How To Enjoy Life And Make A Greater Contribution In The Lives Of Others

Photo by John Catbagan

Photo by John Catbagan

The Starfish Story

This story has been around for some time. Perhaps you’ve heard it before? In any case, I believe this story sets up this post well.

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance. She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her arm out in an arc. Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea. He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach. What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?” Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely, “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

The Impact Of A Book

Have you ever read a book, seen a TV interview, or perhaps watched an online video that causes you to have one of those “AHA” moments? You know, when a light bulb goes off in your mind and you feel like a major shift in your thinking has taken place?

This happened for me about 7-8 months ago, when I watched a Youtube video of an orchestra conductor named Ben Zander and then read his book “The Art of Possibility.” You can read my book review on “The Art of Possibility” here.

In several chapters of his book, Ben discusses some of his challenges of being a conductor of a volunteer orchestra. As I continued to read through the book, I kept having these “Aha” moments of realization and learning.

For a large portion of his life, Ben Zander struggled with the drive to be to be successful as well as a fear of failure. He claims that this struggle caused both himself and those around him considerable suffering. The greater his success as an orchestra conductor, the worse this tension became in his life.

The tipping point for Ben came when his second wife walked away from their marriage. He began re-thinking how he was “doing life.”

He came away with the realization that he was living a life of selfishness. He was more inward focused on his own success. When being inward focused, he had more of an attitude that there was always another orchestra – aside from the one he was currently conducting – that he suspected would bring him more success, and so he was never fully present when he was on the conductor’s podium.

When he began playing the game of contribution, on the other hand, he found there was no better orchestra than the one I was conducting, no better person to be with than the one he was with; in fact, there was no “better.” In the game of contribution you wake up each day and bask in the notion that you can be a contribution to the lives of others.

A Shift Takes Place In My Thinking

This personally hit home with me about my own relationships within my family, as well as the volunteer orchestra I direct each week. I started asking myself questions about whether I was more interested in achieving success in my family or ministry, or am I truly more interested in living a life of contribution. This subtle but important shift in my mindset has (I believe) created a more enjoyable experience for those that I love and lead.

For example with the orchestra at church, in the past, I would get frustrated or upset with various problems such as excessive absenteeism for orchestra rehearsals on Wednesday nights as well as worship services on Sundays. My mindset before was too focused on having a successful orchestra and the roadblocks (in my mind) that my volunteer members were causing me to be a successful director.

Once I made this shift in my thinking, though, I started focusing on the orchestra members who decided to be present for a particular Wednesday rehearsal or Sunday worship service. I began realizing I could and should be a contribution in their lives spiritually, musically, and personally.

And you know what has happened? I’m enjoying my life and ministry a whole lot more by living a life focused on contribution rather than success versus failure. And, I hope those around me are enjoying life at a deeper level as well.

The Generous Life

Playing the game of contribution should really be of no surprise to those of us who are believers in Christ. The Bible has much to say about living a life of generosity versus selfishness.

In Proverbs 11:24-25 (MSG) we read these words:

The world of the generous gets larger and larger;
the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

The one who blesses others is abundantly blessed;
those who help others are helped.

Throw yourself into life as someone who makes a difference, accepting that you may not understand how or why. Just like our starfish story at the beginning, don’t get overwhelmed and give up because you can’t help everyone. Focus on being a contribution to the few that you can be.

Questions: Are you living a tension-filled life based on a drive for success and a fear of failure? Is your life enjoyable or full misery? Do you need to consider a shift in mindset from success versus failure over to contribution?






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Book Review | The Art of Possibility by Ben and Rosamund Zander

The Art of Possibility BookDiscovering A Book Through A TED Talk

The information within books has the potential power to completely and radically transform your life.

Over the last few years, I can count a handful of books that made a deep impression that has changed my thinking and ultimately my life in amazing, powerful ways.

The Art of Possibility by Benjamin and Rosamund Zander (note: this is a husband and wife duo) is my latest addition to this list of life-changing books.

I actually discovered Benjamin Zander through his amazing TED video (you have to watch this), visited his personal website, and then ordered his book through the Kindle store on Amazon. Money wisely spent!

Benjamin Zander’s biography reads:

Benjamin Zander is the conductor of The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and a guest conductor around the world. With London’s famed Philharmonia Orchestra, he is recording the complete cycle of Mahler symphonies for Telarc, recordings which have been received with extraordinary critical acclaim and several awards. Their latest recording of Bruckner’s 5th Symphony was nominated for a 2010 Grammy, and has received critical acclaim both for the performance and Zander’s now famous full-length disc explaining the music for the lay listener. They recorded their next release, Mahler’s 2nd Symphony, in January 2012 and it is scheduled for release later this year.

