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Dan Harper | Institutionalism

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A century ago, Unitarians and Universalists used to talk about “churchmanship,” by which they meant the art and science of keeping church organizations healthy and strong. But that old term was both gender specific (and men really did think they were the most important institutional leaders), and it assumed that all congregations were churches. In addition, that old term obscured the ways in which congregations shared many characteristics with other voluntary associations. So now we use the term institutionalism, meaning the art and science of keeping congregations, and other similar nonprofit organizations, healthy and strong and operating at their maximum effectiveness.

As you build your skills in institutionalism, remember that these skills are transferable to other nonprofits and community groups. Yes, you can go to school and earn a certificate in nonprofit management. But you can also gain most of those those same skills for free by joining a congregation and diving in. I remember talking to a woman who was the president of the California League of Women Voters, a large and influential organization — she said she gained her skills in institutionalism through volunteering with her local Unitarian Universalist congregation.

1. Theories and Basic Principles of Institutionalism
2. Introduction to Process
3. Introduction to Congregational Staff Organization
4. Introduction to Volunteer Management
5. Learn More

 

1. Theories and Basic Principles of Institutionalism

A. The Theology of Institutionalism: Voluntary Associations
B. You Gotta Have a Mission
C. You Gotta Have a Religious Center
D. Some Things You Don’t Need (But Might Be Nice)

 

A. The Theology of Institutionalism: Voluntary Associations

Back in the twentieth century, a Unitarian theologian named James Luther Adams laid out the theology behind institutionalism. Adams pointed out that congregations are a form of voluntary association — a voluntary association is exactly what the U.S. Bill of Rights was talking about when it guaranteed the right to freely associate. Adams spent time in Germany during the rise of the Nazis, and he noticed that one of the first things the Nazis did was to get rid of the voluntary associations; either that, or co-opt the voluntary associations (as when they took over a bunch of churches and made those churches subservient to the Nazi party). Adams came to the conclusion that voluntary associations are one of the bulwarks of democracy.

Voluntary associations may be bulwarks of democracy, but they require volunteer time, and they require volunteers to have some basic skills. (In other words, the freedom to associate has costs associated with it — it requires time and effort.) We Unitarian Universalists claim that one of the fundamental principles of our religion is a commitment to democracy. Institutionalism is how we live out this religious commitment.

 

B. You Gotta Have a Mission

Back in 1990, management genius Peter Drucker published his book Managing the Non-profit Organization: Principles and Practices. In this very readable and still relevant book, Drucker points out that all nonprifts, including churches, must have a good, memorable mission statement. A for-profit business can judge its success by its profit, but a nonprofit organization needs to judge its progress by whether it reaches its mission. Go read Drucker’s book, and come back here when you’re done.

OK, now that you’ve read Drucker’s book, you get it, right? Everything is driven by mission. Finances are mission driven — we don’t take in revenue merely for the sake of maintaining the institution, we take in revenue for the sake of furthering the mission. Volunteer management is mission driven — volunteers have a purpose and that purpose is contained in the mission. And so on. Everything is driven by the mission.

Every part of the nonprofit organization — every part of a congregation — should be driven by the mission statement. This implies that the institution is not an end in itself. Rather, the institution is a means by which we further our mission.

And now that you’ve read Drucker, you understand how that 3-page long mission statement you came up with five years ago (which you’ve never referred to since) is NOT a mission statement. It might be a long-range plan, but it is NOT a mission statement. A mission statement is brief. A mission statement is direct. A mission statement is specific. Here is a good congregational mission statement: “We transform ourselves, each other, and the world.” Here is an adequate-but-not-great congregational mission statement: “We transform and heal ourselves and our world through reason and love.“ In my personal experience, if a mission statement is longer than ten words, few people will remember it, which makes it utterly useless — the second example above would become a good mission statement if we removed the last four words. When crafting a mission statement, remember the acronym KISS: Keep It Short and Simple.

