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Volunteer Roles: Your Trash, Another's Treasure

By Renee Ruchotzke

How do we find volunteers for the different jobs in our congregation?  How do we fire a volunteer who doesn't perform?  How do we renew a committee stuck in stale ideas and that repels any new committee members and their potential energy? Volunteer recruitment and dealing with volunteers who don't follow through was the topic of an "Open Space" time during last week's Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI.  There, Bonnie Blosser, the Director of Lifelong Learning at The Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, shared her framing of how she works with volunteers, and what follows is from that conversation.

One of the not-so-secret secrets of volunteer recruitment is to find out what each member's gifts and passions are and help them find a role that feeds them.  This doesn't necessarily mean that you match them with something they are already good at (recruiting a grade school teacher to teach RE for example).  It may be something that they are interested in pursuing that might seem to be a bit of a stretch (e.g. asking the engineer about serving on the membership committee).  If someone is being fed--i.e. being energized by what they are doing--they are less likely to burn out or disappoint.

The flip side of this is that if someone is filling a volunteer role out of a sense of duty or as a favor, and that role or task drains their energy, they are likely to disappoint or burn out.  This is where Bonnie's framing comes in. When she has a volunteer who she suspects is in a role or has a task that is draining, she has a conversation with them that goes somewhat like this:

I notice that doing "A" seems to make you light up, while doing "B" seems to feel like a real burden to you.  I know that "A" is not everyone's cup of tea, so your doing it and loving doing it is a great gift. I know of a couple of people who would find great joy in doing "B" similar to what you feel doing "A."  Would you be willing to let go of "B" so that someone else who might love it could pick it up? Or... If we left "B" undone for a while, it's likely that someone who might enjoy doing it would offer to pick it up and bring their own creativity to it, similar to what you are experiencing with "A."

Like the old saying goes:  One person's trash is another one's treasure.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. As program manager for Leadership Development, she is responsible for providing consultation, programming and training material (including webinars and videos) on...

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.