Volunteer Teams: How I’m Learning to Build Them

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Working at Pine Cove, I get to be involved in a lot of different teams. And I have learned over the years (mostly the hard way) that building a team needs be a huge priority if you are going to accomplish big things. I have also discovered that it is easier to build teams with people who work for me and with me than those that don’t. The people who work for me and with me are easy to find. They are around frequently and can I can arrange a meeting with them fairly easily. They are also [for the most part] bought in and believe in the mission of Pine Cove because they have chosen to work here.  These people make great team members.

However, there is a large group of other people that can also be on my team: volunteers. And for some reason I have neglected building teams of volunteers for a long time. I think it is because I just never thought it was possible. “Who would want to join in and help and not get paid?” I thought. And I have recently realized that I am missing out on huge possibilities. I am currently leading a recruiting effort at one of our biggest colleges that we recruit from and have been forced over the years to work with a lot of volunteers in this process. Much of our recruiting success comes from having our former college staff volunteer their time and effort to help us. It will be from this context that I am drawing most of my lessons. Here are a few things I have learned about creating strong volunteer teams. Especially with those who are in college! 🙂

1. Initiate!
You have to start. There is no other way around it. No one is going to knock on your door. You need to walk out of it. Especially with college students, you must be the first to start the conversation. If you don’t reach out, you are out of sight and out of mind!

2. Teach the why.
Remind the group why you are doing what you are doing. Often. Tell them about your passion and about the mission. In this particular case, we are trying to find and interview 400 Texas A&M college students this week to apply and interview to work at Pine Cove for next summer. We need to find and meet great staff! I need to explain the big picture. I need to talk about how God used Pine Cove to transform my life and how He is using so many others to do the same.  I need to get them to share about their experiences and why they might be passionate about the mission. You share the why, and even better, get them to share the why with each other.

3. Develop unity.
This is something that I missed early on and still forget. I need to create space to develop unity in teams, especially in volunteer teams. For my college volunteer team here at A&M, they are made up of staff from all of our different camps within Pine Cove. This means that they may not know each other. When they think of having a meeting with me and a group of other people they do not know, they will be more hesitant than if they know the group and feel comfortable with each other. Have an event early on (bowling, mini golf, scavenger hunt, etc.) that gives them an experience and time to build friendships. The next time you call a meeting, they will be much more inclined to attend.

4. Create value.
Ask yourself: If I was a potential volunteer, what would it take to get me to be a part? Why would I do this? Really think through these things. It is amazing how that will bring a lot of clarity. Especially for college students, you are competing agains hundreds of other options that they have. Usually the loudest voice wins in their lives right now. Why is it appealing to be a part of your volunteer team? Maybe it is that special event that you facilitate. Maybe it is an exclusive item like a t-shirt that you give them. Maybe it is just good time with you to learn and grow. Really think through this and ask yourself what type of value will they get out of this. This also helps you steer clear of using them for an end goal, but to really bless them for their volunteer work!

5. Encourage accountability.
You can not hold your volunteers accountable. If your volunteer team begins to buy in and care, they will hold each other accountable. Create smaller “teams” of a few people who need each other and will talk to each other more frequently and challenge one another.

6. Believe.
Lastly, you need to believe in what you are doing. You cannot go through the motions with this. Use your passion to encourage and inspire others to action. Do no underestimate your ability to get others to jump in and be a part. You are probably more influential than you give yourself credit for.  If you don’t believe, who will?

Are there any other ways that you have found that are effective in building strong volunteer teams?