Shortly after joining a new church, the council president enthusiastically revealed that I was part of their “volunteer leadership succession plan.” I politely declined and spent the next month working to act less “leader-like” at church. Plus, I figured if I skipped coffee hour, I could dodge the recruiters.
Busy people freak out when asked to lead too much too soon.
Some of your volunteer organization’s best-qualified leaders are convinced they’re too busy to lead. And so the same dedicated generals continue to carry the load.
They’re busy too, but feel stuck … they’ve invested too much to see it all fall apart. It’s not as fun as it used to be, but they’ve got the template. That’s risky too.
How to Recruit Volunteer Leaders
When people lead, they connect more deeply to your mission and to one another. Connection feels good. They stay. Make volunteer leadership easier and more accessible.
- Create Bite-Size Roles – This will annoy the guy who did the whole job for the last 20 years. You’ll need to politely tell him to chill. He needs relief, and it’s a new day. Consider breaking the bigger jobs down into something a strong leader with an already booked life could imagine herself doing.
- Inventory Talents & Skills – You need to know what people are eager to give. Some will be too humble to tell you. I was directing a children’s musical at our church and was thinking I’d have to bother the usual suspects to paint the set. One of the newer members came to me with his portfolio of AMAZING art, as if he were applying for a job. I had to resist the urge to kiss this man I didn’t know. He spent countless hours creating an amazing scene. Bottom line, we didn’t know and would have never have asked.
- Limit Terms – It’s easy to rely on the same people to do the same thing year after year. The shoes become too big to fill, and the unintended side effect is intimidation … not to mention stagnation. Plus, knowing there’s an exit strategy is attractive. Everyone saw how the last guy got stuck.
- Include Young People & Give Them Power – Kids have enormous leadership potential. Scaffold gently, and take some risks. My teenage son gets so annoyed when adults try to micro-manage his leadership efforts. He’s got it … Give kids room and watch the magic.
- Empower Possibility – Volunteer organizations have a habit of asking someone to “lead” and then tell them exactly how it should be done. That will turn off your most creative volunteer leaders. Be willing to accept radically new approaches and new ideas.
- Communicate Opportunities – “Who should we ask to lead this?” is asked by committees all over the world. That question depends on established connections and may overlook the most qualified. Communicate opportunities and cast a broader net.
- Allow Failure – Criticism and gossip will turn away your best leaders FOREVER. They’ve got enough of that crap in their day job. Encourage, develop, and make it okay to experiment and fail forward.