We Like You—We Really, Really Like You
Retreats, trips, and camps couldn’t happen without the blood, sweat, and tears of strong volunteers. Here are some simple ways to show them the love.
- Clear Expectations
- For them: Everyone likes to feel needed. Let your volunteers know exactly what you need them for. If you don’t have a purpose for them, they might wonder why they came, or they might behave as if they were students. They need to know the rules and boundaries and what you need them to do. This will keep everyone happy.
- For the trip: Tell them who’s coming on this trip, where they’ll sleep and shower, and what kind of clothes they should pack, Do they need bedding, towels, air mattresses, or fans? Will there be Wi-Fi or cell service? Do they need tools, sunscreen, or bug spray? It’s best to over-communicate.
- A Heads Up: If they’re part of your team, make them part of the team. What are the goals for this trip? What are the specific things and people they can pray for? Is there drama brewing? Are there blossoming relationships they should know about? Are any of the students going through some big issues at home? Who has allergies and medications? Does somebody tend to get carsick? Does a particular student never have money when you stop for lunch? Is there a student who’s particularly forgetful or accident-prone? You have leaders going with you so you don’t have to bear all of this on your own. Sharing the load with your leaders will help you and will give them a greater sense of purpose.
- Caffeine: Coffee or soda. Make it abundantly available for your volunteers.
- Car Kits for Drivers: Dip into your petty cash, and put cash in envelopes for each vehicle. Ask your volunteers to put their receipts in the envelopes and return them at the end of the trip. If you can swing it, reimburse them for mileage when they drive their own vehicles. Car kits should have a folder with maps and directions, the address of your final destination, and an idea of planned rest stops. And while they’re a bit old school, providing each car with a walkie-talkie will provide hilarity and hijinks, and you won’t be using anyone’s data plan or minutes. It’s also thoughtful to provide each car with a trash bag and some snacks and drinks for the road.
- Time and Space: Give your volunteers a break from the students each day during which they can call home, get on the Wi-Fi, catch up on work, or just sit in peace. Be really clear about when it’s cool to sneak away and when it’s not. Most of us don’t have the budget for a masseuse, but wouldn’t it be cool if we did!
- Acknowledgement: Did your volunteers have to make sacrifices to be with you for the trip? Did they sacrifice family time or a birthday celebration? Did they have to use vacation days from work—or are they taking time off without getting paid? Did they have to pay to come? Those are all big deals. Act like it, and thank them.
Icing on the Cake
- Per Diem: You might not be able to cover the cost of every meal, but are you covering some? Give your volunteers cash to cover tips for food service, for cleaning staff if you’re in a hotel, for buses or taxi drivers, or for luggage handlers or luggage carts at the airport. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but your attentiveness to these kinds of out-of-pocket expenses will go a long way. If you need your volunteers to keep track of how they spend this money, you can use envelopes and ask them to record it all.
- Care Packages: Hello, Pinterest! I love finding out my volunteers’ favorite snacks and filling up gift bags. I pray for them while I doodle fancy labels with their names. I put in water bottles and sometimes earplugs. I bake if I have the time. Goldfish are great, but homemade zucchini bread, cupcakes, or cookies are awesome! I always include breath mints. I usually put in a Sharpie, because you’ll always need one if there isn’t one around. Sometimes I toss in Band-Aids, hand sanitizer, tissues, or cough drops, depending on the season and kind of trip.
- Handwritten Thank-You Notes: Don’t just send out a generic, typed thank-you note—take your time, and be specific. Wouldn’t you rather get a note in your mailbox that says, “Thank you so much for your patience with Charlie’s anxiety. You have a true gift. The way you handled that meltdown Wednesday night with such grace made me grateful you’re on our team.” If you couldn’t have made it through the week without your volunteers, make sure to let them know how and why. People remember how you made them feel—so say the things that make them feel cherished and awesome . . . but only if you really mean it. And if you have the resources, toss in a gift card or a bottle of a preferred adult beverage.
Teri Valente is the Youth Ministry Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Delaware and the Program Director for Camp Arrowhead. She is a product of Youth and Campus Ministry and has a very ecumenical background having been formed by several denominations and and para-church organizations. She has worked for Presbyterian (USA) and United Methodist congregations and volunteered for several years with Youth for Christ. She likes elephants, pandas, traveling, music, and instagram. You can find her on social media with the super creative handle: @terivalente
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.