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How to Attract and Keep Amazing Volunteers You Can’t Afford to Pay

amazing volunteers

You’ve probably fallen into the trap of thinking that the only way you can attract and keep great people is to pay them.

It’s a natural way to think when you’re in leadership.

First of all, that’s not true. And second, if you lead a church, there’s no way that will ever happen.

Every church and almost every non-profit runs off volunteers.

Connexus, the church in which I serve, relies on hundreds of volunteers each week to do some incredibly demanding roles. How do you keep great people engaged?

Whether it’s staff or volunteers, you want to keep people engaged, motivated and committed to a common cause. While there are a variety of ways to do that, there’s one truth underneath it all that often gets missed.

Here’s how I believe people behave:

People gravitate to where they are valued most.

If you want to attract and keep great people, value them.

Think about it. You behave this way.

Your best friends are the people who make you feel valued.

The family members you talk to most regularly are the ones who make you feel most valued.

You’ve left jobs because you didn’t feel like you were valued.

You willingly give your time to organizations or causes where you feel like you are appreciated and making a contribution.

If you do this, why would your team be any different?

So, as a leader, how can you make sure you are adequately valuing people, especially if you can’t pay them?

Even for paid employees, once you reach a certain salary level, money alone is not a motivator. If your entire strategy is based on compensation, you will not make people feel valued. Many well-paid people hate their jobs. And it’s of zero help when dealing with volunteers.

You might think the key is to say thanks a lot.

That’s a great start, especially in a world in which most people feel underappreciated. Gratitude is the currency of every great leader.

Never underestimate the power of a hand-written thank you note or the power of looking someone in the eye and commending them for something specific they’ve done. Do it daily.

Yet people still walk away from their jobs and roles after being thanked for what they’ve done. So thank people, but don’t stop there.

How do you really value people?

I think there are at least five things leaders can do to help people feel like they are valued. And they’re free. All they require is your attitude and heart as a leader.

Here are five non-financial keys to attracting and keeping great leaders:

5 Non-Financial Ways To Value Leaders

1. Listen 

Everyone wants to be heard. One of the best ways you can value people is to listen.

Ask them questions. Don’t jump to conclusions. Look them in the eye. Maintain undistracted focus. Take notes. Use your ears far more than you use your mouth.

This can be a behavior you learn. I know because I’m a natural talker (plus, I have convinced myself I can solve anyone’s problem in 20 seconds).

Practice the skill of listening. People will feel valued because you actually are valuing them.

2. Trust

Trust people. Sure, I know you’ve been burned before. Join the line.

I’m not talking about blind trust, but I am talking about trusting people when they’ve shown even an inkling of character, skill, and aptitude. Most people want to be believed in. You do.

And when you trust leaders, the best ones will rise to the occasion. They might even rise beyond it. And the others, well, you can deal with that when it happens. In the meantime, don’t punish the good people because you’ve run into a few bad ones.

Make trust, not suspicion, your default.

3. Respect 

When your talent or contribution is not respected or valued, it’s hard to want to stay. So respect the leaders you lead.

Give them your time, your attention, your ear, your heart and your gratitude. Men, in particular, crave respect.

You show respect by thanking people, listening to them, letting them make decisions and holding them accountable.

4. Challenge

This one’s a bit counter-intuitive, but make sure you have high expectations of the people you lead.

Challenge them! High standards motivate high capacity people. It calls out their best.

Very few high capacity leaders want to give their lives to something uninspiring or insignificant. High expectations usually yield higher returns.

5. Empower

Give them something significant to do. As my friend Reggie Joiner says, people will not believe they are significant until you give them something significant to do.

Empower them. Give them something real. If you only have small tasks, you will attract small leaders.

Many leaders fear empowering the team because they’re afraid of leaders going rogue.

But if you really want to see your ministry grow, you need to have an empowered and aligned church. In my Breaking 200 course, I teach an entire session on how to align and empower your team, based on this simple formula: Clarity + Simplicity + Alignment = Scalability. You can learn more about the Breaking 200 course and get access for you and your team here.

When you start to give away significant tasks and authority, you will attract the best and brightest leaders.

What Would You Add?

These are five meaningful ways to value people. 

If you value them, guess where they’ll likely hang out? (With you.)

What would you add to this list? Scroll down and leave a comment!