In 1967, Mr. Zander joined the faculty at New England Conservatory, where he taught an interpretation class, conducted the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, and conducted the conservatory orchestras. For the past 28 years, he was the Artistic Director of the joint program between New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School and The Walnut Hill School for the Performing Arts in Natick, Massachusetts.

Mr. Zander is one of the most sought after speakers in the world. He gave the opening Keynote address at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where on another occasion he was awarded the Crystal award for “outstanding contributions in the Arts and international relations. In 2002 he was awarded the “Caring Citizen of the Humanities” Award by the International Council for Caring Communities at the United Nations. In honor of his 70th birthday, and 44 years of teaching, he was recently awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the New England Conservatory.

His partner Rosamund Zander and he have collaborated on a best-selling book, “The Art of Possibility” which has been translated into fifteen languages.

Yes, this book has a lot to do with music, orchestras, and conducting.

But, it goes way beyond that. I view this book more as a roadmap to be a successful leader and to live out a life of transformation. Whether you’re a musician or not, you need to read this book. It will turn your life upside down, inside out. The ideas that Ben and Rosamund present here will cause you to rethink your approach to life and relationships.

[PLEASE NOTE: this is not a “Christian,” sanitized book. There is some adult language and themes here and there (especially under Chapter 6: Rule Number 6 and Chapter 7: The Way Things Are). I don’t support or condone the language or subject matter, but I do agree with the primary principles presented here. If you choose to read this book, you will need to keep this mind. You have been warned.]

My 6 Takeaways From The Book The Art Of Possibility

After reading The Art of Possibility, I came away with six actionable concepts that I have already started applying to my life. I’m seeing amazing things happen in my life as a result.

  1. It’s all invented (p. 12). The interpretations of the world vary from person to person, depending on our culture, environment, and upbringing. We all tend to become rigidly attached to certain ways of thinking and specific ways of viewing the world. The Zanders have concluded that “It’s all invented anyway, so we might as well invent a story or a framework that enhances our quality of life and the life of those around us.”
  2. Orient your life toward abundance (p. 21). It is very easy for any of us to slip into a poverty or scarcity mindset, thinking that we don’t have enough money or resources to accomplish what we would like. The Zanders encourage us with these words, “you are more likely to extend your business and have a fulfilled life if you have the attitude that there are always new customers out there waiting to be enrolled rather than that money, customers, and ideas are in short supply … resources are more likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life. There aren’t any guarantees, of course. When you are oriented to abundance, you care less about being in control, and take more risks.”
  3. Radiate possibility to everyone around you (p. 65). When the people you lead are not everything you envision them to be, who do you blame? Do you blame them, or do you blame yourself? Ben Zander puts forth the question for all of us who are leading others, “Who am I being that they are not shining?” (p. 74). The only person we can truly blame is ourself. We are the leader who is radiating possibility to others. So how do we effectively radiate this universe of possibility? The Zanders believe that “Purpose, commitment, and vision are distinctions that radiate possibility” (p. 179).
  4. Give people an “A” (p. 26, 39). Too many times, we judge people with very little information. If we feel like they have done us wrong one too many times, we put these people on our “naughty” list. The Zanders challenge us to give the grade of an “A” to “anyone in any walk of life – to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team … When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves … This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.”
  5. Lead from the second chair (p. 41). There is a disease that infects many music ensembles. This problem is sometimes called “second fiddle-itis.” The problem occurs when people perceive their role in a group to be of little significance (second violins for example), mostly due to the fact that many people are duplicating the same part. This is not true of other key positions within an orchestra, such as the primary brass and woodwind roles. They act more as soloists. But, this in no way diminishes the role and importance of the “second part.” Ben Zander tells us the story of Robert Koff, the founding second violinst of the Julliard String Quartet: “I came away convinced that the real leader of the string quartet is the second violin. Not because Koff dominated the rest of us, but because in his part he had all the inner rhythms and harmonies, and he gave them such clarity and authority that we were all tremendously influenced by his playing. He was leading us from the ‘seconds.’”
  6. Rule Number 6: don’t take yourself so seriously! (p. 79-80). The practice of Rule Number 6 is to lighten up, which may lighten up those around us. We can utilize the power of humor to defuse tense and awkward situations. All of us take ourselves way too seriously at certain times and under specific circumstances. When you find yourself getting way too serious and stressed out, just remember Rule Number 6 and observe what happens!

