As a founding pastor of a church plant in North Carolina during the 1990s — managing more than 200 volunteers every week — a key component of success was tracking their interests, skills and spiritual gifts. Then, I needed to be able to apply that information to finding volunteer opportunities for all of them… all while managing schedules and avoiding volunteer burnout.
By Mark Kitts
At the time, this meant using early versions of Microsoft Excel or Access, or an early church database system.
The lack of comprehensive tools to handle this challenge served as inspiration to create our company’s ChMS product. As a result, the way church leaders can find and acquire volunteers today is quite a bit different.
Key volunteer management areas
Many of the innovation-drivers at our company are the areas where, in my experience, churches frequently hurt with regard to managing and assigning volunteers. Churches of all sizes struggle with this, but larger churches (1,000-plus in average attendance) can be crippled if they are missing solid volunteer management. To this end, a few key areas any ChMS should address are:
- Inviting people to serve
- Cataloging and reporting on areas of interest, skills and gifts
- Easily scheduling events and volunteers easily
- Sending reminders for events.
Inviting volunteers to serve is one of the classic challenges where we once relied on one really outgoing person for recruiting. By using ChMS that offers communication options tailored to the individual — combined with an integrated web forms tool — it’s possible to reach out to potential volunteers in a way that makes it easy and convenient to respond to the invitation and sign up.
Personalized email invitations for specific volunteer positions are ideal, especially when you can filter your list of potential volunteers based on skills, interests and even spiritual gifts.
Ideally, you should be able to invite your volunteers to serve as you are creating your event and have the ability to go back later and add / edit what positions are needed. You should be able to effectively manage both the event and your volunteers within the same interface.
Any system you consider should be capable of sending reminders to your volunteers so they remember that they have signed up, but also arrive on time and ready for any event.
What can you do if you have an older ChMS (or none at all)?
This is a challenge many church planters and small-church leaders face. Perhaps the church bought an early ChMS that serves more as a simple church database and offers little in regards to customized reporting. It’s possible that someone never looked beyond low-cost-of-ownership tools, such as Microsoft Excel or Access. But, there is hope — even in cases where resources are limited.
With legacy ChMS and database systems and tools (Microsoft Office, for example), you must look for opportunities to create items such as custom data fields. Those fields allow you to store important information — importantly, a member’s areas of interest, special skills and spiritual gifts. Leveraging this data is critical for placing volunteers in the right roles and avoiding burnout.
The right tools make all the difference
Whether you are using a newer ChMS and haven’t used volunteer management, or you are limited to using a legacy system, your goal should be the same: to get the most out of either tool while keeping your volunteers from burning out.
Creating relational systems that link volunteers to their skills and interests is pivotal. This will help keep your current volunteers happy — and it might even bring some former volunteers back out of “retirement.”
Mark Kitts is Lead Software Architect at Elexio Church Software and lives in North Carolina.