How to Make Changes Without Scaring Off Volunteers

Have you ever announced a change to your volunteers that didn’t go over too well? Have they ever resisted implementing a new process and you couldn’t quite figure out why? I’ll let you in on a little secret: The issue probably wasn’t the change itself. The issue was probably in how the change was rolled out.

Most of your volunteers are ingrained in the current process. They’ve developed habits and know what to expect each week. When you announce a change, even one that should make their work easier, you’re creating uncertainty.

How do you go from “We need to change” to actually implementing the changes without scaring off your volunteers? Here are some key steps:

#1: Get input from volunteer leaders.

Discuss the upcoming changes with them. Provide a compelling vision for why the changes are necessary. Get their feedback and ask how they think their teams will react.

#2: Send an email update to all volunteers.

Start by thanking them for serving. Mention that “we’re always seeking to improve and have a few new things to roll out soon.” Cast a compelling vision as to why change is needed and how it will make their work even more effective. Then give them the specifics about what’s changing and when.

#3: Discuss the changes at the next pre-service volunteer meeting.

Reiterate the reasons why you’re changing and invite them to ask questions. Give them grace and don’t be too rigid about how they implement the changes at first.

#4: Follow-up with volunteer leaders.

Ask how their teams felt about the changes, and how implementing them went that day. Talk individually with volunteers who had concerns.

Now, that can be a lot of work. It would be nice if you could announce a change and everyone adjusted immediately. However, that’s not always likely to happen. Even good changes can be disruptive, so you need to give people, especially volunteers, some time to see the benefits and process the new way of doing things.

Remember: you’re working with volunteers who are donating their time. You have to motivate them with a clear vision and a compelling reason to change. Even the most faithful volunteer will become discouraged and may consider quitting if you change too much too quickly. Use wisdom and listen carefully to your volunteer leaders. They want to support you. Make it easier for them to do so by getting their support first and listening to their feedback.

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