The term “Elastic volunteer scheduling” is used to describe flexible volunteer scheduling where volunteers are presented with multiple options on how they would like to be scheduled. The idea behind this concept is simple, put a system in place that can accommodate the busy lives of volunteers without negatively affecting the schedule.
I have yet to encounter any churches that have the “problem” of having too many volunteers. If any exist, they are very much in the minority.
On the other hand, I have spoken with many team leaders who have expressed great frustration with the following:
- not having enough volunteers
- not being able to keep volunteers
- dealing with noncommittal volunteers who constantly decline assignments
- having to scramble last minute to find substitutes for no-shows
- working to identify and avoid volunteer burn-out
Most church volunteer activities are typically on-going, weekly events; so, team admins are normally content to just find a few people to create a regular rotation to insure consistent coverage.
Often, the people in the rotation are the more reliable, available rain/shine type of volunteers (the 20%). However, if the scheduling rotation is small, there is always a higher risk of burn-out for those in the 20% category. This makes having more volunteer options very important.
“So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again,
He said to them, Do you know what I have done to you?
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am.
If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.
For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.”
The truth is that we are all called to serve. The scripture above was not meant just for a small percentage but in fact for everyone.
However, if many are unable to serve or refrain from serving because there isn’t enough flexibility in the scheduling process, then it may be time to rethink that process. While most admins agree with the concept of scheduling flexibility for volunteers, many are unsure what it really entails or how to implement it.
Below are a few ideas:
- Provide a system that allows volunteers to specify how they want to be scheduled, when they are available/unavailable, which events they prefer, how often they are available, etc.
- Give volunteers the flexibility and ease to decline assignments without having to provide a reason/explanation. This one is a bit scary for some admins but, with a good system in place, you can control when you allow users to decline. So for instance, an admin can decide to “lock” the schedule 5 days before each event/service date.
- Give volunteers the ability to swap assignments with each other without having to pick up a phone to call a list of team members. A good system will allow volunteers to view all upcoming assignment dates for the entire team. Furthermore, they will have the ability to choose the assignments they want to swap with by simply clicking a button.
- Give volunteers the option to only be considered as substitutes (when no on else is available). Potential volunteers really like this option. The best part is that the feature is controlled by the volunteer so they can easily decide when they want to turn it on or off.
- Recruit, recruit, recruit. Do not wait until you need to fill a certain number before you reach out to potential volunteers; continue to regularly and consistently reach out and invite people to volunteer.
- Advertise the scheduling flexibility you are providing. If people don’t know that there are flexible scheduling options, they may not consider joining. The ability to control how often they are scheduled is a great perk for volunteers so do not hesitate to let everyone know that you have it.
- Regularly remind everyone that volunteer groups are not meant to be exclusive clubs; everyone should be encouraged to join a team.
- Be open to those who are not able to serve in a regular rotation but would still like to pitch in every now and then.
- Be open to allowing non-members the ability to participate. Many churches introduce the subject of volunteering during the membership process however, this leaves out the many who have not yet fully committed to the church. Opening the volunteer doors allows non-members to feel like a part of the church family and to plug-in to various ministries. For some, this may be the step that helps to convince them to commit.
- Allow volunteers to take extended breaks if needed. Church volunteering should not work like the mafia where once you are in, you can never get out. Volunteers should have the ability to take weeks or even months off to rejuvenate if necessary. With this kind of flexibility, the volunteers will almost always return.
- Encourage volunteers to try other areas of interest. Doing the same thing for a long period works for some but can lead to burn-out for others. If the volunteers control how often they are scheduled for different areas, they can choose how often they want to be scheduled for the different areas.
There is so much fulfillment that comes with serving each other the way our Lord served, and everyone should be encouraged to partake in the process using their gifts and abilities.
If your scheduling process is completely manual or does not allow for full flexibility, consider integrating some of the steps listed above to reach out to those who may have overlooked volunteer opportunities because of time constraints.
Embrace the concept of volunteer scheduling flexibility to get as many invloved as possible.