What if my volunteer sucks?
Back in the day, I had a camera operator. (We had one video camera.) He should have been the perfect volunteer. He was young, sharp, and available. Unfortunately, he sucked.
I was sure he was a great person deep down. But he consistently showed up a few minutes late each Sunday. Then when I looked at the footage this kid was capturing, my pastor nearly always walked out of the frame. Come on, kid. You have one job!
I tried outlawing cell phones at that position. But he still found a way to get distracted.
I was ready to fire him – yes, you can fire a volunteer – but before I did, I realized I might have not tried everything possible to deal with the situation.
I’ve found, when a volunteer sucks, there are usually three reasons for it. And those reasons have nothing to do with incompetence. They’re actually things you can control.
Here are three reasons your volunteer might suck:
Your training sucks.
I first realized I might have failed to teach my camera operator what the position was all about. I realized I’d never told him his one job. So I first trained him.
I taught him good framing. I taught him how to smoothly follow my pastor as he walked. How to use our tripod. How to use the camera controls. I even made a fun game where I taped a mustache to the monitor so he could at least enjoy the entertainment during his task.
It turns out, that wasn’t his problem. But it definitely got me closer to what I was looking for from him.
They haven’t connected purpose to their task.
Next, I realized he didn’t have a vision for what his role really accomplished. He thought he was just operating a camera. He didn’t realize that hundreds of people were watching these videos he made. More than that, lives were being changed through the sermon people were watching.
I cast the vision for him. I showed him the statistics. I connected the purpose with the task. He wasn’t operating a camera; he was a missionary.
Again, that helped. But it turned out that wasn’t the real reason he sucked.
They’re in the wrong role.
Finally, I just asked him if he enjoyed his role as a camera operator. He replied, “You know, to be honest, it’s kind of boring. I feel like I want something a bit more fast-paced. This just doesn’t make me come alive.”
I realized he was in the wrong role. He wanted to do well. He was intelligent. He had all the skills now. But it wasn’t within his aptitude. I wasn’t using him to his fullest capacity. He was just afraid of telling me. He knew I had a need and he was able to help out. And he didn’t want to discourage me or leave me in a tough situation.
So I talked to him. I asked him questions. I found the right fit for him within the church (turns out, it was still in the tech ministry under my care). Then he flourished in that new position.
It turns out he wasn’t a horrible volunteer; he was a great volunteer in the wrong role.
I learned to be open handed when it comes to my volunteers. I had to be willing to lose some or move them around to a role they were better suited for. This meant constantly recruiting new people so I wasn’t coming from a place of desperation when I dealt with volunteers.
One note about volunteer recruitment: The best people won’t have tons of availability. Don’t just wait for the people who come to you. Look for the person you think would be an excellent complement to your team, then approach them to join. You might get some no’s. But you also might be surprised that people are willing to make time in their schedule to be part of something bigger than themselves.
If you’re experiencing a volunteer that sucks, don’t be so quick to dismiss them. Review your own processes. Make sure you’ve done all you can to help them succeed in their role. Believe it or not, your volunteer does want to be effective.
Do all you can to help them get there. Remember their value to the organization, and ultimately their value to God.
Creative Entrepreneur / Writer
San Antonio, TX
Jonathan is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of Created for More —a devotional for creatives and Unwelcome —a book helping churches become more welcoming. Jonathan is also the creator of Sunday|Magazine, ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com, and SeriesIdeas.com. His latest e-book, “Set the Stage: a Manifesto for Church Stage Design” is available now. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas roasting his own coffee beans enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina.