Setting Goals with a Volunteer Team

It’s goal-setting season!  I’m the type of person who thrives on setting and working toward goals.  I may have somewhat of a love affair with to-do lists, too….but that’s another story.  Setting goals for myself is not difficult.  I’ve lived in the rhythm of it long enough to be able to try on new goals and see if they fit very quickly.


Setting goals with my volunteer teams is another story.  I’ve struggled and messed up and started over many, many times.  This past year was the best yet, but it’s still not perfect by a long shot.  I would like to share with you some of the mistakes I’ve made while setting goals with my volunteer teams.  Hopefully it will help you avoid some of the same mistakes as you work with your teams!

Mistake #1 – I set the goals for the team.


To be honest, I thought I was doing my teams a favor by setting their goals for them.  After all, my teams were donating their time and efforts – I didn’t want to add one more thing to their plate.  I was the one responsible for the success of our department, and I didn’t think I should share that weight with my volunteers.  There’s a big problem with that thinking – it communicated that I didn’t really value my team for anything more than productivity.  It stripped away ownership for my volunteers.  The goals may have been important to me, but if they didn’t resonate with the volunteers, they would have no desire to reach them.  So how did I fix that?  By making sure that the volunteers were part of the goal-setting process.


Mistake #2 – I gave them too much responsibility.


The reflex to the first mistake is to step out of the process of goal setting completely and leave all of the responsibility to your volunteers.  One of our jobs as leaders is learning how to empower our teams.  Empowering doesn’t mean assigning a task and walking away – it means giving the authority, tools, and help needed to accomplish the task.  In goal setting, this can be as simple as sharing the goals that have been set for your department as a whole, and asking them to use them as a starting place for creating the goals for their area.  It could also mean brainstorming goals together, and then allowing your volunteers to narrow down and clarify the goals to fit them specifically.  However you choose to assist your volunteers, make sure they know they are not alone in the process.


Mistake #3 – I set goals before defining the win.


My last blog post was all about how to define the win.  I learned the hard way that you can set goals and even reach them, all to find out that you never really accomplished anything.  Defining the win allows you to be intentional about pursuing goals that will truly make an impact on your life or your organization.  So before you set goals with your volunteer team, take time to define the win together.


Mistake #4 – I never talked about the goals again.


There is nothing more frustrating than putting time, energy and effort into creating goals, only to never hear about them again.  Maybe your volunteer team is very self-motivated and will keep themselves accountable for their goals, and communicate with you regularly about how they are progressing.  Chances are, that won’t happen.  I struggle personally with keeping goals if there is no accountability – and it’s unfair to assume my teams are able to do it.  Make it a point to help keep your volunteers accountable for their goals.  Help them measure their progress.  Give them support and tips on how to achieve them.  If something changes and the goals are no longer relevant, help them tweak or even recreate them.  Celebrate their progress, and encourage them when they are struggling.  Show your volunteers that when they win, the whole team wins.


You may have read all the way through this and are thinking, “This is all well and good, but my volunteers won’t do this!.”  Let’s talk about that.  First of all, if you say your volunteers won’t do this, they probably won’t.  It’s up to you to lead them to do it!  (If this is a struggle, watch this great podcast by Craig Groeschel.)  How do you lead them?  Help them see that what you want for them is so much greater than what you want from them.  (That is true, right?!)  When you truly desire to develop your volunteers into better people, they will trust you to lead them to try and accomplish more than they would ever do on their own.


It’s not too late to set goals with your volunteers for this year.  You will grow, your volunteers will grow, and your organization will grow as a result!


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