Published: 2 years ago

How to Force a Volunteer to Care

That’s a ridiculous post title, because of course you can’t force someone to care. They either care, or they don’t.

But what if it’s not that simple? What if the two choices aren’t just care or don’t care? What if the issue goes deeper?

What if their definition of care just doesn’t match yours? Maybe – in the volunteer’s mind – they’re doing all that they can. Knocking it out of the park. Performing the job you asked them to do. If you asked them, the surprised answer would be Well of course I care. I’m serving, aren’t I? I’m giving my time. I come to the trainings. I show up faithfully.

What if their focus of care is something you can’t see? Defining care is a curious thing. Everyone cares about something: children, career, bank account balances, the Chicago Cubs. And in ministry, most volunteers have a reason they serve, and therefore a reason they care: to feel needed, to give back, to lead others, to obey scripture.

So if we’re going to force a volunteer to care…which I think we’d agree we simply can’t do…perhaps we start in a different place. Rather than care or don’t care, maybe we try one of the following:


Resurrect their Why.

This is your Vince Lombardi “Gentlemen, this is a football” speech. You have to remind your team of the fundamentals from time to time. It might help to remind yourself of those fundamentals from time to time. Sometimes volunteers just need a refresher course to get back on track. [Related post: Why Does It Matter?]


Tweak their environment.

I borrow this from Chip and Dan Heath’s phenomenal book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is HardTweaking environments seeks the same results but with different motivations. Rather than bemoan your situation or beat up your volunteers’ lack of engagement, “you can simply make the journey easier. Create a steep downhill slope and give them a push. Remove some friction from the trail. Scatter around lots of signs to tell them they’re getting close.”


Seek their input. 

Again, their focus of care may be something that you just can’t see. That passive volunteer might be running laps around you when it comes to one-on-one time with someone they’re training up, fine-tuning systems you’ve long forgotten about, or dreaming about what the ministry might look like five years from now. Invite them to coffee and give them a platform to tell you what makes them tick.


Bless their departure.

More often than not there is a life cycle between a particular volunteer and a particular ministry. Yes, we can all point to the sweet old ladies who rocked us in the nursery when we were babies, and now they’re rocking our own babies. But those are rare jewels. If a volunteer has a yearning to do something new, try something different, or simply take a short break from serving, allow them to do it. This is your opportunity to shepherd them well even as they check out some new sheep in the flock.


Have you ever butted up against a volunteer who just doesn’t care? What was your solution? How did it get resolved? I’d love to hear your suggestions…comment below!


photo credit


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