 

C. You Gotta Have a Religious Center

Congregations are a specific kind of nonprofit organization — they’re a religious nonprofit organization. So in addition to your mission statement, you’ll also want a statement of your religious center. This can be longer than the mission statement, but it has to be memorable. Yes, you can use the “Seven Principles” of the Unitarian Universalist Association, but honestly they’re hard to memorize. Besides, ideally you want to incorporate this statement of your religious center into every single worship service, and reciting the lengthy “Seven Principles” each and every week feels a little too much like reciting some kind of liberal creed. So below are a couple of examples of good statements of religious center from actual Unitarian Universalist congregations.

In my home congregation, First Parish of Concord, Mass., we used to say a unison benediction at the end of every service. It was memorable, and powerful enough that people printed it, framed it, and hung it on the wall at home. It went like this:

Go out into the world in peace
Have courage
Hold on to what is good
Return to no person evil for evil
Strengthen the fainthearted
Support the weak
Help the suffering
Honor all beings.

Several congregations I have served used the following as an affirmation that they said together each week in the middle of the worship service:

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service is its prayer.
This is our great covenant:
To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love,
And to help one another,
To the end that all souls shall grow
Into harmony with the divine.

I prefer the first example above. It’s easier for children to understand, so you can say it at the end of every Sunday school class, as well as the adult worship service. But the second example is perfectly adequate. Look around, and you may find that your congregation already has a perfectly adequate statement of your religious center.

 

D. Some Things You Don’t Need (But Might Be Nice)

Covenant: A lot of Unitarian Universalists think a Unitarian Universalist congregation must have a covenant, though it’s not true. Why do they think this? Because Conrad Wright, an influential Unitarian scholar of the mid-twentieth century, told them so, and they unquestioningly believed him. However, while covenants are definitely a part of the Unitarian tradition, they did not feature so prominently in the Universalist tradition — and even in the Unitarian tradition, I’m not aware of many Unitarians who thought about covenants until Conrad Wright’s book on covenants became popular in the 1980s. (My mother, a Unitarian who was the Superintendent of the Junior Department of the largest Unitarian Sunday school in the U.S. in the 1950s, never ever talked about covenant, except maybe to sniff disdainfully at what probably seemed to her a pretentious concept). So a Unitarian Universalist congregation does not REQUIRE a covenant, but a covenant is might be nice to have, if you want one and if it doesn't require too much effort.

Historical covenants: Some congregations do in fact have historical covenants — for example, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, Ill., still uses the congregational covenant they first adopted when the congregation was founded as a Unitarian church in 1843. If you have a real, honest, bona fide covenant, great, use it. But learn what a covenant actually is before you long for one — historically, a covenant was a set of promises made between people in a congregation, and between those people and their deity; i.e., a covenant has both a vertical component and a horizontal component. (The Geneva, Ill., congregation edited God out of their covenant in the lat 19th century, but they still have a vertical component, i.e., with something larger than humans.) And the covenant was what you signed when you became a member (so if you become a member of the Geneva, Ill., church, what you do is sign under the covenant to indicate that you agree to abide by it). And a new covenant should require a super-majority vote of the entire membership to adopt. Learn the history of covenants before you decide you need one!

Behavioral Covenant: Please be careful to distinguish between a behavioral covenant and a congregational covenant. A behavioral covenant defines expected norms of behavior for everyone who participates in any way in your congregation. A congregational covenant is less about behavioral norms and more about religious and ethical relationships, and furthermore a congregational covenant typically applies only to formal members. A behavioral covenant needs no religious content, but a congregational covenant does. It’s a spectrum, not a binary opposition, but you need to figure out where on that spectrum you’re going to be. And yes, you can have BOTH a congregational covenant AND a behavioral covenant.

