I've heard it said many times..."If you have to spend money on a volunteer to appreciate them, then you don't really have them. If they're bought into your vision, a simple thank you will do."
I do agree that I don't want my volunteers to be motivated by material things. Ultimately, I want them to believe in what we're doing, I want them to believe they are changing children and families' lives, and I want them to believe that it's their duty and honor to invest in the next generation. I want them to want to serve kids and their families.
I want them to know they are loved by us. I want them to know they are my teammates - that they play a vital role in our ministry. I want them to know that as much as I think about investing in preschoolers and their parents, I'm also spending time thinking about how I can invest in them...and that I don't just take them for granted.
Last year we began doing Volunteer Appreciation events. We try to have these 3 elements in our events - eating, training, and fun.
1. Eating - This one is slightly self explanatory. I mean, churches definitely have the eating together thing down...especially us Baptist churches. All kidding aside, I do think there is something great that happens when you put people around a table together sharing a meal. You share more than a meal...you share life. Volunteers begin to get to know each other better. They build community. They build friendships. Volunteers who feel like they have friends/allies/team members stick around your ministry.
"They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts," Acts 2:46b
2. Training - This could be considered the "downer" of the evening. Who wants to hear all the things they're doing wrong? Instead, we try to reclaim the high ground, remind them of what the "win" is and let them know again and again the impact their serving is making on the families in our ministry. Do we have to say some hard things too? Of course, they will always be things we all have to improve on, but we try to build in as much positive as we can. We also "train" them on anything new we have coming up. At our last training, we walked through the Lead Small App from our curriculum providers, Orange. We spoke to them about the advantage to using this new app and how it was going to make it easier on them with weekly preparation and serving. We even made them get out their phones and install and subscribe to the app while we had them "captive".
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," 2 Timothy 2:16
3. Fun - I want our volunteers to laugh together. There's camaraderie in laughter. We try to add an element of fun to our event. The "fun" factor has been different for all of our events (sometimes, budget has dictated what we did for our fun). One time we all bowled together. One time we had a "Mexican Fiesta" at one of our volunteer's home and played games and had a piñata. At our last volunteer event, we held it at a restaurant in their back room. After the eating and training portion was over, we had them break off into teams and do trivia. It was a blast!
"Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The LORD has done great things for them.'" Psalm 126:2
I think the danger we as leaders can get into is thinking...How can I use ALL my resources to invest into the children/families on Sunday mornings? And most of our resources should go to that. Thats's the business we're in. But, I want my volunteers to know they are worth investing in too. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. We as ministry leaders can't do it all. Our volunteers are the hands and feet that we as leaders can't be to everyone.
"I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always praywith joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:3-6