Leading volunteer projects

So your church identified a volunteer opportunity and you prayerfully considered it. After all, you have a lot of experience with the type of project; it matches your skills, talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts. Although it may be overkill, you are sure that you are the right person for the job. You approach the church leadership and offer your skills. You are so convincing and enthusiastic that they chose you to lead the project.

At the head of the project? Haven’t you volunteered to help in some way? What do you know to direct anything? Suddenly you lose your passion, you find yourself doubting the very skills, abilities and gifts that gave you enough confidence to volunteer. This is obviously new territory and leading a group of volunteers is quite different from leading a team at work. It will definitely test your abilities. Well, where to start?

People volunteer for many reasons. They may have skills and enjoy contributing or they may enjoy being in the mix. Maybe they’re stepping in because no one else is volunteering. You may suddenly be in charge and perhaps alone because of the last reason…no one came. Rick Warren wrote in Purpose Driven Life that the reason many churches fail is because the workers don’t work.

Here’s another fact, 90% of businesses fail within the first five years. You think it’s

incredible, 90% of these businesses fail after the next five years. This is sobering, and it has a lot to do with vital project management skills that many leaders lack. These are basic skills that are transferable to any situation. If the churches cannot carry out their projects, they will never survive.

The crucial first step in good project management is to properly identify the need and communicate it. This is your opportunity to create a vision that is aligned with the direction your organization is taking. Seek direction and provide feedback from management or the committee that assigned the work. This vision is essential to understand from the start. If you can’t render it in a relatively simple paragraph, then you and management aren’t on the same score. Therefore, you will not be able to adequately motivate those who will work in your team.

Vision is essential. Unlike in the office, you can’t have an official position, wear a uniform, or be able to command a performance with a ready-made crew. Dr. John Maxwell, best-selling pastor, author and motivational speaker, said leading a group of volunteers is the most difficult of leadership situations. You don’t pay them, they don’t have to work for you, and you have no authority. Although you don’t provide these attributes in the traditional way, you can provide them when you create a vision and communicate. More on that later.

Once you understand the project and have created a big vision, the next step is to recruit the team. Having the right people in place will set you up for success early. Think about it, you took the job because you knew you could do it and you had some passion for it. Why would you want anyone else on your team except those with the same desire? This does not mean refusing all volunteers. All the different members of the body can contribute in some way. It simply means focusing your efforts on actively recruiting quality and qualified leaders. These you know you can count on to carry out their role.

With your vision clear, break the project down into small parts, or something you can manage in subgroups. For example, Mount Zion Baptist Church in Madison, Alabama is celebrating its 150th anniversary. They wanted to throw a big party to mark this milestone. The person leading the project communicated her clear vision and divided the complex project into several different sub-committees that reported to her. The subcommittees addressed needs such as publicity, creating a portable museum, writing a book, creating events for children, cleaning up the campus, and dozens more. She had the right people in place.

How do you recruit competent people? Start by identifying those who are competent and able to lead the subtasks. They are reliable and have influence in those around them. Once identified, let them know that you truly admire their skills in the areas you need and believe they are the people to lead. You may need to approach them several times to get a commitment. Then use them to recruit their own crew. Do you see what you just did? You have recruited a leader who can bring together the people he will work with.

Follow this process until you have recruited enough leaders to handle all major parts of your projects. Offer encouragement and continue to share your vision with the leaders you have recruited. Keep the team focused.

Then, assemble your team. In this crucial meeting, develop a reverse timeline. This timeline begins with the absolute last date you need to complete the project and ends with your next meeting. This will provide structure and direction for future meetings. Agree to make meetings count by only discussing the progress and/or gaps needed to work towards completing the project on time.

Remember that these meetings focus only on the project. You must be the one who applies direction and discipline. Keep in mind that the completion date you have agreed is at least a few weeks before the required date. For example, if your church clean-up day is due to be completed on the first day of the fall Sunday School session on September 15, be sure to have a walk or area inspection before September 7. . This gives you one week to resolve any contract issues for table repairs, fix playground equipment, or order supplies that you may have identified as a result of cleaning.

Invite the pastor or project staff members to the first meeting. Allow them to open in prayer, share their vision and give inspirational words. This will set a positive tone and lend credibility. Again, you have nothing to offer volunteers other than motivation and a desire to succeed. So use whatever you can to make the project equally valuable and exciting for every member.

As mentioned earlier, focus every meeting on the big picture. It is important that everyone involved knows what success looks like and how it will benefit them. As the project manager, encourage subgroup task managers to outline their plan in relation to the project schedule. Prepare them for success by demonstrating how they should organize their work meetings. Their meetings are where they solve problems.

Again, address gaps at each meeting. Whether at the task level or at the project level, solve the problems or set a separate date to solve them. Nothing deflates motivation faster than making a plan and not tracking progress. Suppose at the meeting, the publicity committee reveals that they encountered a likely roadblock in trying to get the church to budget $300 for flyers. To resolve the problem, you agree to speak with the deacons or the budget committee. Suddenly it’s a month later and you haven’t moved on the resolution. You have not followed up and have nothing to report to the committee. It leads to disappointment and sets the standard that allows everyone to be unaccountable. Always follow plans and solutions.

Of course, you will be able to fill in the gaps with a good plan that can be followed with frequency. As a result, you are providing vital feedback to the church. You are sincere about success as well as shortcomings. You also ensure that the report is passed on to the rest of the congregation so that they feel “in the know”. The more people you involve emotionally, the more support you get for the project.

Leading volunteers is a rewarding experience and certainly a challenge to anyone’s leadership abilities. Many people rely on you, even though they are not traditionally accountable to you. However, there is no great mystery to complete complex projects at all levels. Start with the stated vision, picture of success, resolution management, follow-up, and accountability, and you can motivate a committed team to accomplish great things.

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