Vision statement and long-range plan: These are staples of nonprofit management. They are definitely worthwhile. But if you’re going to develop a vision statement or a long-range plan, please be sure to read up on the literature of nonprofit management, to find out how different people define these things, to learn about some different processes by which you can develop one — and to learn how to actually carry out a vision statement or long-range plan, instead of discovering that they’re just meaningless words printed on a piece of paper that gets filed away and forgotten. You could start by reading Peter Drucker’s book Managing the Non-profit Organization: Principles and Practices.

 

2. Introduction to Process

“Process” is a broad term for how we get things done in a congregation. “Process” can include everything from informal procedures for getting things doen, to formal written policies and procedures.

The tyranny of structurelessness: Back in 1970, feminist Jo Freeman started talking about what she called the tyranny of structurelessness, and it is still worth your while to read her original essay on the topic. Freeman argued that supposedly leaderless, structureless organizations actually have structure, because certain individuals usually wind up holding a great deal of informal invisible power without having to be accountable to anyone else. Freeman said this was A Bad Idea. Because of the tyranny of structurelessness, feminist organizations that were supposedly fighting patriarchy might in fact be rerpoducing patriarchal power structures in a hidden manner.

Fast forward to today: we’re seeing similar kinds of power analysis around white supremacy. A supposedly non-hierarchical organization, like our Unitarian Unviersalist congregations, can reproduce harmful structures of white supremacy without even being aware of what they’re doing. So when you see a congregation that glories in its lack of structure or boasts about its “flat leadership structure,” start looking for the tyranny of structurelessness. And I’ll bet you find that someone, somewhere has a lot of hidden tyrannical power.

Process should be open and transparent: To avoid the tyranny of structurelessness, all your congregation’s decision-making processes should be clearly and simply defined. This does not mean you have to create long involved policy books, like those called for in John Carver’s Policy Governance model of organization. (Indeed, long involved policy books can have a tendency to reinforce patriarchy and white supremacy, privileging well-educated white men.) The best way to have open and transparent process, in my experience, is to build a congregational culture of trust and openness, so that open and transparent decision-making becomes a congregational norm.

Building a congregational culture of trust and openness is conceptually easy, but in practice it’s quite time consuming, requiring constant attention on the part of lay leaders and paid staff. People have come up with all kinds of things that are supposed to help build a culture of openness and trust — congregational covenants, behavioral covenants, Policy Governance, etc., etc. — but in my experience, it all boils down to something quite simple and quite difficult. Everyone needs to understand that congregations are built on relationships; everyone needs to understand that you have to build up or nurture relationships, then once you have relationships you have maintain them, and finally when relationships are damaged (which is inevitable in human communities) you have to repair them.

You also have to pay constant attention to the ways you all work together to get things done in your congregation. As congregational life goes along, with people constantly building up, maintaining, and repairing relationships, you’re going to be constantly renegotiating the norms for getting things done. The big principles will stay the same — openness, honesty, trust — but how you live out those big principles constantly shifts and changes at the micro level.

How to know good precess when you see it: I wish I could articulate this better. I will admit that a lot of what I do to maintain good process is done intuitively, and I recognize how that is one of my personal inadequacies. I think the best way for me to talk about this is to give the questions I ask myself as I participate in process:

  1. Are we following our usual norms? And are those usual norms still approriate for this decision facing us now?
  2. Who is talking the most? Who doesn’t get to talk much? Is that OK, or is that not OK?
  3. Considering my own role: Do I need to shut up, or do I need to speak up and be heard?
  4. Are we addressing the needs of: children; genders other than men; non-white people; elders; people with disabilities; etc., etc.?
  5. As we work together, are we acting out patriarchy, racism, ableism, or any other form of discrimination?
  6. Are we communicating effectively to all the people who are affected by this decision?
  7. Is this process characterized by fairness and kindness?
  8. Are we holding in our minds and hearts the biggest purposes of our congregation?
  9. Are we taking the time we need? Alternatively, is there urgency that requires immediate action?

The above questions are NOT meant to freeze you into inactivity. And honestly, no one keeps all these questions in mind all the time (or even much of the time). But when you start feeling uncomfortable about a process that you’re part of, these questions may help you figure out what’s making you feel uncomfortable, and how you might change things for the better.

