8 Reasons No One Volunteers and What to Do About It

Is it like pulling teeth to get volunteers? You’re not alone. The good news is that you can correct course and have enthusiastic people stepping up to serve. Here are 8 reasons people aren’t helping, and what you can do about it.

1. You didn’t invite them personally

It’s okay to cast a wide net. But let’s face it: a general call for volunteers yields poor results. Whether it’s offered in a mass email, bulletin, newsletter, or from the pulpit, a call for volunteers usually makes a face plant on the floor.

Why? Because it’s easy for us to tell ourselves that somebody else will do it. It’s easy to doubt our ability to do it. It’s easy for us to doubt that you want us.

A personal, one-on-one invitation singles a person out as capable and welcome. It tells them that they are needed and valuable. This should be extended in-person or by phone. Emails and texts are impersonal and don’t give opportunity to cast vision and answer questions.

Continue to make general announcements, but do so with enthusiasm and communicate a strong why. Then, add personal invitations for greater success.

2. They don’t know the why

In the first game of his career with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ricky Watters snarked his now infamous statement, “For who? For what?” when questioned about throwing a short-arm pass to avoid getting hit. Not a good thing to say to Philly fans!

The answers to these questions are something your volunteers need to know. More specifically, why would they help? What is their impact?

Have you passionately imparted why this opportunity is significant? We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We need a mission, not just a task. Here’s an example:

Task: Serve in the nursery at church.

Why: You are transforming lives by giving love, prayer, and trustworthy care to the next generation while allowing parents to fully engage in corporate worship.

3. You’re delegating, not team building

Do you value the task that needs to be done more than the person doing it?

Be honest. When was the last time you asked how they are doing personally? Or asked how you can support them in their roll? Or asked for their input into how it might be done better? What do you do to create unity and authentic relationship on the team?

If you don’t see the value of their personhood, they will not see the value in their contribution.

4. They don’t think you care about them

Most of us have had at least one friend who only calls when they need something and never reciprocates. Sadly, our ministries and churches can sometimes project the same image.

We don’t have to be besties with every person who serves. But we do need to care for them as shepherds. Your greatest impact may be just listening. And if they are in need, do your best to meet that need without enabling the person.

How do you show appreciation in a way that is meaningful to them? A great resource for this is The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace: Empowering Organizations by Encouraging People by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

5. They don’t know what you need

We often assume too much. What is obvious to you, may not be obvious to others. You may not have been as clear as you thought you were.

If you ask people to show up for a work day for outreach, church, or facilities, what specifically needs to be done? Do you need plumbing repaired, mulch applied, flowers planted? Painting, cleaning, or decorating? A ministry of presence or childcare while the work is being done? 

Many hear “work day” and think, “Well, I can’t fix things or do construction or heavy lifting.” But the gardener or person who loves to visit with people will jump in if they see their talents are needed.

6. Boundaries and expectations are not clear

Boundaries are good. They keep us from burning out. They help us give our best to others. When boundaries aren’t defined and clearly communicated, people are resistant to volunteer, or likely to quit. You may overhear:

“I don’t want to get stuck doing it forever.”

 “This always goes later than it’s supposed to and I need to leave.”

Accountability is important, too. If boundaries and expectations are not clearly agreed upon, you may overhear:

“Why should I show up, nobody else does.”

 “I told them I can’t do it every week, but they keep putting me on the schedule.”

Be clear, and put it in writing to avoid future misunderstanding and encourage accountability.

7. They need support or training

You can’t grow a team if you’re looking for the qualified. On the outside, David did not look like king material. But God trained him in the fields in skill, and spiritual and physical strength to prepare him for what was to come. In whom can you invest who is willing and teachable?

Yes, this takes time, but the payoff is exponential. Your trained, competent leader can then train others.

Make this clear to new recruits. Let them know that they don’t have to be experts to serve. You will equip them. As you follow through, they will grow in confidence and competence.

8. There’s a toxic influence on the team

Gossip, bad attitudes, bullying, need to control, harassment, criticism, and favoritism are just a few of the things that can shrink a team fast, and prevent others from joining.

If volunteers are leaving your team, or talented people are declining to serve, observe closely. Listen to cues from volunteers and prospective volunteers. If there’s a toxic influence sprouting, deal with it immediately. If you don’t, it will thrive. And it will send the message that you are either out-of-touch, too passive to handle conflict, or simple don’t care.

Take some time to pray and consider current volunteers and vacancies. Which of these areas do you most need to focus on to recruit and retain enthusiastic volunteers?

Published by Jeannette Scott

Missional communication coach, author, minister, daughter of God. My life mission is to live with passion for Christ, his servants, and his great commission. If you like hanging out in Lancaster County bookstores, quilt shops, coffee shops, or dog parks, we may have already met!

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