trashHow do we find volunteers for the different jobs in our congregation?  How do we fire a volunteer who doesn’t perform?  How do we renew a committee stuck in stale ideas and that repels any new committee members and their potential energy?

Volunteer recruitment and dealing with volunteers who don’t follow through was the topic of an “Open Space” time during last week’s Midwest Leadership School in Beloit, WI.  There, Bonnie Blosser, the Director of Lifelong Learning at The Unitarian Fellowship of Lawrence, shared her framing of how she works with volunteers, and what follows is from that conversation.

One of the not-so-secret secrets of volunteer recruitment is to find out what each member’s gifts and passions are and help them find a role that feeds them.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that you match them with something they are already good at (recruiting a grade school teacher to teach RE for example).  It may be something that they are interested in pursuing that might seem to be a bit of a stretch (e.g. asking the engineer about serving on the membership committee).  If someone is being fed–i.e. being energized by what they are doing–they are less likely to burn out or disappoint.

The flip side of this is that if someone is filling a volunteer role out of a sense of duty or as a favor, and that role or task drains their energy, they are likely to disappoint or burn out.  This is where Bonnie’s framing comes in.

When she has a volunteer who she suspects is in a role or has a task that is draining, she has a conversation with them that goes somewhat like this:

I notice that doing “A” seems to make you light up, while doing “B” seems to feel like a real burden to you.  I know that “A” is not everyone’s cup of tea, so your doing it and loving doing it is a great gift.
I know of a couple of people who would find great joy in doing “B” similar to what you feel doing “A.”  Would you be willing to let go of “B” so that someone else who might love it could pick it up?


If we left “B” undone for a while, it’s likely that someone who might enjoy doing it would offer to pick it up and bring their own creativity to it, similar to what you are experiencing with “A.”

Like the old saying goes:  One person’s trash is another one’s treasure.

-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke

Leadership Development Consultant

Central East Regional Group



About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Bonnie Blosser

    Bonnie Blosser I have only had a half cup of coffee this morning but I sure did learn at MWLS that I could do more than I thought with less caffeine – so here goes…First, I use this almost immediately in my relationship with them…as in please tell me what energizes you. We generally have a great deeper ‘getting to know you’ conversation. I then say, in every job there are things that you avoid doing, you may be uncomfortable doing them and they drain that energy. I also go on the say there certainly are times that we have to do those no matter – and we can grow from these experiences for sure. But if it is a small but critical piece of their work that may be keeping the whole bogged down or backed up or the group ‘dull’ -then I would as their leader, either be will to do that task (cuz it’s one that energizes me) or help find someone for who this is their energizer. If there is no other person, then I would chose to walk beside that volunteer (or employee) and tackle it together. I agree with Ian, that approaching that conversation from the energy drainers side would be very difficult. Also, sometimes just knowing you have someone you CAN turn to, helps you to plow through. I have not had to focus on the negative and thankfully have only had to have that painful, awkward conversation once (a long time ago with an employee I had to eventually let go), but then that was before I had figured this approach out, so who knows how that would have played out…Thank you Renee Zimelis Ruchotzke for writing this piece and putting it out there. That one moment of speaking up at MWLS has started a ripple – it happens all the time of course but we are usually not aware how/where our words and actions go forward once they leave us. And as an avid thrift store/garage sale shopper, I LOVE the trash/treasure analogy!

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