Questions: Have you ever read The Art of Possibility? If so, what were your own takeaways from this amazing book?






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My Top 10 Blog Posts In 2013 According To Pageview Traffic

Photo by sam_churchill

Photo by sam_churchill

Preface

In a blog post earlier in the week, I took a look at My Top 10 Favorite Personal Blog Posts in 2013. In this post, I will list the top 10 blog posts in 2013 on my personal blog, larrywjones.com, according to pageview traffic analytics. Let me qualify this list by saying that some of these posts were written prior to 2013, but they still received a lot of pageviews in this year.

In order to read each post listed below in its entirety, just click on the embedded links. So, without further delay, here are the top ten posts in 2013 according to pageview traffic [drum roll, please]:

Top 10 Blog Posts in 2013 According to Pageview Traffic

10. Are You Simply A Volunteer Or Are You Called To Ministry? In this post, I look at the differences between those church members who only volunteer their time and talents, versus those who sense a deep calling to use their time and talents to advance the Kingdom of God. There is a major attitude and investment difference that’s worth noting.

9. Moving From Broken To Superhuman: Your 5-Step Action Plan. Several years ago, I went through a period of brokeness in my life. While many people would have probably just given up, thrown in the towel, and chucked the “Christian life” thing, I drew closer to the Lord and grew in my faith. I moved to a new, better place in my life. In this post, I share additional details on how the Lord truly took me from broken to superhuman.

8. 8 Characteristics Of An All-Star LinkedIn Profile. The truly, engaged professional has a killer LinkedIn profile. The best profiles are similar to online resumes, but on digital steroids! Over the last two years, I’ve become a huge fan of the various tools and features that LinkedIn has to offer professional business people. In this post, I outline the eight characteristics of the very best profiles out there, today.

7. What Should You Do When You’re Waiting On God For Your Next Move? I have received a favorable response from several people telling me how much the post personally spoke to them. I believe this post spoke to others because it reflects some of my one personal frustrations as I circle about in my own circumstantial holding patterns. I can speak from the knowledge of my own personal experience.

6. 7 Tips To Successfully Motivate Volunteers In Your Organization. Whether or not your volunteers feel a sense of calling or simply a spirit of volunteerism, there are practical techniques you as a leader can use to successfully motivate your followers. In this post, I give seven tips that have worked well for me over the last 16 years.

5. How To Organize Your LinkedIn Connections On A Free Account. A free account on LinkedIn doesn’t mean that you have to go without practical tools to organize your professional connections. In this post, I use screenshots to walk you through a systematic approach to organize your hundreds of connections.

4. 5 Awesome Books That Have Radically Changed My Life And Made Me More Productive. This is another one of my posts in which I still receive a very positive response. Here, I list five books I have read in the last few years that continue to have a positive impact on my personal life. I highly recommend them for your library.

3. 5 Ways To Live A More Elegant Life. The elegant life is not praised or promoted in our modern era. Why is this? I’m not entirely certain, but society in general continues to degrade into a more crude and rude state. How we dress, talk, eat, and walk does make an impact on those we come in contact with. “Suit up” and check out this post!

2. 14 Practical Leadership Lessons I Have Learned From Being An Orchestra Director. I’ve been directing volunteer orchestras now for almost 20 years. During this time, through much trial and error, I’ve picked up several important leadership lessons. In this post, I share what I’ve discovered about leadership along the way. Interestingly enough, this post really “caught fire” in my digital circle of influence, and this post was also featured over on the XPastor.org website: A Recent Post Featured Today Over At XPastor.org | 14 Leadership Lessons.

1. 6 Characteristics Of A Renaissance Man. This post was one of my first, early entries on the blog when I had a slightly different emphasis on Renaissance living. Interestingly enough, due to numerous Google searches on renaissance men, this page receives a ton of traffic. It’s far and away (like 30x more pageviews than the next popular post) my most visited blog post. Even though I shifted my blog emphasis to whole life stewardship, this is still a great blog post, in my humble opinion.

5 Ways To Be a Class Act Who Gets Noticed In A Crowd

Photo by Steven Depolo

Photo by Steven Depolo

The Great Divide

I work with a lot of different people. I work with ministry volunteers, I work with church staff. I even work with a few volunteers and organizational people outside of the church world. I work with busy professionals. I work with retired people. Old, young, busy, healthy, or maybe even sick. I’m sure we all have dealings with a wide variety of people.

