3 Necessary Qualities in a Volunteer

Posted at April 13, 2011

The most common thing we hear when a church is calling SiteOrganic for the first time? It goes something like this:

“We had this great guy helping us with our Website. He set it up on insert name of open source CMS here, and did all the updates for us. Nobody else really knew how to do any of the updates.

Well, now he has moved and our Website is sitting still, growing more stale by the day.”

This tale is so normal, you wouldn’t believe it.  Some of the details might vary a bit, but it’s basically the same thing, repeated nationwide at hundreds of churches I’ve heard from.

In fact, I was that “guy” about 10 years ago.  I was the sole web volunteer at my church and after doing it almost 40 hours per week, I just got plain burned-out.  Fortunately I was able to train others on the staff to gradually take my place.

The story illustrates how important it can be to get the volunteer equation right.  I may write another post later about whether it’s really wise to entrust your church’s online presence (your most visible asset!) to a volunteer. 

I have coached church staffers for years that there are three key ingredients to a successful web volunteer.  Really, they could be true of any type of volunteer:

  1. Time.  The person must have enough time to do what needs to be done.  This may mean attending meetings, designing promo graphics, dealing with revisions, or collecting registrations for an event every day.  Be sure that you are setting realistic expectations, and then verifying that your volunteer can handle them.  If your volunteer has a trip or leave of absence planned, be sure that you plan for it.
  2. Skill.  The person may be intersted in helping, but are they technically competent?  Some churches fall prey to the temptation that any person can complete any task.  It simply isn’t true. Worse, I once heard of a church who made “mercy hires.” In other words, “they couldn’t get an assignment anywhere else so we gave them something to do.” This sounds charitable, but it’s a risky strategy with something as high-profile and high-stakes as your online ministry presence.  Be sure that your web volunteers are skilled in the tools of the trade.  Your church Website is not a training ground for novices!
  3. Zeal.  You found the perfect guy to pick up the web duties in your church–he is out of work for a while, and used to be a web programmer for a hotshot company downtown. And just for fun, let’s pretend he is independently wealthy so he doesn’t need any money. Slam dunk, right?  Maybe, but is he really passionate about online ministry? Or even interested? Putting a well-qualified, available person into a role they don’t want is the equivalent of the square peg/round hole conundrum. It is a sure recipe for burnout.

What if you can’t find someone with all three?

You can supplant #1 and #2, to some extent, with the right tools.  If you have a user-friendly content management system, it can widen the available pool of people to help you because it makes updates quicker, and lowers the skill bar. 

I don’t know how you get around #3. Your people just plain have to be passionate about supporting the online ministry of your church. Otherwise, you can’t expect top-notch results.

Do you agree with these three necessary ingredients for a successful volunteer?  Anything I left out?

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