What Does A Healthy Volunteer Culture Look Like?

Now there is a loaded question.

It is one of the questions that I have been asked most frequently throughout my career.

My response is simple. You have to create a volunteer culture of people who are owners and not renters. “Owners not Renters,” you ask? What does that mean?

My wife Katelyn and I rent a condo in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Fla. We have rented for almost seven years. She refuses to do anything to the apartment aesthetically. She won’t paint the walls, change the bathroom fixtures, get new lighting, or update the flooring. She refuses to invest money in something that isn’t hers. She understands that if she invests money in this property there will be no return on her investment—so why would she do anything to it? Katelyn is a renter.

See, owners think differently about their homes. Owners generally invest more money up front so their investment (2008 aside) will pay off when they choose to sell the property. Owners care about the interiors of their homes and want them to be fantastically decorated—oftentimes ready to receive guests when they arrive. Owners go the extra mile—they care more, do more, execute more. And generally do all of those things with more passion than a renter does.

Here’s the point: The same principles related to owning and renting a home can be applied to our volunteering and how we approach it.

I have led volunteers my entire adult life. When I was 18 years old I began working part-time at a church and I have never looked back. Working with and leading volunteers has become a passion of mine, so much so that it is oftentimes difficult for me to find the words to describe how much I love it.

Throughout my career, I have seen volunteers that have come from all over the spectrum. I have seen a lot of owners—and a lot of renters. I have seen volunteers who show up for three weeks and never show up again . . . regardless of the position description they signed saying they would be there for the next 12 months. Those volunteers are renters. On the other hand, I have seen volunteers who commit to invest in the lives of a few each week and these people have showed up consistently, on time, prepared. They do this because they are passionate about what they are doing—believing that the best way for a kid or teenager to know God is to know someone who knows God. Those volunteers are owners.

The healthiest volunteer cultures that I have seen have a large population of owners who are volunteering.

The volunteer cultures with owners have volunteers who . . .
Pick up trash when they see it on the floor
Show up early for the pre-service meeting
Wear the T-shirt they are encouraged to wear
Didn’t sign up to serve because they were interested in meeting their future spouse
Believe deeply in what they are doing.

So deeply that they lose sleep about the kids or teenagers they lead.
So deeply that when the thought of coming in to serve on a weekend enters their mind their heart starts to beat a little bit faster.
So deeply that they post about how much they love doing what they do on their social media accounts.
So deeply that they seek help from local therapy to get through the volunteering.

Kidding. Okay, maybe I’m not.

When a volunteer culture consists of volunteers who understand what it means to own what they are doing it becomes a healthy environment where people are united around a common vision, leaders are supported, and a whole lot of quirky fun can be had.

Adam Duckworth is the Lead Communicator at Downtown Harbor Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Adam recently made the transition to this role after spending almost 15 years in family ministry. He is also the author of Not Normal – 7 Quirks of Incredible Volunteers and Leading Not Normal Volunteers: A Not Normal Guide for Leading Your Incredible, Quirky Team alongside Sue Miller.

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