Not all these people are on an “equal” level, though, in their respective ministries or organizations. There is often a great divide between those who are just part of the crowd and going with the flow, and those who stand out from the rest of the crowd.

The people who always stand out in mind are those who have special, unique qualities. Here’s a listing on my top five ways to stand out in any crowd of people and get noticed.

5 Ways To Stand Out From The Crowd

  1. Be early. When I first typed this, I wrote “Be on time,” but honestly being on time should be the minimum standard. The sad reality is that not very many people are even on time to their commitments. At the very least, we should all be on time to appointments and activities. Being early is what can set you apart from everybody else. And, being early can even score you some face time with leaders.
  2. Keep your word. Communicate. Be dependable. Our culture is becoming increasingly more and more convenience oriented. People will tell you one thing on one day, and then change their mind a few days later completely based on what is convenient for them in that moment on that particular day. Keeping your word, though, doesn’t depend on convenience. It depends on character. Be a man or woman of character, not convenience.
  3. Be prepared and do your best work. If you want to be noticed in the crowd of people and even within crowds of other leaders, then you must show up prepared. You need to know any and all material backwards and forward. You need to research. You need to study. You need to practice. Throw yourself into your preparation 100%. Give it your all. You’ll stand out because most people just go halfway.
  4. Have a great attitude. While you’re showing up early, keeping your word, and being prepared, come in with a great attitude. If you need to “fake it until you become it” then so be it. People are attracted to positive attitudes, not negative ones.
  5. Be proactive. Look around. Look ahead. Are there possible problems that can and should be addressed sooner rather than later? Can you be part of the solution? Express your concerns, then offer great solutions that work.

Questions: So, do you think you stand out in a crowd? Are you early to your commitments? Do you keep your commitments, even when it’s inconvenient to do so? Do you show up prepared and do awesome work? Do you have a great attitude? And finally, are you proactive at offering amazing solutions to problems?

Do you have additional ways to stand out in a crowd? What has worked for you in your own unique situation?

Are You Simply A Volunteer Or Are You Called To Ministry?

Photo by SJU Undergraduate Admissions

Photo by SJU Undergraduate Admissions

Volunteerism vs Calling

I’ve been involved as a leader in church ministry for the last 16+ years. I’ve had as many as 35-40 volunteers at any given time under my direct leadership during this 16 year period. Throw in the typical ministry churn that takes place in churches, and I would guess that I’ve seen 250-300 volunteers pass through my ministry alone.

As I’ve worked in the church world during this time, I can clearly see who shows up as a result of a spirit of volunteerism, and who serves because they feel the calling of the Lord to be a part of ministry. I’m not talking some crazy, mystical “God spoke to me in a dream after eating pizza last night” kind of experience, either.

Here’s what I have observed over the years:

  • Volunteers serve only when it is convenient. Called ministers serve during times of convenience as well as inconvenience.
  • Volunteers put in a “half-hearted” effort. Those called by God give their very best effort.
  • Volunteers want to quit at the first sign of a problem. Called ministers will dig in and persevere.
  • Volunteers can always find lots of reasons to complain and be unhappy. Those called of the Lord serve with a spirit of joy and thanksgiving.

In my own ministry, I was recently reminded of the importance of the call into ministry for those under my direct leadership.

3 Important Reminders For Our Call Into Ministry

  1. Each one of us has a calling into ministry. Being a part of a specific ministry is more than volunteering. Hopefully, we have not been begged or coerced into using our gifts and abilities for ministry. We’re either called by God or we’re not called, and that’s okay. If God does call us though, we need to be obedient to that call.
  2. We are simply “stewards” or managers of our calling. In other words, “our individual positions are not really our positions.” Here’s what I mean: God has placed you in a specific position at a specific time in your church’s history. Right now, you’re responsible to be the best manager of your specific calling until the Lord decides that calling needs to change. All of us need to lead well, today, and then we need to do an awesome job of handing off the baton to the next called person sometime in the future.
  3. The mission of the church or a specific ministry must always move forward. This should be the primary purpose behind our calling. God will see that His purposes are fulfilled whether or not we remain faithful in our calling. We may even be moved on by Him to a different mission. Always keep your focus on the overall mission of your church body as well as your specific ministry calling.

Questions: Have you been obedient to your own personal call into ministry? How well are you managing the position God has called you to right now? Are you focused on God’s mission for your life and ministry, or are you selfishly focused on your own agenda?

