The Role of Encouragement in Keeping Volunteers

My dentist has a plaque on his wall that reads, “You don’t have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!” I hate flossing, but I get the point.

There’s a similar principle in leading volunteers, “You don’t have to encourage/affirm all your volunteers, just the ones you want to keep!”

Most leaders understand how vital the principle of affirmation is when leading volunteers. Good leaders already know this!

Volunteers are not serving for the money (duh, that’s why they’re called “volunteers”). They have their own reasons for why they volunteer their time (I believe the two biggest reasons are because they either feel called, or someone asked them), they have their own inner-motivation that connects to their “why.” But a good leader can add to a volunteer’s longevity by delivering some timely encouragement.

Beyond your own delivery of encouragement, I would encourage you to use (what I’ve termed) “outside” encouragement. This is specific encouragement that comes from outside of you as the primary leader. You facilitate it. Others deploy it.

Think about this: If I encourage you weekly, chances are you’ll be thankful (“Wow, Doug sure is nice to me! He’s always encouraging.”) But after several months of this encouragement, it can begin to lose some of it’s power. So, what if I ask a parent to encourage you? Now, there’s a new voice, using different words, with a unique tone, and a different motive. That new “outside” encouragement can become very meaningful.

My wife is a volunteer leader of small group of high school girls. A student gave her the following note:


Thank you so much for being such a great leader! I know that dealing with us teenagers probably isn’t the first thing you want to do every Wednesday, but I really do appreciate it! Thank you for being such a godly woman and a great person that our entire group can look up to! I’m so glad you joined this group! Merry Christmas!

The note was simple, thoughtful, and definitely powerful. Some of the other girls gave her Starbucks cards for Christmas, small gifts, etc., but it was the note that was the most meaningful. She feels valued by the youth pastor, but because this note was from a student, it was priceless. Wise youth pastors facilitate this type of leadership. And it’s not difficult. In fact, it’s easy and powerful!

As a leader, you hold the power to keep your volunteers affirmed. In addition to your encouragement (I’m assuming you do that already), you can direct “outside” encouragement by asking students, parents… even your senior pastor to write an occasional note of appreciation. The power of well-placed words can go a long way to keeping your ministry volunteers in place.

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Doug Fields

Doug Fields is the senior director of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of leaders, teenagers and parents each year. He’s also the author/co-author of 50+ books including: Parenting in a Screen Saturated Culture; Intentional Parenting; 7 Ways to be Her Hero – the One Your Wife Has Been Waiting For; and To Have and To Hold. In addition to Doug’s speaking and writing, he is also the co-founder of and the youth pastor at Mariners Church. Doug has been married for more than 35 years to his wonderful wife Cathy, and they live near their 3 married children and 3 grandchildren in Southern California.

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