 

3. Introduction to Congregational Staff Organization

Key principle: in an era when staff costs are outpacing inflation, all small nonprofits must maximize the effectiveness (not efficiency!) of their paid staff. A healthy trend is for paid staff to share responsiblities with volunteer staff and other volunteers. E.g., worship is probably best led by professional ministers working together with volunteer worship leaders. E.g., youth groups should not be led solely by paid staff, but by at most one paid staffer working side by side with volunteers.

This also means that paid staff need to learn how to lead by working side by side with volunteers. The minister can no longer be a remote personage who has tasks that are distinctly different from volunteers.

This also means congregations must learn how to incorporate volunteer staff into their operations; this will include full accountability for volunteer staff (yes, even annual reviews). Org charts and volunteer job descriptions can help here, by answering these questions: To whom is each volunteer accountable? And then what are the lines of accountability so that everyone, paid staff and volunteers, are accountable to the congregation’s membership?

Org charts: An organizational chart, or org chart, helps visualize the lines of accountability. A useful concept to know is “span of control,” which simply means the number of people that report directly to any given leader or namager. Up to 7 direct reports, including paid staff and volunteer staff, is ideal — if one person has more than 7 direct reports, you’re probably going to see that person exhibit signs of burnout. BUT most congregations below 500 members will find that supervisors need to have more than 5-7 direct reports. For example, a DRE will often have 30 to 50 volunteer teachers and advisors reporting directly to them. A parish minister may have a dozen worship associates, another dozen pastoral care associates, etc., reporting to them. So efficient and effective means must be found for having regular contact with all those direct reports, such as group staff meetings for worship associates, lead teachers for Sunday school classes, etc.

An example of a staff organizational chart, showing the congregational meeting at the top, the Board of Trustees reporting to the congregation, and the Parish Minister supervising all volunteer and paid staff, and reporting to the Board. The chart distinguishes between program staff, who provide actual programs and ministries, and support staff, who keep things running so the programs and ministries can happen.

 

 

4. Introduction to Volunteer Management

A. Some basic principles of volunteer management
B. Volunteer Manager Attitude Readjustment
C. Recruiting volunteers
D. Training volunteers
E. Motivating and Caring for Volunteers
F. Retaining volunteers
G. Creating Volunteer Job Descriptions

 

A. Some basic principles of volunteer management

How do we recruit, train, motivate, care for, and retain all the volunteers we need? This is a major challenge for most congregations today. Most congregations need more volunteers now than 25 years ago because we can afford less staff time per pledging member (due to health insurance costs for employees and other factors.) Yet at the same time, it’s harder to find volunteers because most Americans are working longer hours, while also spending less time volunteering and more time consuming media. Furthermore, it’s harder to motivate volunteers because Americans have gotten out of the habit of participating in volunteer-run organizations, and instead most Americans default to consumer behavior.

Why can’t we hire very part-time employees (e.g. 2-5 hours per week) to replace volunteers? You can, but it’s basically a way to move staff costs away from full-time well-compensated staffers with full benefits — to very part-time poorly paid staffers with no benefits. Aside from the questionable ethics this entails, the problem with very part-time poorly paid staff with no benefits is that such staffers tend to have relatively high turnover, which means you still have to worry about recruitment and training. In addition, most congregations simply cannot operate without large numbers of volunteers. Hire very part time poorly paid staffers if you must. But you’re still going to have to recruit, train, motivate, care for, and retain a lot of volunteers. So why start by becoming a congregation that is excellent at volunteer management? — you can always add very part time paid staff later (though I bet you’ll wind up not needing them).

Also consider that hiring very part-time paid staffers to replace some volunteers may disempower and de-motivate other volunteers. They may feel — Wait a minute, why am I not good enough to get paid? They might think — Hey, I don’t have to show up, the paid person will take care of it. So if you go down this path, be pay careful attention to how your very part-time paid staff affect your volunteers.

