I’ve had the pleasure of leading quite a few organizations over the years that rely on volunteers to reach their goals. But I’ve also offered my gifts as a volunteer in several organizations within the community. From being on both ends of the spectrum, it has taught me a lot about what volunteers need from those who lead them.
Sadly, I’ve learned some hard lessons, both as a leader and as a volunteer. I’ve noticed people quit supporting an organization for several different reasons.
Some people have unrealistic expectations and are impossible to please. They expect to have the leader’s full attention (this often happens with pastors). They want to be catered to and be in charge of the organization instead of serving it. The set-up hoops the leader much continually jump through, but are never satisfied. There’s nothing you can do to keep these people, and you’ll compromise your mission if you try. You’ll also wear yourself out in the process.
Some come so wounded that they are looking for someone to play their next oppressor. They will project their hurt onto you, and will dramatically play the victim. When people stop pitying them, they leave.
But some come willing to work, only to have their work taken for granted. Leadership forgets that the volunteer’s only paycheck is the “Thank yous” and pats on the back they get from affirming leaders. When leaders fail repeatedly to show appreciation, the workers eventually wise up and go where their work will be valued.
Others perceive the goals of the organization are taking a back seat to the leader at the top. Focus is put on him/her and their success rather than on sharing credit with others on the team. When workers realize they are building a monument to the leader more than helping the organization, they decide their gifts will be better used elsewhere.
Finally, when people are desperate enough for validation, they will put up with mistreatment by leaders. Unkind words and dismissive insults will be tolerated, for a time. But as soon as those people grow a little self-esteem, they will walk away and use their gifts elsewhere. Then the leaders have to find more and more volunteers to take their places, creating a revolving door.
Have you recognized any of these scenarios in the churches or organizations you’ve served?
When leaders notice people have left, we need to discern which one of these categories those people fall into. If it is the first two, our conscience can be clear.
But if it’s the last three, it’s time to make some major changes.
As a leader, it’s important to reach your goals. But those goals only matter when there are people around you to celebrate with. So show appreciation, and you will bring enough people with you so that you’re not the only one left at the party.
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