Is It Possible To Change People’s Attitudes?

Photo by Ryan Hyde

Photo by Ryan Hyde

We’ve Always Done It This Way

I was having a recent discussion with a church staff member who has been encountering change resistance from some volunteers under his leadership. He acknowledges that these volunteers are good people. They desire to minister to others. He is convinced, though, that their style of service needs to adapt to the next generation. Unfortunately, these volunteers are too “old school” for the church’s current needs.

I believe every generation probably struggles with the attitude of “ … but, we’ve always done it this way.” All of us can get set in our ways. We can get hung up on one way to do something. We can become resistant to any kind of change.

Leaders are (supposed to be) change agents. We are the ones who must show and lead the way to those who follow us. The problem we sometimes run into, though, is when our followers don’t want to follow in the change path.

The questions then start. Why is this person resistant to change? Do they not understand the reasons we need to make these changes? Are they just set in their ways? Is this all my fault? Did I try to make too many changes, too quickly? Am I bad leader?

Changing People Is Hard

The reality for all of us who lead teams is that change is difficult. No one likes change. Everybody enjoys their comfort zone.

So, what do we do? How do we change these people?

Is there a training program you can implement? Is there a magical, inspiring speech you can give that will light a fire under these people? Can you give these volunteers a 5-point plan to accomplish the change you want?

Yeah, probably not.

Growth Is The Answer

The answer that this staff member mentioned to me is that you can’t change followers who are resistant to change. Realistically, it’s not possible.

But, you can grow right past them.

You can grow as a leader. You can facilitate the growth of the followers who have captured the vision you want to accomplish. You can grow your base of followers by adding people to the team who see and believe in the vision you want to accomplish.

If this kind of growth takes place, then what? What happens to those who continue to resist the change?

Well, there are a few possible scenarios in a situation such as this.

One, they keep hanging around, and you end up working around them with your other team members. Two, they observe the growth happening around them, and they finally decide to go with the change. Three, they end up quitting because they don’t like the change. Four, you end up letting them go.

Changing people’s attitudes is difficult, if not impossible to achieve. As a leader, don’t get stuck focused on a bunch of people who won’t make the changes you’re looking to make. Focus, rather, on growing past them.

Questions: Have you encountered similar situations in your organization? How have you dealt with this problem?

5 Strategies To Develop Your Volunteer Teams

Photo by mtsofan

Photo by mtsofan

Volunteer Development

In a normal work environment, employees are routinely and strategically developed in their professional growth. While most employees typically understand the necessity for their own proactive, self-motivated development, I’m not quite as confident that volunteers always have the same view of their individual role within an organization. Of course, volunteer development is strictly based on the type of task that needs to be performed.

For example, if you’re volunteering to feed the homeless at a soup kitchen, then a minimum of training is required (i.e. stand here and scoop these potatoes onto each plate). If you’re volunteering to teach a 5th grade boys Sunday School class at church, then I can see the potential for training in the areas of teaching, discipline, classroom management, and so on. Every volunteer position will vary in difficulty and training required to accomplish the task.

I believe the majority of volunteers show up to fill a spot. They can see and understand that there is a need. Then, they step up to meet the perceived need. I’m not always sure, though, that they understand the training and development necessary to perform their role.

If you are a leader of volunteers, then you need to passionately guide volunteers in their personal growth and development. Here are some strategies I have found useful in leading my volunteer groups.

5 Strategies For Your Volunteer Development Arsenal

  1. Model Superstardom: if you want your volunteer group to perform at an amazingly high level, then your own personal performance has to be at the extreme high-end of your own expectations. The groups that you lead will not typically rise past your own level and ability as the leader. If you desire for them to be superstars, then you need to be a superstar performer yourself, first. “You can’t lead anyone else further than you have gone yourself. “ – Gene Mauch
  2. The 5-Minute Motivational Speech: no, this isn’t shades of Matt Foley (“… living in a van, down by the river” stuff). This is actually a quasi-newer addition for me in my development arsenal. So far, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from my volunteers. They view it as spiritual devotional at the beginning of our time together. I actually view it as a way to teach and motivate my volunteers each week. Either way you view it, though, it works well as a connecting and teaching opportunity.
  3. Print and digital newsletter: for 16 years, I have done several motivational activities within the context of print media. For my own volunteer organization, we utilize a print newsletter and digital pdf version that we email out each week. Within each publication, I typically utilize these two articles to subtly and consistently develop my team. The Quote of the Week: at the top my weekly newsletter, I attempt to include a motivational and encouraging quote. You know you’ve hit a home run on a quote when members take that quote and put it up on Facebook after reading it! Note from Larry (or Note from the Leader): in this section of the newsletter, I always try to be an encourager of their successes and grateful for their commitment to the mission and vision.
  4. Workshops: whenever possible, we schedule small workshops to assist in the development of our volunteers. We occasionally will also go off site for larger workshops and conferences.
  5. Books: there have been a few occasions when I have utilized short books with smaller groups of leaders. Books are always great tools to learn and grow, even in the context of a small group. You can read through them together and have group discussions regarding what you’re learning.

