6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

The following is a best-of post that I hope helps you lead your volunteer teams better than ever before. It’s a reprint of the most popular volunteer post I’ve written on my blog.

If you’re interested in taking your volunteer development to a new level, don’t miss the Get More Volunteers Online Training Event, Tuesday November 4th beginning at 1:00 EST.  I’ll be participating along with other leaders, and best of all it’s completely free. Just click on this link to register now for free.

My guess is you could use a few more high capacity volunteers.

You know—the kind of volunteer who:

Can attract other capable leaders

Doesn’t drop balls

Loves a challenge

Constantly overperforms

I mean, who doesn’t want more of those people on their team?

But today in many churches, and in many not-for-profits, staff leaders are wondering where the high capacity leaders have gone.

The paradox is they’re probably in your organization. They might be attending, and some are helping to fund it.

But so many aren’t serving, and even if they step up, far too many high capacity people walk away way too soon.?



6 Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers

I know this is a bit of a tough post. But you need to know I’ve made every single of of these mistakes over my time in leadership.

So if your response to reading this is “oh no”…just know that if you make some changes you’ll find yourself in a very different (and better) place.

There are at least 6 reasons high capacity volunteers never join a team or leave it early.


1. The challenge isn’t big enough

It’s really quite simple. People with significant leadership gifting respond best to significant challenges.

Under challenge them and they won’t stay engaged for long.

So many church staff and non-profit staff I talk to are worried about giving their volunteers too much responsibility. Newsflash: that might be exactly why you don’t have enough high capacity volunteers (not to mention a thousand other problems on your team.)

2. Your vision, mission and strategy are fuzzy

People want to serve a cause bigger than themselves. And actually, that’s what the church (and most non-profits) are all about: causes bigger than ourselves.

But often our mission, vision and strategy are fuzzy.

Mission is the what.

Vision is the why.

Strategy is the how.

Even if they’re written on a piece of paper most people functionally can’t tell you what they are.

That’s a tragedy. The motivation for volunteers IS the vision. It’s the why behind the what.

And—get this—the church has the best vision and mission on planet earth. So why on earth do we hide it?

Quite seriously, helping people discover the God who created them and the Saviour is the most rewarding work volunteers will do in their lives, regardless of what they get paid to do their day jobs.

3. You’re disorganized

Few things are more demotivating than giving up your time as a volunteer only to discover the staff person responsible didn’t set you up to succeed.

The tools they need to do the job are missing or incomplete. The rest of the team is late.

Or maybe—worse—they’re not even 100% sure what they are supposed to do or how they are supposed to do it.

You can always find people who will put up with disorganization, but many more will simply give up.

And high capacity people will make a beeline for the door.

4. You let people off the hook too easily

I know I know.

They’re volunteers. And you can’t hold a volunteer accountable can you?

Wrong. You most certainly can. And should. For everyone’s sake.

If a volunteer is late, it’s really no different than if a staff member is late. Sure, you want to address it kindly, but you need to address it.

Again, few things are more disheartening for a motivated volunteer than if they did their homework and showed up early only to find that others didn’t, and then, to top it all off, have a staff person excuse the behaviour of the people who didn’t pull their weight with lines like “it’s okay, we’re just glad you’re here”.

The high capacity leader dies a thousand deaths every time he or she hears a staff person utter those words. And then, almost 100% of the time, the organized, highly motivated exactly-the-kind-of-leader-you-were-hoping-to-keep will leave, and the slackers will stay.

5. You’re not giving them enough personal attention

Another big challenge for church leaders and non-profit staff is the innate desire most of us feel to treat all people ‘equally’.

You don’t want to play favourites, so everyone should be treated the same.

Again, wrong.

The church should always be a loving organization. But certain people require more of your time and attention.

Unless you’re intentional, you’ll end up spending most of your time with your most problematic people and the least amount of time with your highest performing people.

Flip that.

Cut ties with the low performers and spend most of your time walking alongside and developing your best leaders.

And before you think that’s completely unfair, just know your entire team will thank you for it because you’ll end up with a strong team.

By the way, Jesus did this too. He had crowds of disciples, but then a group of 72, an inner group of 12, an inner circle of 3 and placed his greatest investment in 1 (Peter).

6.  You don’t have enough other high capacity volunteers around them

It’s never fun to lead alone.

As soon as you find a high capacity volunteer, your next step should be to recruit more and move others alongside them.

Nurture this team. Build into them. Take them for lunch. Take them with you when you travel. Do life with them (again, I think Jesus modeled this pattern).

Sadly, many leaders don’t do this, and high capacity leaders once again walk away, demotivated.

Those are 6 reasons I see in the church and organizations around me

Want more? Sign up for the Get More Volunteers Online Training Event, Tuesday November 4th beginning at 1:00 EST now for free!


  1. mary mugo on September 3, 2019 at 7:14 am

    This is wonderful I lead a congregation and this is just what I needed at the plateau period. Thanks a lot

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 4, 2019 at 9:53 am

      Glad to be able to help!

  2. Kathy on January 7, 2015 at 11:29 pm

    Can I add, don’t treat me like a commodity? I want to be valued for who I am, not just what I can offer due to my age, experience and gifting.

  3. […] 6 Very Avoidable Reasons You’re Losing High Capacity Volunteers by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Brent Dumler on November 3, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Carey, I appreciate all of these points…and especially #1. The absence of enough challenge is something I’ve seen too many times. It’s true that we don’t want to burden them with too much. That’s why communication is key here. Not only do we need to honestly ask them how they feel about stepping up the challenge, but they need to feel supported and safe to be honest with us in their replies. When we assume a task might be too much for a leader to handle, they will often assume we don’t believe in them enough to tackle it.

  5. Geno Olison on November 1, 2014 at 10:52 am

    This is gold, brother. Keep it coming.

  6. Nash on October 31, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    This was such a needed read for me as I step into a leadership position over children, youth, and families. I have been part of many ministries, some which were great at recruiting and retaining high capacity volunteers and others which were not. After reading I could pin point exactly why some ministries were better than others. Thank you for this post!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.