How to Attract and Keep Amazing Volunteers You Can’t Afford to Pay


  1. Tom Patton on December 2, 2017 at 10:28 am

    Good stuff! I worked as volunteer for a saint who has passed last year. He had a knack for having large compliment of volunteers. I think this success came from his priorities. Pray, care, encourage, challenge. He was able to develop an atmosphere of fun, while always demanding excellence. This was all based upon scripture ( God’s word ) so he blessed us all as we helped Him to bless our church.

  2. Leisa on November 29, 2017 at 8:02 am

    Pray for them by name! Ask God to show you ways, you can minister and disciple them when needed. Ask the person how you can pray for them and their family, then importantly follow up with them on their prayer request. Show them you care and love them!

  3. David Robbins on November 28, 2017 at 8:48 am

    I would add that the best way to value a volunteer is to disciple them. I know that if you are in a large setting this may seem difficult, but as Andy Stanley says, do for one what you wish you could do for all. Make it a matter of prayer, ask the Lord who you should pour into as a discipler. As a Pastor, your greatest mojo may be tied to your ability to help individuals become better disciples.

  4. Jessica Williams on November 28, 2017 at 2:47 am

    I agree with adding celebration of volunteers to your list. I believe it’s a great gesture that goes a long way in showing appreciation with occasional gift cards and or dining out/appreciation meals. It’s a very small investment to make in lieu of salaries to people who give so much of themselves.

  5. Trevor Stearns on November 21, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Curious why CELEBRATE did not make the list. Is that maybe because high-capacity leaders are less interested in celebrating the wins along the way. I have always found this to be important in every level of leadership from home, to field, to business and classroom, and church life in general. I have also found that contrary to what most people think we really have lost the art of celebrating well.

  6. Ron on November 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Great list. I would also add Celebrate them. Find a way to celebrate volunteers and their contributions. Part of building appreciation and team.

  7. Donna J Gerold on November 21, 2017 at 7:48 am

    “Men, in particular, crave respect.” Shame on you. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt that you wrote this without thinking about what you were writing.

    • Barry Lucas on November 21, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      I promise I am not being provocative in asking this; I really am trying to understand why the author should feel ashamed. What was so objectionable about that statement?

      • Gail on November 24, 2017 at 12:00 pm

        I see no reason for shame, but it’s not true that men value respect more women do, especially women with leadership gifts. This kind of advice perpetuates the stereotype.

  8. Joseph Iji on November 21, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Great teaching. Am blessed by it and it has enhanced my ministry.

  9. pradeep ivon on November 21, 2017 at 2:40 am

    very helpful article not just for volunteers in church etc. but for any organization looking for good employees who will stay on.

  10. Earl Koch on November 20, 2017 at 4:49 pm

    Great list! Something to add. What happens when a volunteer messes up? (And they will, because they’re people just like us!) Here are three easy to remember (but harder to live out) points to make with them, like I used to tell my three now-middle-aged children… #1 Admit it. #2 Own it. #3 Learn from it. Mistakes and disasters happen less frequently if we all can learn these three actions.

  11. Keith Miller on November 20, 2017 at 10:07 am


    Nothing really to add to your list. So thankful for your tips. Just to say in valuing people I have found to challenge them to think outside the box. This seems to value them to the point that they see the need to stay connected. They have something to speak into what is already in place. To give them value to add or enhance what they are already seeing. I have found so many volunteers working in other areas of our community that come up with ideas that are helpful to add to what we have in place. Just a thought.

  12. Betsy Riggan on November 20, 2017 at 10:01 am

    I agree with all of these practices. However, I would add another comment to #5. When you empower..know what this looks like. Its not giving them a significant leadership opportunity and saying I want you to use your gifts..and then walking away and letting them figure out everything. Be sure that you have given your volunteers what they need to succeed.

  13. Tim Rabara on November 20, 2017 at 9:53 am

    Great list Carey! I’d only add maybe something along the lines of:

    FAMILY LIFE- ensure those you lead time and time again that their wives, children and families are more important than the organizational goals being met. Be sensitive to family concerns such as: doctor’s appointments, children’s school activities or sports. This shows that your value not just their contributions to the goals, but more importantly you value them as a person. This is especially important for ministry leaders, but it also goes a long way for all leaders to put into practice.

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