I had a great discussion last weekend with a former student on how to get a ministry started. He has labored for the last 6 months to get a ministry to international students off the ground within his ministry. His effort hasn’t been the issue. He is attending 3 international student events on his campus each week and, until recently, had organized his own activity as well. As he approaches graduation, he is afraid that unless he can find someone else to take up the mantle of international ministry that his effort to establish this particular branch of the existing ministry will be in vain. His urgent question that prompted our discussion was simply, “How do I get people to help?”
I’ve been fortunate to be around people who have gotten pretty extraordinary ministries off the ground and running. I’ve also seen people with incredible passion and ability completely sputter out in their attempts to do something great. I’ve personally been in both camps during my ministry journey. Successful undertakings generally follow a pattern:
- The vision is clear— As the leader, this one’s on you. Take every opportunity to articulate the “why” behind what you’re doing. Communicating “why” is particularly important when seeking to involve younger people. For leaders, especially those who are action and results driven, communicating the “what” comes more naturally. “What” is important, but “why” demonstrates the importance of your ministry/action/cause. If vision is only communicated at the “what” level, people will only hear that there is one more thing that must be squeezed into their schedules. For example, it’s easier to communicate that you need volunteers to help you pass out fliers in the community to promote an event. It’s also not very compelling. Instead, communicate that you need people to help you send students on a mission trip by promoting an event in the community. This also leaves open the door for ideas from more creative types which creates more buy-in to the cause.
- Start small– Getting new volunteers on board is exciting. It’s even better when they seem like they are passionate about helping. The trap is that leaders tend to start out asking for the moon from these individuals because the seem so willing. You want a long-term partnership that accomplishes much over time not a short-term flame out that was beautiful while it lasted. This again falls on the leader’s shoulders. Reduce the scope of your mission down to one item by which you will measure success and involve volunteers in that. In the case of my former student, instead of trying to get a new ministry off the ground by simultaneously being involved in 4 separate activities, pick one to focus in on and find individuals who will help with that. After building involvement there, move on to finding volunteers for additional opportunities.
- The first step is easy, but not too easy– You have to create momentum for people rather quickly to avoid being written off. At the same time, your first step can’t be so simple that a toddler could have done it. Of the two options, most leaders try to hit a grand slam without any runners on base. Determine a rather simple first step that a volunteer can be involved in that will allow him/her to see a result or get a big picture taste of what you’re doing. For example, if you’ve got a ministry helping to feed the homeless and you have to choose between having a first time volunteer cook or help distribute the food, let them help distribute the food. Instead of getting bogged down in the minutae of prep work, they will see the need for performing the tedious aspects of the ministry and will be more willing to help with that aspect going forward.
- As best as you can, contextualize the first experience– Get to know a little about your volunteers before involving them. At a minimum you should know if a volunteer is introverted or extroverted. Since you want to set volunteers up for success early, you wouldn’t want an introvert’s first experience with you to be conducting surveys with random strangers. You also wouldn’t want to ask an extrovert to sort files in a room by themselves even if that’s the biggest need you have and they said they’d help anywhere.
- Brag on first-time volunteers– People love to be praised. When a volunteer first steps up to help you go out of your way to thank them several times. Write a thank-you note. Post a thank you message on their Facebook wall. Talk about them to your friends and theirs. You will simultaneously be expressing gratitude and promoting your ministry/cause.
- Connect the dots– Share with volunteers how what they are doing/have done/will do will help you reach your goal. It’s easy for anyone to get bogged down in details. As the leader, help volunteers see how the seemingly small things they are doing are supporting the big picture. This also helps you think through how what you’re asking of volunteers connects to the “why” and becomes a good self-evaluation tool to determine if your activities are effective in helping you reach your objective.