Is volunteer management difficult? Conceptually, no. But the hard part of excellent volunteer management is that it requires constant effort — it must become a habit. The outline below will point you in the direction of most of the information you need to become an excellent volunteer manager. The comes the hard part — making excellent volunteer management into a congregation-wide habit.

 

B. Volunteer Manager Attitude Readjustment

The excellent Volunteer Manager will always remember above all that volunteering is not a chore to be avoided, it is an opportunity that will enrich the lives of the volunteers. This is an adjustment from the typical attitude that volunteering is an unpleasant chore so we have to beg and plead to get suckers, er, other people to volunteer. Here's how to readjust your attitude:

Step One: Recognize that Volunteers May Want To Get As Much Out Of Their Volunteering As They Give. If volunteering is done right, it makes you feel good about yourself. Ask not what your volunteers can give to the congregation, ask what the congregation is giving to the volunteers.

Step Two: Remember that volunteers want to learn new skills and perfect existing skills. Volunteering is like a hobby: the skills you learn may not transfer to your job or home life, but they CAN provide deep satisfaction.

Step Three: Never forget that volunteers want a sense of belonging. They may prefer to work independently, but even then, they will want to feel like what they've done contributes to a bigger effort. Corollary: Never forget that volunteers value the informal connections they get to make with other volunteers and staff.

Step Four: Be sure to appreciate volunteers for what they do. And be sure to appreciate volunteers for who they are.

If you follow this four-step attitude readjustment, you are on your way to becoming the sort of volunteer manager that volunteers want to work for. This will make it easier for you to recruit volunteers. And that brings us to....

 

C. Recruiting volunteers

When you are recruiting volunteers, target people whom you think will want to do the volunteer job, people who will be good at the volunteer job, people who will enjoy it. If you can't find anyone who will enjoy the volunteer job, and be good at it, and enjoy it — then you’re going to have to rewrite the job description.

As you consider whom to recruit, consider the life stages of potential volunteers, and target your recruitment accordingly:

  1. People in their mid-to-late teens may be looking for one-year commitments during the school year as they build resumes, and explore vocation and avocation
  2. People in their twenties may be building careers and finding life partners and frequently moving; short-term and one-shot commitments may work better for them; however, they may also be looking for ways to explore vocational and avocational possibilities so long-term serious commitments can also be attractive
  3. People in their thirties and forties may be very focused on career and family, and therefore need flexible schedules and/or short-term commitments; because they tend to be so busy, they will appreciate built-in time to socialize; if they find a volunteer commitment they like they may stick to it for many years
  4. People in their fifties and sixties may find themselves with more free time as they send children out of the house, and/or readjust their work-life balance; they may also find themselves sandwiched between children and aging parents, which may mean they will appreciate built-in time to socialize
  5. People approaching retirement or who have just retired may be looking for major volunteer commitments; this is a good group to target for major volunteer commitments
  6. People in their late sixties through early eighties are often the most productive volunteers in a congregation — especially if their volunteer commitments bring job satisfaction and continued personal growth
  7. People late in life may need pull back from volunteer commitments as they spend more time managing their own health; like people in their twenties they may prefer short-term and one-shot commitments, or commitments they can do from home (phone calling, etc.)

Recruiting volunteers is like being a matchmaker: Give people a chance to explore different volunteer possibilities, and help them find the ones that suit their needs and talents.

What to do when someone says “No”: When someone says “No” to a volunteer opportunity, figure out why they said “No.” Did you present them with the wrong kind of volunteer opportunity? — if so, figure out what kind of volunteer opportunity would suit them. Is it difficult or impossible for them to volunteer right now? — if so, figure out when they might be available to volunteer. Did they say “No” because of a health problem or family crisis? — then for Pete’s sake be sure to tell whoever provides pastoral care in your congregation. But “No” pretty much NEVER means “No, Never, I Hate You” — so figure out what it DOES mean, and then figure out how you can turn that “No” to a “Yes” next time you ask.

