Editor's note: This blog was written for Checkr by John Killoran, inventor, entrepreneur, and the Chairman of Clover Leaf Solutions. He currently leads Clover Leaf’s investment in Snowball Fundraising, an online fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations.
When you’re building a volunteer ministry, you should look for volunteers who care about your church and your congregation as much as you do. Just because they’re not paid employees doesn’t mean that they can’t make a big impact at your church.
The right volunteer ministry can foster strong connections with the members of your congregation and help further your church’s goals. So how do you make sure you find those volunteers who will truly be committed to your church?
You will probably attract some ideal and not-so-ideal candidates, but your vetting and interviewing process for selecting your volunteers will determine if you make the right choice for your church. Many people don’t think to run background checks on volunteer candidates, but when it comes to your church community, you want to ensure you’re bringing in the right person for the job.
Background checks can do so much more than check for criminal history, and they’re only the first step to building an active and engaged volunteer ministry. All of the stages in the volunteer lifecycle, starting with the background check, will set the tone for how the experience will go. From the selection process to connecting volunteers with your congregation and planning fundraising events, there are lots of ways to get your volunteer ministry more engaged.
Here are some ideas that we’ll cover in more detail:
You want to know as much as possible about a volunteer when you’re entrusting them with the families in your congregation.
Not only will these ideas improve your experience working with your volunteer ministry, but your congregation will appreciate the care you put into selecting the right person to interact with their families.
Pick reliable and dedicated volunteers
It’s a common misconception that you only need to do background checks on employees that you’re hiring full-time. This is not the case, especially when it comes to people who will work so closely with your community, and potentially with children, as a ministry does. There are several reasons to be very diligent in interviewing and performing background checks on volunteers.
First and foremost, you want to be sure this person is who they say they are and that they have the experience they’re claiming to have. While it’s good to know that your candidates check out legally, you’re also going to want to use the background check. A few things you can do with a background check are:
It’s important that your volunteers are truly dedicated, especially when it comes to faith-based work. They’re more likely to be successful in their positions and actively engaged in your community if they really care. That’s why it’s important to interview them in addition to a background check. Learn about past positions they’ve held, both paid and volunteer, to learn about why they might be continuing faith-based work or transitioning to faith-based work.
A background check will not tell you everything you need to know about a person, but it can help inform questions you’ll ask during the interview process. When you set your relationship up with the right tone and mutual understanding from the start, it's much easier to get on the same page about fundraising, events, projects, and more down the line. Checkr’s ebook, Beginner’s Guide to Background Checks for Churches, specifically for faith communities can be a resource for you in your search for volunteers.
Involve volunteers in planning
According to Snowball, some of the biggest roadblocks to growth in a church are a lack of transparency and resistance to change. Involving your volunteer ministry in planning fundraisers will not only bring a wider variety of ideas and perspectives but will also help volunteers feel more connected with the cause.
The more ownership your volunteers feel over a project, the more invested they will be in its success.
Have volunteers help you plan fundraising events and bring ideas to the table. Most importantly, make sure you’re actually listening to their ideas and being receptive. Your volunteers will quickly become disillusioned if you say you want to hear their ideas and then don’t make a sincere effort to consider them. You don’t have to accept every idea, but make sure that volunteers feel heard and that they feel like their contributions are valued.
As you get to know your volunteers better and see where their strengths lie, consider giving them more and more responsibility. Is one of them ready to plan and host an event on their own? Trust that you vetted and trained your volunteers well enough to be able to effectively engage your congregation without your constant oversight. Planning an event will connect them with members of the community who attended and enjoyed the event. Seeing the success of an event that they planned themselves will also give them a sense of pride that will excite and motivate them going forward.
Have volunteers write church communication letters
Another great way to get your ministry more involved with the community and more invested in your church is to have them directly communicate with your congregation. If you’re not already sending out regular church communications, whether through physical letters or by email, starting it up with your new volunteer ministry can be a fun project to build community.
Whether or not you already have a newsletter, letting your volunteer ministry send out regular updates to your congregation keeps them involved. You can discuss upcoming events at the church, people in the community who need prayers, new information or plans, and any other important messages from the ministry.
A fun way to foster volunteers’ connection with the community through communication letters could be to include a section in the regular newsletter where they write about their experience thus far at the church. Some questions they can answer are:
Giving volunteers a space to write more personally will bolster their connection with the church while allowing your congregation to get to know them better as well. Have each member of your ministry take a turn writing one of these letters to the community.
Once your congregation feels comfortable with your new ministry and is used to receiving communications from them, you can ask volunteers to write donation request letters. As unpaid members of the ministry, their request for monetary support might be better received than from a paid member. It can also underscore their faith in and dedication to the church in the eyes of the congregation. If it’s their first time writing donation request letters, Fundraising Letters has lots of templates to help them get started.
Secure volunteer grants
There may be further opportunities for volunteers who are employed outside the ministry to contribute to the church. Ideally, you want your volunteers to also donate to the church to signal their dedication to the rest of the congregation. In the case of monetary donations, you may have heard of employer matching gifts. If you aren’t familiar, this is simply a program that some employers offer where they will match a donation to a nonprofit that their employee has donated to. What you might not have heard of are volunteer grants.
Whether or not your volunteers have already donated money, volunteer grants can help your organization. If your volunteers’ employers offer them, find out if they include donations to faith-based organizations. With volunteer grants, instead of matching a monetary donation, employers donate a certain amount for every X amount of hours of volunteer work completed by their employee. Doing a background check will help you be more informed about the companies that your volunteers work for.
This can be exciting for both you and your volunteers. They can help fund events and improvement projects at the church they love, even if they don’t have a lot of free income to donate.
And of course, this means more funds for you so that you can improve your church and the experience for your congregation.
Like with matching gifts, you’ll need to either use software to check an employer’s policy automatically, or you’ll need to ask your volunteers to find out on their own. If they determine that their employer does offer volunteer grants, the next step will be to make sure their hours are getting tracked accurately. Many employers require timesheets in order for volunteers to be eligible for volunteer grants.
Whether you’re selecting a new volunteer ministry and need to run background checks on candidates or trying to improve the experience of your current volunteers, you’ll be ready to start implementing some changes with these ideas.
The most important thing to remember is to always put your church and congregation first. Practicing good listening, keeping an open mind, and encouraging your volunteers to take initiative and ownership of projects will go a long way to build community and help you reach your goals as a church.