Published: 3 months ago

Helping Your Volunteers Navigate What’s Next

Change is inevitable.

Eventually, your systems and strategies and specific areas of focus are going to get adjusted…maybe overhauled…perhaps stripped down to the foundation and rebuilt from the ground up.

And when that happens, our volunteer teams are often the ones who feel the pain the most. A poorly-planned change can result in the loss of tenured volunteers. So how can you help your people keep their momentum even when the world they know is spinning out of their control?

1. Assume the best.

I get aggravated when leaders decide to enact sweeping changes overnight. Don’t misunderstand: there are times when a crisis occurs or a massive shift takes place, and sweeping change is necessary. But changing the organizational chart for your volunteer team? That may not be a category five emergency that has to be rolled out right now, pal.

2. Bring a few volunteers to the decision table.

Beware the temptation to draw a line between staff and volunteers, and thereby make all decrees from the ivory tower. It’s helpful – and affirming – to bring frontline workers into backroom conversations. Not only will they see the blind spots you don’t, they can act as champions for the change, because they are being given a representative voice.

3. Communicate as much as you can as soon as you can.

Related to #1 above, consider your communication timeline as you’re considering your rollout timeline. Can you provide previews of some 1,000 foot views of the change? Can you drop some bread crumbs so volunteers will have a concept of what’s to come? Can you run drills of that new first-time guest plan, just to practice, identify bugs, and troubleshoot?

4. Provide a forum for questions and answers.

As leaders, one of our change-implementing solutions can be to provide a well-written document that answers all the questions before they’re asked. While that may be a helpful tool, it assumes we’ve actually answered all the questions. So sure, provide that document. But then give volunteers an opportunity to chase any rabbit trail they feel necessary in order to feel equipped.

5. Take some time with those who need some time.

I heard someone say recently that the only people who like change are those who are making the change. Beyond your big announcement or broad rollout, identify those who may be struggling. Affirm their value to the team. Offer to walk down any road they may need to in order to feel heard and cared for.

6. Provide a gracious way out.

Early in my time in my current role, I made a fairly seismic shift in the way one of our teams was structured. Most of the people on that team had been serving longer than I’d been alive. I followed a few of the steps above, but maybe the most significant step was to invite them to a test drive. I explained that I knew this was not what they’d signed up for, but I asked them for a three month commitment to the new plan. And after that – if they still weren’t comfortable with the new normal – I promised that I’d help them find a new place of service that they’d love, no questions asked and no hard feelings involved.

7. Move forward.

During the Exodus, one of the many issues that plagued the Israelites was the incessant habit of looking back over their shoulders at what they’d left. When change happens, it’s fine (and sometimes appropriate) to mourn what you knew. It’s not fine to stay in that mourning. If it’s the right change, a God-given change, then look forward in faith rather than backward in fear or nostalgia. Embrace the change and walk towards the promised land.

Change doesn’t have to derail your volunteers. How will you help them navigate what’s next?

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