 

D. Training volunteers

Once you recruit volunteers, they will all need training. Much training is informal, and informal training can be extremely effective — if you’re intentional about it.

Safety training: All volunteers need basic information about safety. All volunteers should have basic orientation in emergency evacuation procedures, and should know the location of first aid kits, etc. (this can be done with evacuation maps on the walls). Some volunteers need more elaborate training, e.g., volunteers working with legal minors need formal training in child protection. Also make sure volunteers have easy access to sexual harrassment policies, non-discrimination policies, and the like.

In-service training: In-service training is often informal, with other volunteers showing new volunteers how things are done. Therefore, plan your volunteer schedules so that there's plenty of opportunity for new volunteers to interact with more experienced volunteers.

Efficient training: Sometimes you need formal training — actual class-type offerings to train people for specific tasks. E.g., in my congregation we always have a formal training session for all the canvassers who will help out with the annual pledge campaign. Formal volunteer training needs to be efficient, because today's volunteers are time-crunched. But formal training also needs to be fun, so volunteers come out of the training feeling good. Take care planning formal training.

Online training: To increase efficiency, ideally you will always offer formal training online. Online trainings should be scheduled for an hour, and they should always end early. It is best to end early and allow time for socializing. For example: schedule an hour-long training; complete it in 30 minutes; allow 15 minutes for socializing; then end early to give your volunteers a gift of 15 minutes of unscheduled time in their lives.

Self-directed online training: Other volunteer organizations are offering completely self-directed online trainings. If you want to go this route, please recognize that it's actually really challenging to create an excellent training of this sort. Check out FEMA's excellent Emergency Management Institute for examples of GOOD self-directed online trainings. FEMA does a few things well: (1) information presented clearly and with the right amount of detail; (2) they provide logical progression through the different units of the curriculum; (3) training is broken up in time chunks that are manageable for the average person (3 hours); (4) at the end, you get a certificate (recognition), and you get additional privileges in the volunteer organization. Most UU congregations do NOT have the budget or expertise to create this kind of excellent online training. Because of this, most congregations will default to ordinary online meetings to provide training.

Other types of online training: I’ve experimented with offering audio podcasts and video presentations. The audio podcasts were probably most effective, since people could listen to them while doing other things (e.g., commuting). Almost no one looked at the video trainings. Both took a LOT amount of time to do well. So before you invest a lot of time in making audio podcasts or video presentations, be sure it is worth your time.

 

E. Motivating and Caring for Volunteers

Once you’ve recruited and trained your volunteers, how can you keep them on track and motivated? What’s that you say? Well, yes, you can bake cookies for them once a year, but honestly that’s not what most volunteers are looking for.

Provide goals and give regular feedback: Volunteers need and want to know how they’re doing. In his book The One Minute Manager, management guru Ken Blanchard offers a simple but effective framework for providing feedback: one-minute goals, one-minute praisings, and one-minute reprimands. (Blanchard’s book has sold over 15 million copies, so it will be easy to find a copy in your public library or used book store.) If you internalize this framework, you’ll find it easy to reinforce goals and provide regular (even weekly) feedback — and your volunteers will thrive because they get concrete stated goals and regular feedback! Cookies are great, but volunteers would actually prefer to know what they should do and how well they’re doing it.

Provide situational leadership: Another insight from Ken Blanchard is that managers need to learn how to provide situational leadership. This means that you change your management style depending on where the volunteer is in their development. An Enthusiastic Beginner needs to be Directed — a Disillusioned Learner needs to be Coached — a Capable but Cautious Contributor needs to be Supported — and a Self-Reliant Achiever needs to be Delegated. Learn more at Ken Blanchard’s website.

I owe a great debt of thanks to congregational consultant Alice Mann for teaching me about Ken Blanchard’s management techniques. Alice’s coaching not only made me a better manager, but all my direct reports are happier, too.

