Tag Archives: Communication

Communicating with Volunteers

26 May

Volunteers want to be a part of something great. To nurture them and support them, you want to set them up for success as much as possible with every interaction you have with them. They trust you, the leader, to equip them with all the tools they need to succeed and if that trust is eroded, over time your team will evaporate.

A key area where leaders have the ability to either create trust or destroy trust is through how they communicate. Today’s post will be a case study – we’ll break it down and learn how to do it better.

My child’s small group was invited to participate in a service project today.  There were a number of missteps in the leader’s communication to us (child and parent) that lead to a real break of trust.

First communication

 What happened: the first I heard of this project was when the group leader found me at work on Thursday and asked, with no preamble, “is your child coming?”.  I had no idea what he was talking about, so he clarified – explaining that there was a service project and that he’d sent out notices via Facebook and hadn’t heard back from my child.

Why this was ineffective: My child does not use Facebook. That has been explained multiple times to this group leader. No email was sent out, nor was a phone call made. Had I not ‘run into’ this person, I wouldn’t have even had the 2 days notice I did get.

What should have happened: Notification/invite should have gone out in a forum that the leader could be confident was seen/heard.  I have over 100 people in my teams and most of them respond well to email, but there are a few who don’t use it. I have a list of them and make those phone calls each time. Know your people! Are you leading teens? Use text messages! As a leader you should be meeting them where they are.


What happened:  After I had spoken to my child to confirm participation, I had the child email the leader asking for details including where he should meet the group and what time.  He never received a response until Friday night at 10 pm, he got a text message that said “U coming 2morrow?”  The child responded with affirmative and once more requested an address and time.

Why this was ineffective: waiting until just a few hours before the project to give details and gather confirmation really makes you look disorganized.  Even if you are a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ planner, as a leader you must meet people where they are. Most plan ahead. Change your style to accommodate theirs.

What should have happened: I should have received and email or phone call at least a day in advance with the details of the project. A week is better.  And a text message is a poor medium for this sort of thing. It involves directions that need to printed so they can be referred to.


What happened: He was sent (at 10pm on Friday night) a text (and an email which I discovered Sat morning) which said the following:

9am @ Landmark Community Church
In back.

N. Chrysler Dr. (I-75 service drive) South of I-696 east side of I-75
North of 9 mile

Because of the lack of an actual address, I had to look up the church to find a good address. I mapped out a route on Friday night to time things, and learned that it was 30 minutes away. So we left at 8:30, me groggy with sleep and still in my pajamas. We arrived and as I dropped the child off, something in me said to wait for a few moments.  This did not look like a service project and I wanted to verify that the child had found his group before driving home. Turns out, this was only the location of the registration. I had to come inside (PJs and all) and fill out a permission form for my child to participate. There, I discovered that there were Spring Serve T-shirts for sale $5 cash and that my child would likely be painting and would need a lunch.

Why this was ineffective:

  • It was hard to find – giving cross streets instead of an actual address is not very effective in these days where almost everyone uses a GPS.  If you want to give additional details like this, do so! But always, always include a real live, postal address.  If sending via text message, be sure to include a zip code. Most smart phones will recognize that as an address and allow you to simply click on it which will open it in your gps/mapping program. Go the extra mile to make it easy for your volunteers!
  • We were late – had we known that there was registration before the project, we would have arrived early enough to take care of that. So already the child is not feeling successful because he’s late.
  • He was dressed inappropriately.  Actually, we both were. Had I known I’d be coming in, filling out forms and meeting people, I certainly would have gotten dressed.  Had we known that there would be painting, he would have worn different clothes. Mama is NOT happy that he’s likely to get his only decent pair of jeans ruined today.
  • He did not have the proper equipment.  He would have loved a T-shirt to be part of the team and as both a memento and something else to wear. But we were not given the information that these were available for a fee and I had no cash.  So now, he’s late, poorly dressed, and disappointed.  Also, we were not given any information about an end time or lunch, so he’ll be desperately hungry unless I drive back out and bring him something.

What should have happened:  All the information should be included in the communication. You cannot over communicate. If you give people information they don’t want or need, they can disregard it.  You don’t get to decide what information people need, they do.  You are the leader. It’s your job to think through every detail and provide that to them. Remember – the easier you make things for them the better your result will be.

Best Practice

First Communication:

  • Use a form that the volunteers have access to (email, Facebook, txt, phone call). You may have to use multiple mediums to get to everyone, but it’s your responsibility to make sure they do! Don’t ever assume.  Go where they are.
  • Give all the details you have. If some are missing, say so, say what you are still finding out and when you’ll have it to them.

In this case study, I would have liked to have seen this on Monday:

“Gentlemen, I wanted to remind you about our service project coming up this weekend.  Please respond to me by Wednesday if you can come or not. We’ll start at 9am, but I’m not sure about some of the other details yet. I’ll have them by tomorrow and send out more information!” If you have questions, email or text me [insert phone number here].

On Tuesday:

“Here are more details about the project. We’ll be working from 9-2 at a house build in Hazel Park. There’s no telling what we might be asked to do, so wear grubby clothes you don’t mind destroying.  You’ll need to pack a lunch.  Also, I’ll need a signed permission slip from each of you. It’s attached to this email. So far, I’ve heard from Tyler, Jacob, Kevin, and Landon.  I need to hear from the rest of you by tomorrow or I’ll be calling you!”

