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You Say You Care About Volunteers, But Does Your Budget Agree?

You Say You Care About Volunteers, But Does Your Budget Agree?

First question: Do you care about your volunteers?

Second question: Does your budget back that up?

My wife loves fitness. She’s one of those CrossFit fanatics. Her idea of a good workout is bloody blisters on her hands and a dull ache in her lower back.

I value working out, but I value it in the sense that I think it’s a cool thing to do. My idea of working out is going for a light jog when the weather is nice.

I used to tell my wife how much I appreciated and valued her interests. But I refused to pay the $160/month that CrossFit demanded in order for people to join their cult. Yet I was perfectly fine with paying monthly fees for cable, audiobooks, new gadgets, and other toys that were “necessary for my business.”

Would you believe my wife wasn’t buying it that I valued her interests? She didn’t believe I valued her love of CrossFit until I was willing to put my money where my mouth was. Until I put cash on the table, my words were empty.

One saying is to “put your money where your mouth is,” but Matthew 6:21 (NLT) puts it like this: Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. The point is, you don’t really value something until you’re willing to put your money behind it.

For many ministries, volunteer care is more of an aspirational value than a real value. They want their volunteers to feel loved and cared for, yet the budget doesn’t show that. The only way the aspirational value becomes a real value is when the money backs it up.

Most churches would say they value these things equally: service production, family ministry/small groups, volunteer care, and making guests feel welcomed. Yet if you looked at their expenditures over the year, percentages might look something more like this:

  • Service Production: 60%
  • Family Ministry/Small Groups: 30%
  • Guest Services: 5%
  • Volunteer Care: 5%

And you can bet that the staffing ratios would look similar. Yet volunteers are one of the most important part of your ministry. In fact, if people make the decision to return to your church in the first five minutes of their visit, it’s entirely volunteers who determine whether people will come back. In fact, my friend Jason and I wrote a book about that: The Come Back Effect. Volunteers are a huge part of that.

You see; if your ministry values volunteer care, it will leak over into everything. Your money will go there. You’ll staff it. You’ll give them priority.

Businesses have long-known this principle of putting money where you want the growth. A business doesn’t just start spending money on advertising once they have a bit of excess cashflow. No, they put money into advertising in order to get the extra cashflow. You have to put money into the areas where you want growth.

The crazy thing is that in a church, nobody really cares about the music or the family groups if they didn’t feel cared for. And cared-for volunteers will extend that to people. It’s the little things you do for your volunteers that they will do for others. Those little things start from where the ministry prioritizes.

In a typical church, you might see a staff meeting that looks like this.

Service Director: We need a new display for the back wall so our singers don’t have to worry about forgetting the lyrics to the songs on Sunday. It’ll cost around $5,000.

Decision-Maker: Let’s buy it.

Family Ministries Director: We need to buy new curriculum for our kids ministry and small groups. Our current curriculum is boring and outdated. It will cost $10,000.

Decision-Maker: Make it happen!

Volunteer Coordinator: I want to feed all our volunteers on Sunday mornings. I was thinking about catering some sandwiches from a local deli. It should cost $100 each week.

Decision-Maker: That sounds like a lot of money. Can we just buy them canned sausages instead?

Okay, perhaps it isn’t quite that drastic. But the same sort of attitude happens in churches all around the country.

Show me your budget items, and I’ll show you what your organization truly values. If you want to show your volunteers that you care for them, it’s time to start putting money there. Train them. Send them to conferences. Feed them. Call them during the week and check on their families. Take them out to coffee. Surprise them with their favorite candy for their birthday week. Yes, it’ll cost money. But where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be.

And once you start caring for your volunteers, they’ll start caring for your guests. You’ll get what Jason and I call the come back effect.

About The Author

Jonathan Malm

Jonathan is a creative entrepreneur and writer. He is the author of "Created for More," a 30-day devotional to help you develop a more creative mind. You’ll find him in San Antonio, Texas, roasting his own coffee beans and enjoying life with his Argentine wife, Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanmalm.

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