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

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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.

People gravitate to where they are valued most. Click To Tweet

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.

Gratitude is the currency of every great leader. Click To Tweet

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.

Leaders, use your ear far more than you use your mouth. Click To Tweet

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.

Make trust, not suspicion, your default. Click To Tweet

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.

High standards motivate high capacity people and high expectations yield higher returns. Click To Tweet

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.

People won't believe they're significant until you give them something significant to do. Click To Tweet

Increase Giving and Fully Fund Your Mission—Regardless of Where You're at Now.

When it comes to money conversations with your church, my guess is that you want the outcome (margin in your budget and a generous congregation) without the process (having to raise funds and talk about it).

The Art of Building a Generous Congregation is a proven method for increasing giving, creating a culture of generosity, and building financial margin at your church... without the stress and awkwardness.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about money right now.
Even if you’ve never seen your congregation fully engage with that kind of conversation.
Even if you’ve tried other methods without success.

And yes, especially, if you could make a bigger difference by increasing your budget by 20%, 30%, or even 40%.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.