, one of the first things that I did was recall the history of the congregation with an elder. She was sharp, insightful, and honest. I appreciated the way that she could come to quick assessments of each pastor. There was one in the history that people rarely talked about, but she didn’t hesitate. She began by saying, “He made me a better leader.”
“Really? How?” I asked. Curious to hear more about the pastor.
“He just expected a lot out of us.”
Later on, when I shuffled through his files, I could see that he expected a lot from them and from himself.
This stuck with me. I’m not sure I’m that great at expecting a lot out of people. I often say, “Well… you know… they’re volunteers.” Meaning, you have to learn to settle, you can’t be too disappointed in the quality of work, you just have to appreciate what you get, and realize the fact that you can never fire them.
But I’ve been wondering lately if I’m going about this wrong. I think I need to have a long chat with Miriam’s Kitchen chef, Steve Badt. Miriam’s is the feeding and social services organization in our church, and if there’s one thing that I notice (even though I can’t volunteer much there myself), it is that Steve expects a lot from the volunteers. He expects high quality food, served with the utmost consideration, and he’s an absolute stickler about the health and safety of the clients. He expects a lot and he appreciates them a lot. And they have a waiting list for volunteers.
Now… I don’t know about you, but I have never, ever heard of a feeding program where you have to get there by 6:00 a.m. to serve the homeless, and it has a waiting list for volunteers.
Last Sunday night, as the college students gathered together for music and dinner, we heard from Amiko Rorick, who works as a Special Assistant to the CEO on Strategic Initiatives at the Corporation for National and Community Service. In her role, she focuses on ways to further engage students in communities. In short, she’s an expert on volunteerism.
She talked about a trend that seems very interesting. Typically, we have the idea that we should hire people for the tough, skilled jobs, and then use volunteers for the mindless work. But research is showing that for every 5 volunteers who sign up, only 2-3 actually stick with it. When trying to figure out why, they find that volunteers disengage because they feel useless, like their skills and gifts are not truly being tapped. They’re not challenged enough. And so non-profits are starting to look at things differently.
They are finding volunteers for the difficult jobs and hiring people for the mindless ones. They expect more from their volunteers, and the volunteers are happier.
So what works for you? Do you have high expectations? What do you do to appreciate your volunteers? Are you able to keep them engaged? How do you manage to raise the bar?