 

F. Retaining volunteers

How to retain volunteers for the long haul: Every volunteer job has gotta be fun, it’s gotta be meaningful, and it’s gotta be cheerful. Being fun means that it’s a volunteer job someone willingly spends their precious spare time doing. Being meaningful might mean the volunteer job effects profound changes in the volunteer and the world, or it might simple mean that the volunteer sees it as something worth doing. Being cheerful means that it’s a pleasure, even a joy, to come be part of the organization.

How to build a congregational culture of making volunteering normal and rewarding: Volunteering is no longer the norm in the U.S. We are now a consumer culture, where the default is to expect to pay for everything. So you’re going to have to work to make volunteering a normal part of congregational life. Making people feel guilty if they don’t volunteer is not a good way to normalize volunteering. Instead, you’ll want to constantly show how volunteering enriches the volunteer, while also improving the world. That means that as you build a positive culture of volunteerism in your congregation, you’ll want to build into that culture as a bedrock value that all volunteer jobs should be meaningful and rewarding.

The volunteer manager plays a key role in retaining volunteers: If you’re losing volunteers in one area of the congregation, you might look at how that volunteer manager is operating. Another way of saying this: volunteer managers also have to be managed. Train all your volunteer managers in one-minute management techniques, and in situational leadership. And make sure your volunteer managers stay cheerful!

Firing volunteers: Sometimes you have to fire volunteers. When that happens, try to reframe it in your mind and heart like this: OK, maybe you’re firing the volunteer from this position, but you're also releasing that volunteer to do something else they’re better suited for.

Empowering volunteers: If volunteers feel disempowered, you won’t retain them. This means the volunteer managers should NOT micromanage their volunteers. A good way to prevent micromanagement is to train volunteer managers in situational leadership. Beyond that, experienced volunteers should be given wide latitude in their volunteer jobs to meet the stated gaosl of their volunteer position. Respond positively to volunteer-initiated innovation.

 

G. Creating Volunteer Job Descriptions

If you’ve been having trouble recruiting volunteers, consider writing up volunteer job descriptions for the most important volunteer jobs. A volunteer job description can clarify expectations, and help sell the job to prospective volunteers.

Volunteer Job Description Worksheet

Volunteer title: ______

Congregational mission: ______
[Example: “To transform ourselves, each other, and the world.” Or whatever your congregation’s mission statement is.]

Goal of this volunteer position: ______
[List the top-level goals for this volunteer job, i.e., at the end of a year, what do you hope this voluntter will have accomplished? Shorter-term objectives, such as what this volunteer is going to accomplish this week, need not be listed here.]

Time frame: ______
[How many hours per week? Are there specific required hours, or is this a self-scheduled volunteer job?]
[Are there required days? E.g., Sundays, weekdays, etc.]
[Does the volunteer need to do this job on-site, or can it be done from their home?]

Statement of Accountability: ______
[Enter the name and job title of the staff person or committee chair to whom this volunteer position reports. Also list the people who provide major support for this volunteer job, and whom the volunteer will regularly interact with.]
[List other people who can provide additional support, which may include paid staff, other volunteers in the same position, past holder of this volunteer job, etc.]

Responsibilities: ______
[Bulleted list of all tasks and responsibilities.]

Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities: ______
[Bulleted list of required (and desired) knowledge, skills, abilities.]

Benefits: ______
[List what joys and benefits the volunteer might expect from this job.]

Safety
[Think about what safety training this volunteer will need.]
[All volunteers should have some minimal safety training on emergency evacuations and building security]
[Will this volunteer be required to undergo annual criminal background checks (for those working with minors)?]
[Will this volunteer need a credit check and financial screen (for those responsible for finances)?]
[Will this volunteer need a driving violations background check (for those who drive others)?]

To apply for this volunteer position, contact: ______

 

Here’s a sample volunteer job description from the real world, to show you what one might look like when you make it all pretty:

A sample job description, showing how all the information in the template above can be laid out in an attractive manner.