How to Engage Supporters to Become High Capacity Volunteers

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As a college student, I worked on a Congressional Political campaign. When they explained my role, it was to get people who were already on board and drinking the proverbial kool-aid more involved. How could that be difficult to accomplish for a 21-year-old intern? My time working in the political campaign and later at the Capitol was a great experience on many levels. Learning how to transition a supporter into a high caliber volunteer was the thing I learned that I have carried into both ministry and non-ministry contexts for the past 20 years.  

What is the secret of getting high-capacity individuals to use their gifts and talents to volunteer their time and resources with nothing in return except a pat on the back? Here are some tips I have found that are helpful in this transition from supporter to ownership of responsibility and calling as a volunteer. 

1. Cast Vision for the "How"

Clearly defined and communicated vision is a must. Raving fans have already heard, resonated, and bought into the vision. They see the big picture of where the vision is taking them, and they love it. I like to call that the “wow” factor of a movement. 

Our job as leaders is to turn that "wow" into a "how." How are we going to accomplish the vision we are wowed by? I have met very few people who do not want to be part of something bigger than themselves. We have to clearly define what is needed to accomplish the goal as far as people resources go. 

In the political campaign, I needed to find people to canvas neighborhoods, put together yard signs, stuff envelopes, give money, and throw a BBQ (the food of all Georgia political campaigns). All of these activities were so that people could meet our candidate and become raving fans. In a church, we need people to greet guests, be student ministry leaders, be part of the tech team, be small group leaders, and the list goes on and on. Always talk about how those tasks help us accomplish the big picture vision. If our tasks are not allowing us to meet that big picture vision, we should probably stop doing them. 

Part of vision casting is showing how people can personally make a difference. Share the stories of people who have been helped, people who have joined the team to make a difference, and the many ways resources have been provided. In an age of technology and social media being an easy and immediate platform, we can cast vision amazingly well and often. 

2. Ask the Ask

If you already have people who are raving fans, you are on the proverbial 10-yard line. To get across the "end zone" to transform them into high caliber volunteers often takes a conversation. Ask them to jump in. People often are ready to go but just have to be asked to jump into the game. It is not just asking them to get involved, but it is also making sure we are asking them to get involved in a place that fits their skills and passions. They have to find value in what they are doing. Utilizing people's giftedness creates ownership and buy-in. Placing warm bodies in a role creates just that… warm bodies. When we spend time finding out people's stories, we start to see their talents, giftings, and passion areas. It never ceases to amaze me that when I get to hear a person's story, I begin to see specific roles or possibilities that are needed and could be filled by no one better than them. 

To utilize people's giftings, we have to ask them to volunteer. We get the opportunity to cast vision on a micro level to show how an individual’s specific giftings and passion areas are needed to further the cause. What raving fan wouldn't love the opportunity to not only be part of the team but get to play in the game? 

3. Celebrate the Win

Celebration is a huge part of any volunteer experience. Anytime we can show how a volunteer's work is helping meet the big picture vision, we sustain and invigorate momentum. We all want to make a difference, and when we see how our work, no matter how big or small, creates a win, we get excited. There is nothing better than taking the time to celebrate those win moments. Celebration can look many ways. It may be a moment to talk to the team and share a story of how someone's life has been affected through their work, reading a thank you note that was received, or we can go big and throw a party. 

4. Invest in Our Volunteers

Finding the right spot for an individual to serve is essential, but helping them grow and develop is just as important. When we value a volunteer enough to spend resources and time on training and development, we show how much that person is appreciated. This creates ownership, as well. When we transition to leading from behind rather than from the front, we allow our volunteers to own their passion area. Sometimes that means we allow learning moments and mistakes, but more often, it leads to a high caliber volunteer taking the ministry area or mission to a place far beyond where we could have taken it on our own. As leaders, our job is often to make sure everyone is in the right seat on the bus and let them do their thing!

5. Appreciate Our Volunteers

It is so easy to get enthralled in working on our ministry or mission that we forget to work in it. Ultimately it always goes back to the people. We want people to know they are appreciated, valued, and loved. Appreciation can look a million different ways. It can be bragging about a volunteer, writing them a thank you note, giving them some time off, buying them a cup of coffee or bringing them their favorite candy, or showing up in their life outside of volunteer time. All of the above ways of turning raving fans into high caliber volunteers ultimately come back to appreciating their abilities, time, passion, and buy-in. 

Jesus was the best example of a volunteer servant. Matthew 20:28 reminds us that "The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

When we see someone walking in His footsteps by serving others, it becomes second nature to appreciate them, invest in them, celebrate them, ask them to be on the team, and help them see exactly how they will specifically make a difference.

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