4 Keys to Equipping Volunteers

Success in volunteer service requires encouragement and support. This is often called equipping. A well-designed system has the potential not only to sustain recruits over the long term but to develop their capacity for leadership.  Here are four keys to effective equipping.

  1. Apprentice Your Volunteers.  In the Middle Ages, artisans such as blacksmiths and cobblers trained upstarts using an intentional process that typically lasted seven years. The apprentice served alongside the master, who provided instruction and guidance. The apprentice learned by doing. The effect here is that of the slow cooker or crock-pot, not the microwave oven. Demonstrate how it’s done, and let it simmer.
  2. Use a Team Structure.  The problem with the solo approach is that we end up doing too much of the work ourselves. If you feel stretched too thin, you may have a “span of control” issue: too many activities, not enough hands on deck. If you are launching a new project without a team in place, it risks collapse. If you operate a long-standing project, and your support team has dwindled, you risk burnout. In either case, pay close attention to forming and sustaining the team.
  3. Train for the Work.  Once you have a team in place, think about getting trained together by attending a conference, watching a training video, or visiting a local organization that does what you do. Observe and ask questions. What worked? What didn’t?
  4.  Develop Leaders.  Beyond simple training, which focuses on a task to be done, leadership development aims at creating a pathway of personal and professional growth for volunteers. I know of a food pantry that recruits volunteers from its customers and trains them to stock shelves or clean the floor. If they show interest and leadership potential, the volunteer is invited to serve on the board. With proper guidance, this customer-turned-volunteer might develop into a trusted community leader.

Source:  Dan Entwistle, Recruiting Volunteers (Nashville: Abingdon, 2007), 39-50.

Photo:  Hans Splinter, Medieval Blacksmith, 8.8.2010.  Flickr Creative Commons.

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