New Rule for Properly Engaging Volunteers

We’ve all heard about the 80/20 rule in fundraising as well as volunteering—80% of the work or funding is given by 20% of the people. Unfortunately, that rule has become outdated, and should now be called the 90/10 rule.

This is especially problematic in congregations. We all know the statistics: mainline protestant congregations are decreasing in size and giving. Congregational lay leadership and clergy have a hard time finding volunteers for any task, much less the important ones of church council and stewardship committees. Attendance is down as a result of the diminishing influence of the church in family life.

We know that engagement breeds involvement, which in turn causes devotion and investment. The most involved volunteers, whether in a congregation or in a nonprofit, are the very best donors and donor prospects.

When I work with congregations, I hear similar stories: “I invite visitors and new members to join us, but no one ever does.” As a two-month visitor to a congregation in northern Colorado, I recently experienced the best way to invite and engage visitors and members in a congregation.

Dave is a member of a Lutheran church in Ft. Collins. Dave plays guitar in the praise band at church every week. When I began attending with my family, Dave and I struck up a number of conversations. At one point, he found out I played guitar (only church-camp quality guitar, by the way). He did not say “you should join us some time.”Dave asked me if I would be willing to play with the band. I said I would maybe feel comfortable doing that after much rehearsal. When I got home, Dave had already emailed me the music and the dates the band would be playing. He then got in touch with me to schedule one-on-one practice with him between services the next week.

What Dave did differently was he a) invited me, b) followed up immediately with specifics via email and c) called to confirm my involvement.

When we want visitors or members to get more involved, we have to invite them to join us in a specific task, provide the necessary tools and confirm their involvement. We are then responsible to make the event a great experience for the volunteer. Then do it all again. Soon, our volunteers will be inviting others in the same way and we will grow engaged and dedicated members. Their financial investment will follow.