Motivating Volunteers

“People say motivation doesn’t last, well neither does bathing, that is why we recommend both daily.” –Zig Ziglar

Last week, in my series on recruiting, training, and sustaining volunteer ministers, I shared four strategies that we can use to keep our volunteers. The first strategy was about finding out what motivates our team of volunteers. Each volunteer has different things that motivate them. The key is to find out what those are.

Mark Sanborn, in his book, You Don’t Need A Title to be a Leader, describes some questions that you can ask to determine what motivates your volunteers. Below are some of the questions Sanborn asks with my interpretation of them.

What do you like about ministry the most? What is your favorite activity?
When we find out what our volunteers like best, we can ensure that they have the opportunity to continue to work in those areas of the ministry. There is nothing worse than being excited about an activity or role just to be pulled into another role that you are not as excited about.

What do you like to do the least?
Like the question above, this can assist you in helping move a volunteer away from the activities they don’t like doing. Sometimes it is unrealistic to move them completely away from activities they don’t like, but we should try. Even the activities we like the most have certain aspects that we don’t like. That’s fine, as long as the list of dislikes is small.

What is your typical work style?
Knowing how your volunteers work is crucial. I had a conversation recently with a volunteer and he told me that he usually waits until the last minute to get tasks done, but that they are done with excellence. That made me nervous, but at the same time, this person has constantly performed well in ministry without having to stay on them to get the work done. Do they need to be micro-managed? Do they need you to be hands off? Do they need more direction from you, or more support? Do they do their tasks late at night or during the day? Do they prefer to communicate via email, text, Facebook, or phone call? Do they want you to sugar coat your comments or say it as it is? Understanding the work style your volunteer can save you and your volunteer anxiety. Everyone has a different style of working.

Whom do you enjoy ministering with? Whom do you dislike ministering with, and why?
This question takes a level of trust in the relationship with your volunteer. They must know that you will hold this information in confidence. The fact is that there are usually quite a few people that a volunteer does like to work with, while there are one or two people she doesn’t like to work with. That’s normal. Finding out why is the crucial part of this question. When you know why, you can help make the changes that are necessary to make the situation better. Sometimes that means shuffling ministry roles. Most of the time, it means that you and I need to make some changes on how the ministry functions.

What annoys you about being part of a team? What do you enjoy about teamwork?
Teamwork can be very powerful, but working in a team is no picnic. Asking these questions provides insight into what type of team member your volunteer is. It also provides insight into their areas of strength and weakness when it comes to working in a team.

What do you hope to be doing in ten years?
Ministry experience can be very versatile. When a volunteer tells you what their hopes are for a future career or other volunteer experiences they hope to have, we can start to help shape the ministry experience in a way that allows them to see how it can help them move towards that vision. If it doesn’t do that, at least it shows that you care about them as a person and want to know more about them. It is always motivating when I know that a leader genuinely cares about me.

There are numerous ways that we can motivate our volunteers. Find the strategies that work best for you.

John Rinaldo

As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.


John Rinaldo


As the Business Manager at St. Catherine Catholic Church in Morgan Hill, CA, Dr. John Rinaldo serves as the administrator over operations and finances for the parish in support of all parish ministries. Previously, John served as the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry for the Diocese of San Jose, empowering parish communities to minister to the needs of youth and young adults. John is also an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University teaching pastoral ministry courses to graduate students.



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