On Thursay or Friday:

Subject: Reminder about Saturday

When: Saturday, May 26, 12, 9am-2pm

*please arrive before 9 am so you can register and find us, we’d like to start at 9am!*

Where: Landmark Community Church

1234 Main Street

Hazel Park, MI 47653

(link to printable map)

What: Building, landscaping and painting are all possibilities. Wear grubby clothes and if you have work gloves, bring em!

Cost: None, but Spring Serve T-shirts will be available for purchase if you want one for $5

Bring: Lunch, money for shirt (optional), old clothes & permission slip signed by parent (attached)

Bottom line: Volunteers trust you and feel cared for when you set them up for success.  Think about the 5 W’s: Who, what, where, when, why and try your best to answer each one for them.


Strong Volunteer Teams

10 Mar

I was blessed to attend the Gurus of Tech conference last week in Chicago. One of the breakouts I went to was on leading volunteers and was lead by Jill Werst who was a mountain of knowledge. The most pivotal take-away for me was this: your best recruitment tool is investing in your current volunteers. Wow. That really resonates with what I have seen work and fail over 20 years. But how do we invest in our current volunteers?

Volunteers crave trust, a mission, excellence, and team. If we can create an environment where they have all four, they will thrive. And they will bring their friends who will also thrive. Let’s look at each of these.


Can your volunteers trust that you will give them the information they need to feel successful? How is your communication process? Confusion and chaos is not the best environment and will scare people off. When there is insecurity, there is high turnover. Do they trust that you will teach them what they need to know so that they feel valuable or are you just throwing them in the deep end of the pool? Do you have documentation? Volunteers LOVE checklists. Do they trust that you will begin and end when you said you would? Nothing breaks trust faster than wasting people’s time.


“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
-Antoine De Saint-Exupéry

This is absolutely key to building strong volunteer teams. I spend time teaching my set up team knots. Yes knots! Sound exciting? Not really, eh? But we always go big picture – why is this knot important (it’s adjustable), why does it matter (it saves time later, we are serving someone else by using the right knot), why does THAT matter? Because the less time the staff has to focus on tweaking on Saturday, the more time they can spend on other things and it all impacts the experience that our attenders have. This knot helps bring people to Christ. 🙂 Yes, I go there and we make it a little bit of a joke – just because that’s my personality with my team – but the idea sticks. What you do has epic consequences. When you connect those dots for your team, you develop pride and workmanship that would be missed without it.


Let’s face it. Nobody wants to be part of a team that sucks. It guarantees dissatisfaction, disappointment, and turnover. Time spent in training and planning pays off in exponential dividends. If your volunteers don’t feel like they are a part of something great, they won’t stay. No one does everything perfectly, but there are two ways to break this down – product and attitude. Product – if your end product is not good quality, you’ll never have a great team. Perhaps that should be your starting point. Building a team without a product is a cart before the horse kind of thing. Attitude – are you praising when things done well? Publicly? Twitter and Facebook are fantastic tools for this. Everyone loves a public ‘attaboy’. Are you making sure that you honor the absentee and never NEVER allow disparaging comments in team? If you shut people down when they complain about other departments, they will know that you have their back when they are complained about. This is related to the trust thing. If you focus on an uplifting attitude – being a place people love to be, you will have achieved half the battle to excellence.


One of the most deeply seeded needs God put in us is the need to belong. It doesn’t matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert, when you feel a part of something bigger than yourself, magic happens. Connect with your team regularly in and out of work time. Read their Facebook, ask about their family publicly so that other join that conversation too. Here is the craziest little big thing that has helped our team – names. Learn everyone’s names and make them do it too. When your stage manager calls for the ‘guitar player’ rather than for Jon, when the speaker calls someone “power point guy” rather than Chris…it’s disrespectful and disheartening. Become a culture that uses names, there’s nothing more personal. Use name tags, put the names on production copies, be the example. No one feels a part of a team where the leaders and teammates don’t know each others names. Do whatever it takes – you’ll be stunned what a change in attitude of the team that makes.

Thank people. This cannot be said enough. Thank them privately and publicly. Thank them thank them thank them. I go around and thank each individual crew and cast member every week with something personal about their performance each week. (“I loved that camera shot on the fade out of the acoustic piece! Nice eye!”) Send them thank you notes periodically, call them once a quarter for no reason but to say “I appreciate your work and commitment.” It’s such an easy thing and it’s vital for people to feel like they are noticed and appreciated. This is especially critical with large teams where people have a tendency to feel lost and unnoticed.

Trust, mission, excellence and team are the keys to strong teams. Not skills. 🙂 It’s an upside down way to look at things, maybe, but almost anyone can be taught skills, it’s the environment that you create that builds a strong team.

10 Apr

Good day at work. Really good day. A ton of crazy things – audible after audible, there were alot of miscommunications (not today, but before) that lead to issues, but inspite of all this, the day never got out of hand. It was crazy but turned out well. One of those days that you feel like you were needed and helpful and did a really good job on a really hard day. I’ll sleep well tonight.

This was my favorite look tonight. It doesn’t translate as well here as it looked live, but man…it was sweet.