Questions: Are you a leader of volunteers? Do you use any of these five strategies and have they been effective with your teams? What other strategies have you utilized and how effective have they been?

7 Tips To Successfully Motivate Volunteers In Your Organization

Photo by Mark Brannan

Photo by Mark Brannan

Motivating Volunteers Is My Life’s Work

For the last sixteen years, my primary job role has been engaging a small, unique sub-set of volunteers – the volunteer church orchestra.

In my professional opinion, this particular position has a number of unique layers of challenging volunteer motivation. Not only do I have the incredible responsibility to motivate them to show up for rehearsals and worship services, but I also have the privilege of developing them, musically. I must take a group made up of mostly “weekend warrior” musicians and strategically motivate them to grow in their musical abilities.

So, over the last sixteen years, here is the “toolbox” I have developed, mostly through trial and error, to engage and motivate my volunteers to not only show up, but to also become better musicians.

7 Tips To Motivate Your Volunteers

  1. Get personal. If you develop a personal connection with your volunteers, then there is a greater likelihood that they will stay with your organization, long-term. You must know the names of your volunteers. Knowing the names of their spouses and kids is a major bonus and will endear you to your volunteers. Also, you need to “walk around the room.” There is something very special about a leader of any organization who arrives early and stays late just to connect with those he is leading.
  2. Mail them hand-written cards. You should regularly thank your volunteers via spoken word and email communication. This is a given. What will set you apart from others, though, is mailing them hand-written thank you, birthday, and anniversary cards. Why is this so effective? Because hardly anybody does it anymore; it’s too much work for a lot of people. Your volunteers will truly appreciate that you took additional time out of your busy schedule to provide that personal touch.
  3. Honor their time. You need to have a schedule and stick to it 99% of the time. If you ask your volunteers to be present at a specific time, then you need to start on time. If you give them an end time, then you need to end on time. Yes, there will be special circumstances when you may need to flex your start and end times, but make that a rare exception and not the rule. With our ever increasingly busy lives, people appreciate those who can stay on a firm schedule.
  4. Be prepared. Organize their work, whatever it is. You as the leader need to have your own “ducks in a row” as well. Your volunteers will greatly appreciate all of their work resources being organized and accessible as soon as they arrive to volunteer for you.
  5. Communicate the mission. Have you ever heard about the psychology study that included asking people to dig ditches, fill them back in, and ever-increasing monetary compensation for them showing back up the next day to do the exact same task? This supposed psychology study found that people who were hired to dig ditches for half a day and then directed to fill them back in the second half of the day, were less likely to return to work the next day, even if their pay was increased. Why is this? People need to know that their work matters and has some greater overall purpose. As you lead your volunteers, you must communicate the mission of your organization on a regular basis. Say it verbally. Write it down in your thank you cards. Place it prominently in your newsletters. The more your volunteers hear the mission and connect with it, the greater the likelihood that they will keep showing up to volunteer.
  6. Admit when you mess up. In my opinion, the worst leaders are the ones who can never admit they made a mistake. That’s plain dumb. We’re human beings and we all make mistakes. Your volunteers will appreciate you more if you just confess it and ask for forgiveness. Being stubborn about your failings will send your volunteers out the back door, over time.
  7. Celebrate! Every time your volunteer organization moves successfully through a project or special event, you should celebrate. Throw a little party of some type in order to pause, reflect, as well as say to your group, “Yea! We did it!” Too many times, we just blast on through to the next project and ask our people, “what have you done for me lately?” This is probably not the best way to retain your volunteers. Figure out creative, meaningful ways to celebrate your victories and at the same time show appreciation to your volunteers.

Questions: Are you a leader of a mostly volunteer organization? What do you think of these 7 specific tips? Which ones do you use to motivate your volunteers? Do you have any additional tips in your toolbox? Feel free to share your ideas with the community by leaving us a comment below.