News & Blog

Looking After Volunteers #13: Take Time To Bond Away From Work

No. 13 – Take Time To Bond Away From Work

The best teams know each other well. They know how to work with each other and they are well bonded as people. Whenever I work with a group of people who I don”t really know away from the project, I always suggest that we go out for a meal or go to the pub for a few drinks after the first meeting, or something like that.

The great Benet Conroy taught me that ministry arises out of the atmosphere of love, support and prayer that is created within a community. The community is a key building of Christian faith, and so much of ministry flows out of that. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #12: If You Have To Criticise, Get It Right!

No. 12 – If You Have To Criticise, Get It Right!

If you manage volunteers a lot there will come a time when you have to tell them things they might not want to hear. This might be a fairly minor constructive criticism or it might mean tackling a larger problem connected with something the volunteer has done, or failed to do. This is always really hard to get right. It”s hard with paid staff. It”s harder still with volunteers who have generously given their time to your project.

On two distinct occasions in my career I have witnessed volunteers being criticised in ways which were frankly brutal. Those volunteers went away dejected and in real pain, having suffered what I sincerely feel was a grave injustice. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #11: Debrief and Evaluate Properly

No. 11 – Debrief and Evaluate Properly

The need to evaluate projects is well established in youth ministry. In fact, it”s a well established part of the very dynamic by which modern youth work lives and breathes (Kolb”s learning cycle and all that!)

In the school where I work (the day job) we use a system called WWW/EBI. It stands for What Went Well (or what”s going well) and Even Better If, and it”s a culture we”ve adopted for everything we do. It comes into every lesson with the students and it comes into our own planning and reflection both as individuals and as departments and other teams. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #10: Get The Balance Right Between Supervision and Delegation

No. 10 – Get The Balance Right Between Supervision and Delegation

Those of you who are parents will be familiar with the scenario of teaching your kids to ride a bike. Eventually the stabilisers come off and there comes that scary/ brilliant point where you have to let go and let your child ride unaided! I”m not a parent, and I can”t say I remember learning to ride a bike myself, but I do remember the day I passed my driving test. I was heading out that evening and my parents suggested I take the car. They stood by the window and watched as I drove away and when I returned that evening they did me the kindness of actually not making a big deal out of it! They acted as though it was the norm, and that gave me a great sense of independence and trust.

The youth ministry analogy is fairly obvious. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #9: Listen To Their Ideas

No. 9 – Listen To Their Ideas

When you finally reached the dizzy heights of managing a project, the first thing that happens – if you”re like me, anyway – is you get ideas-crazy. You have spent years having ideas that you never got to actually do because your co-ordinator didn”t listen to you and let you run with things. Now though, you actually get to give life to your ideas and make them happen. It”s actually a lovely feeling, and it”s more than okay to have tonnes of ideas. Just make sure that you don”t do what your co-ordinators did to you and ignore the ideas of those beneath you.

When you have ideas, take them to your volunteers and ask them what they think. Be prepared to respond generously to what they say. Let them know too that they are allowed to have ideas. And if they have good ones, don”t be afraid to run with them. Leadership, after all, isn”t about having the best ideas; it”s about knowing who does. If your volunteers know that their ideas will be listened to and taken seriously then they will feel affirmed, valued and liked. They will take the project to heart in a bigger way and invest more of themselves in it. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #9: Listen To Their Ideas

No. 9 – Listen To Their Ideas

When you finally reached the dizzy heights of managing a project, the first thing that happens – if you’re like me, anyway – is you get ideas-crazy. You have spent years having ideas that you never got to actually do because your co-ordinator didn’t listen to you and let you run with things. Now though, you actually get to give life to your ideas and make them happen. It’s actually a lovely feeling, and it’s more than okay to have tonnes of ideas. Just make sure that you don’t do what your co-ordinators did to you and ignore the ideas of those beneath you. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #7: Remember Their Spiritual Needs

No. 7 – Remember Their Spiritual Needs

We”re all on a faith journey and none of us is the complete package. This side of heaven, we never will be. We are all learning new things all the time and getting closer to God as we do. It”s true for those who run projects, it”s true for young people and it”s true for volunteers. Especially for young adults who might be in the process of returning to the Church and for whom getting involved in youth ministry might represent a tentative step in that process.

For your volunteers, their time working with you won”t be just a matter of dispensing what they have. Rather it will be a part of their journey. It will be part of the process by which they themselves encounter Christ, and we need to remember that in how we deal with them. The great saints of the teaching and youth ministry world were always quick to stress that an encounter with young people evangelise them as well as the young person! Read more

Looking After Volunteers #6: Be Well Organised

No. 6 – Be Well Organised

In the last post we talked about the need to be consistent and to not change information and arrangements in an over-reactive way. I have to admit that sometimes when I run programmes I do this to my volunteers. I let them know what”s going to happen, and then I change it. I don”t do this a lot, but usually when I do it”s for a very simple reason… because I failed to organise myself properly and missed something important.

Let”s be honest, we”re all disorganised and a bit last-minute from time to time. It”s human. And when it”s just us, we can usually get away with it. When we”re responsible for other people though, it”s unfair. If other people are relying on us being prepared then we have to make sure it happens because they need the confidence of knowing that they”re part of something that”s being run in the right way. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #5: Stick To What You Brief

No. 5 – Stick To What You Brief

Following on from the last post about briefing people properly is the need to be consistent and to stick to what you brief. I worked for a leader once who would give you a task and then change it numerous times before it was complete. Eventually, those of us who worked for her got into the habit of turning our phones off when we were out-and-about doing something, because we just knew that she would phone us with new instructions. Sometimes more than once!

Occasionally upheaval is unavoidable. Sometimes a group is forced to change because of situations beyond its control (Lourdes, anyone?) but a lot of the time when things change it”s because the co-ordinator is either too reactive or poorly prepared. Read more

Looking After Volunteers #4: Brief Them Properly

No. 4 – Brief them properly

Whenever I go into something new I like to know exactly what”s going on. I get as much information as I can so that I can anticipate problems and be as useful as possible, and so I find things out: What”s the aim of this? Who are the key players? What exactly is my role? What do I need to know to do my job? What problems am I likely to encounter? What have those who have done this before learned from their experiences? Who do I go to if I need such-and-such? What do I do if such-and-such happens/ goes wrong/ doesn”t turn up etc? Read more