Who is doing what?

by Carol

Any time there is a position, whether paid or volunteer, there should be a written job description.  It spells out the expectations and responsibilities.  It should reduce the confusion and miscommunication.  Sometimes, though, it doesn’t.  Why is that?

At times, the written job description does not match the real situation.  But let’s say that the job description is up to date.  The volunteer coordinator and the volunteer literally have the same page of job description.  You have several other possibilities for confusion:

Possibility 1.
There is a difference in interpretation.  A volunteer may be bending over backward to do a job as he or she understood it, while the supervisor expected something totally different.  It’s painful on both sides!

Solution:  Ask what is going on.  Don’t assume, especially when you think you have discussed this before. Explain what you expected and find out why you are getting different results.

Possibility 2.
There are overlapping jobs and job descriptions.  This happens when you have a multitude of volunteers (instead of a few paid staff members, who are more likely to have specific roles and clear lines of supervision). Volunteers will jump in to do far more than their specific job — especially when they are conscientious and don’t want anything to fall through the cracks.  They can step on each other’s toes.

Solution: In ministry, we need to communicate more.  We need to let one another know why we are doing what we are doing.  People who communicate are better equipped to find a way to work in overlapping areas and fill the gaps with a minimum of personal friction.

Possibility 3.
Volunteers are unaware of the job descriptions of other volunteers — or even that other positions exist.  This also crops up when a new program is created without involving or informing a leader whose ministry is caught in the cross-current.

Solution: Keep in mind that job descriptions are not a private matter between an individual volunteer and the supervising leader.  Other people negotiate the terrain — needing to know who does what, who has a role, who needs to be asked, who will have the details.  Job descriptions don’t have to be widely distributed (which probably wouldn’t help anyway).  The information, though, can be distributed it bite-sized chunks that help people create a mental map of all the moving gears in your volunteer apparatus.

Bottom line:  If you notice that communication and information are common elements in the solutions, you are on target.  Church volunteers work together best when they have solid, reliable information.  New things don’t take them by surprise and they don’t have to guess at intentions.

Job descriptions don’t replace communication.  They themselves are a small piece of communication in a much larger mosaic of giving and receiving information.  Use job descriptions as a starting point.  Then get the communication flowing.

Spread the Load! Part 2 of 2

by Kristi and Carol

What if …. Your usual volunteer pool is shrinking and your responsibilities are growing.

In part 1, we looked at the steps to evaluate your current situation:

TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND THINK: What is stressful to you or other leaders in your organization?

STOP FOR A SECOND AND LOOK CLOSELY: Are the job descriptions in your existing organizational structure up-to-date?

COMPARE REALITY TO WHAT IS ON PAPER: Although capable people are working hard, do their jobs match reality?

Now that you have identified the stress points and have a firm grasp on what your volunteers are actually trying to do, it is time to take action. Read on to see what “Org-C” did.


It looked like stay-at-home moms re-entering the workforce were depleting the pool of easily accessible volunteers. Older adult volunteers, though, had never previously been asked to take on this volunteer role. They were available to work on these tasks during the week and it gave them an excuse to get together with friends. Even better, they were excited to do something that they were good at.


Although many moms couldn’t come during weekdays to do prep-work, some could work from home.


It may seem counter-intuitive to increase the number of volunteer positions. To keep the supervisors focused on people (the volunteers they supervised), we created new job descriptions related to the computer work. These “extra” volunteers were designated to handle issues at the command center desk while the supervisors were in hallways and classrooms. They cross-trained in many areas and were able to help with tasks beyond the computers.


A gathering point a few feet down the hallway became a new check-in station for supervision and dispatching of rotating substitutes. This took the congestion away from the main command center. Handling substitutes seemed to get in the way of the supervisors’ core job, and it could easily be done by volunteers with administrative talents. We sliced off those responsibilities and created a whole new volunteer position. Several volunteers were passionate to fill this role, as it was scheduled just for the first portion of the program day, and if they wanted to, they could finish and leave. In many instances, these volunteers stayed to pitch in and help with other needs that arose.

Spreading the load may seem like a lot more work at the beginning, but purposeful adjustments in this area will have multiple benefits. After new positions were created and the load was more evenly shared at Org-C, the supervisors were more successful in supervising volunteers. Prospective volunteers began observing an organization that was no longer frenetically out of control. Instead, they saw an organization they could successfully join. In case after case, the volunteers who came into the new positions eventually spread their efforts beyond their initial job descriptions. Because they felt fulfilled in the role that fit their key passions, many had enough energy to help in other areas — and had the motivation to do so because they had become loyal to the supervisors and to the program.

BOTTOM LINE: If you can’t recruit more of the volunteers you are looking for, start looking for different volunteers for different positions!


Spread the Load! Part 1 of 2

by Kristi and Carol

What if …

Let’s say that you’re currently looking for a certain type of volunteer. What if you were never able to recruit more of that type? What if — despite your best efforts and most eloquent pleas — prospective volunteers stopped saying “yes” when you asked them to take a role in your organization?

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A few years ago, I (Kristi) consulted with an organization we’ll call “Org-C” — “C” for chaos!!! Their leadership admitted that, to the general public, they appeared to be “running around with our heads cut off” or operating under “controlled chaos.” The challenge was to recruit more volunteers into an existing structure.

We evaluated the system and determined areas of high stress. By expanding the organizational structure, we took pressure off of them. As a result, they gradually came to a place of projecting a calm and efficient leadership presence, and new volunteers joined the team.

How can you do that?

TAKE A DEEP BREATH, AND THINK: What is stressful to you or other leaders in your organization?

In Org-C, it was easy to see the stress points. Three supervisors planned ahead. But on the program day, chaos ensued: regularly scheduled volunteers did not show up; last minute rotating subs did show up, but they hovered around the main command center desk, clogging up an already congested thoroughfare until they were sent to the right location; visitors showed up and needed to be assigned to classrooms; and invariably, some missing supplies would be needed from the back room.

STOP FOR A SECOND, AND LOOK CLOSELY: Are the job descriptions in your existing organizational structure up to date?

In Org-C’s past, when the 3 supervisors started serving, the organization was staffed with many stay-at-home moms. The moms volunteered during the week so that everything was ready. But like many organizations, Org-C felt the changes in society as women went back to work. Often “supplies” were one of the tasks that slipped through the cracks in preparation. The supervisors tried to pick up the slack on program day, in addition to data-entry in the new digital age, and making last-minute assignments for more substitutes in a growing ministry. None of these new responsibilities were in the job description.

COMPARE REALITY TO WHAT IS ON PAPER: Although capable people are working hard, do their jobs match reality?

Once everything was on paper, it didn’t take long to see that the 3 supervisors in Org-C were being stretched beyond their limits. Their main role was to supervise volunteers. With a smaller pool of volunteers, more technology, and an expanding organization, no one had quite understood how the work load of the 3 supervisors had become unmanageable.

The next step? Do something about it.

Come back for Part 2 to see what we tried.