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Invest in Staff and Volunteers

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” (Matthew 6:20)

Invest in staff and volunteers so that they may more effectively fulfill their calling to service, thereby enriching the spiritual life in the community.

How much time and energy is spent redoing or rechecking the work of staff and volunteers, replacing ineffective volunteers and counseling those who burnout? Priests often list volunteer management as one of the top challenges to parish administration and parish development. They cite non-reliability, inconsistency, failure to follow through and downright incompetency as sources of friction and frustration. There may be a better way. It’s not fail-safe but it can make a meaningful difference in staff and volunteer effectiveness, dependability and efficiency. Invest in staff training and development! The article below offers a few simple suggestions for implementing a staff and volunteer training program both within the parish and also utilizing outside resources. Reap the benefits when lights go on for staff and volunteers about an improved or even radically different and more effective way to perform their work.

Investing in staff and volunteer training results in a multiple return on investment.

This is essential for purposes related to parish life. Incorporating training in staff and volunteer management promotes greater position satisfaction and therefore they are likely to stay longer and be more productive.

Consider the cost of turnover

Staff and volunteers who receive little or poor training often leave their positions within the first year. They cite the lack of skills training and development as the principal reason for moving on.

With one fewer worker others must pick up the load. Performance or productivity may decline. Morale may suffer. Time must be allocated to find a replacement, which may require screening, interviewing and repeat training. The cost of staff and volunteer turnover adds up.

Other benefits of training

Despite the initial monetary costs, staff and volunteer training pays back any investment. Here are just some of the reasons to take on development initiatives:

  • Training helps the parish run better. Trained staff and volunteers will be better equipped to handle parishioner needs.

  • Training is a recruiting tool. Today’s workers and volunteers are often life-long learners. They may wish to learn new skills. Parish leadership is more likely to attract capable staff and volunteers if they can offer development opportunities that powerfully demonstrate leadership support of their work.

  • Training promotes job or volunteer position satisfaction. Nurturing staff and volunteers to develop more rounded skill sets will help them contribute to the community life of the parish. The more engaged and involved they are in working for parish mission fulfillment, the better this is accomplished.

  • Training is a retention tool, instilling loyalty and commitment from good workers. Staff looking for the next challenge will be more likely to stay if they are offered ways to learn and grow while at the parish. Don’t give them a reason to move on by letting them stagnate once they’ve mastered initial tasks.

  • Training adds flexibility and efficiency. You can cross-train staff and volunteers to be capable in more than one aspect of parish service. Teach them to be competent in providing service, administration and operations. This will help keep them interested and will be enormously helpful when setting schedules or filling in for absences. Cross-training also fosters team spirit, as staff and volunteers appreciate the challenges faced by co-workers. One very important aspect of cross-training is those elements of parish life applicable to all staff and volunteers – spiritual life, fellowship and purposeful work.

  • Training is essential for knowledge transfer. It’s very important to appropriately share knowledge among staff and volunteers. If only one person has special skills, it will be difficult recouping their knowledge if they suddenly leave the position. Spread knowledge around — it’s like diversifying investments.

  • Training gives event volunteers a reason to return. Let event staff and volunteers know there are more ways than one to contribute. Instead of recruiting someone new for a position, offer them a chance to learn new skills in another aspect of working in the event.

Training and developing staff and volunteer skills is good management. It starts from day one, and becomes successive as your staff and volunteers grow. Granted, it may take some time to see a return on your investment, but the long-term gains associated with staff and volunteer training make a difference. The short-term expense of a training program ensures you keep qualified and productive staff and volunteers who will help in the general management and development of the parish.

Undoubtedly, there will be disappointments. Some who are sent for training will fail to apply it. After one year, others may no longer wish to work or volunteer for a specific position. Some were never cut out for the staff of volunteer position in the first place and no amount of training will help. Yet these are not adequate reasons to cease professionally training and developing staff and volunteers. Many, and perhaps most, will benefit from the training and so the parish will majorly benefit from their enhanced performance and the reduction in staff and volunteer turnover.

Search and scour the Internet for relevant training and development programs for staff and volunteers. Of course, the vast majority of these are not going to be Orthodox Christian oriented. Here, common sense must prevail, whereby whatever is relevant, applicable, useful and “tweakable” must be capitalized upon.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Possible training and development opportunities

  • Most parish software providers offer training

  • St. Vladimir’s Seminary Summer Institute for pastoral training and sacred music

  • Orthodox Christian Fellowship Leadership Training Program

  • Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University

  • Board Source

  • Many evangelical and evangelization programs are offered. Take what you like and leave the rest.

  • The Alban Institute

  • Hellenic College/Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary Summer Missions Course

  • Youth Ministry – once again, there are a plethora of opportunities for training

  • Volunteer Management – many websites and services including an annual conference for volunteer managers

A final suggestion: the author found parish councils extremely amenable to pastoral initiatives if they cost no money and would only contribute to the well-being of the parish. With this is mind, after careful research, write a one- or two-page summary of the training and development program you would like to undertake, share this with a forward-thinking, reasonably well to do parishioner family and ask for a gift of $10,000 to get it started. Keep them informed as the project goes forward and it may happen that they continue to fund it year after year. Demonstrate all the positive results.

Presenting the idea of investing in staff and leadership training and development with the cost already in hand will likely result in enthusiastic parish council support.


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