How to Supervise Volunteers

At its most basic, supervising volunteers means supporting their work in order to sustain their activity over time. The apostle Paul calls on leaders “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), which indicates that as we prepare others (equipping), we make them and other believers (the body of Christ) stronger and stronger (building up). The metaphor is both positive and growth oriented. As this metaphor implies, maintaining a healthy body of volunteers requires an ongoing effort of nourishment and support. The more continual the encouragement and support, the stronger the body grows in its ministry to the community.

Setting Expectations. Expectations, defined as “our assumptions about the future – how we anticipate things will go,” can often determine whether the volunteer has a worthwhile experience.[1] Be clear with your volunteers about your expectations. Assume volunteers want to do their best, and that it may be your own failure to communicate that is at fault whenever expectations are not met. Tell the volunteer not just what is to be done, but how it is to be done. Every three to six months, ask, “What do you need from me that you’re not getting?” and also, “What do you wish you know about your volunteer job that you don’t know?”[2]

Evaluation. There are two types of evaluation that must be done: evaluating the ministry itself and evaluating the volunteers as individuals. Evaluation and planning are closely connected. You must develop a mission statement and strategic plan in order to evaluate it later. Did you accomplish what you set out to do, within the timeline you set out and within budget?

(For more detail on planning and evaluating programs, see Kathleen Cahalan, Projects That Matter).[3] Evaluating your volunteers as individuals constitutes the second task, one which allows them to find out how they are doing. This does not have to be a challenging time, but rather can be affirming and celebratory. Performance reviews offer an opportunity for the leader who assigned the job and the volunteer who performs it to talk about how things are going. It is important to schedule such meetings on a regular basis. Marlene Wilson sums up the attitude that leaders should take toward evaluation: “Performance reviews should be nonthreatening, constructive, supportive, flexible, and empowering. The aim: to encourage volunteers to stretch for high standards and determine how the church can help the volunteer achieve his or her goals.”[4]

            Equipping volunteers is a process, not a program. This tool is too complex to be encapsulated neatly in a short space. To go deeper into this subject, see Marlene Wilson, Editor, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series, a six-volume guide on church volunteering or Sue Mallory and Brad Smith, The Equipping Church Handbook.[7] For general resources on working with volunteers, see the website of Energize, Inc., a training, consulting and publishing firm specializing in volunteerism.[8]

[1] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series, Vol. 6 (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, Inc., 2004), 9.

[2] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability,17.

[3] Kathleen A. Cahalan, Projects That Matter: Successful Planning and Evaluation for Religious Organizations (Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2014).

[4] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability,67.

[5] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability,91.

[6] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability,83—92.

[7] Marlene Wilson, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series, Volumes 1—6 (Loveland, CO: Group Publishing, Inc., 2004), Sue Mallory and Brad Smith, The Equipping Church Handbook (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001).


Photo: Nicola Barnett, 8.7.10. Flickr Creative Commons.


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