Listen: Academic and author Stephen Fogarty chats to Laura Bennett
If there’s anyone that knows the importance of committed volunteers, its church pastors, and leaders of not-for-profit organisations.
Whether at weekly services or community events, volunteers are the ones who turn up early – and stay back late – working to set up venues, welcome guests, lead teams, and support attendees. They’re the backbone – and often-times, the first point of contact – for customers, clients, visitors, and event delegates.
In Australia in 2014, over 5.8 million people participated in volunteer work, worth an estimated $43 billion dollars in value across the country. Most gave their time to sporting and religious pursuits, offering more than 740 million unpaid hours.
It’s no small thing that volunteers make this commitment—so how can leaders value their contribution and motivate volunteer teams?
Motivate Your Volunteers, And Care for Them
Alphacrucis College President, Professor Stephen Fogarty (pictured), believes “transformational leadership”, or leading in a relational, inspiring way, is the key.
“We’re talking about leadership that gets emotionally involved with followers,” Stephen said. “It’s inspirational and moral leadership, rather than directional or authoritarian leadership. It’s an attempt by leaders to engage personally with those they’re seeking to influence – with the ultimate goal of inspiring their motivation for the task at hand.
The academic, author and leadership expert said the days of remote, authoritarian leaders are gone – especially in a church setting: “In our day [people] are far more egalitarian and have a sense of what they [contribute].”
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Formerly a pastor in Western Australia, Prof. Stephen pioneered three churches as an Assemblies of God minister, before his career in education. During that time, he learnt very quickly that the attitude of the leadership greatly affected a church’s ability to thrive.
“It just hit me in the face,” he said. “Churches are volunteer organisations. You can be caught up in the ‘lofty aspirations’ of proclaiming the gospel and expect people to latch on to that—but in reality you can’t run a church unless you can motivate an army of individual [volunteers].”
Leaders Need to be Humble, and Inspire Their Team
The role of a leader has also become more significant in the last 25 years, as greater transparency is demanded, and their actions are heavily scrutinised by the public and their followers.
“A leader still needs to provide certainty,” said Stephen. “Certainly in a day of absolute uncertainty about what’s true/what’s not true, what’s moral/what’s not moral, [people] are still looking for certainty. Not in a rigid or dogmatic way, but in a pastoral way, and in a warm, caring, [empathetic] way.
“A leader needs to have enough humility to put themselves on the same level as those they’re leading.”
“The notion of a very powerful, dominant, ‘great man’ who provides leadership is not very attractive to most people these days. People don’t relate to that at all; I think a leader needs to have enough humility to put themselves on the same level as those they’re leading.”
Stephen writes about leadership in his book, Light A Fire: How to Effectively Motivate Volunteers in Your Church.
In it, he looks to the work of historian and political scientist James McGregor Burns – who suggests that transformational leadership is an inspiring type of leadership, engaging with people on a moral, emotional level.
“It catches their hearts and inspires them to see a better future,” Stephen said.
How to Lead Volunteer Organisations Well
For those who lead teams of volunteers, Stephen gave the following practical advice:
1 – Lead by Example
“You’ve got to exemplify the values of your organisation…. Hypocrisy undermines trust and value congruence.”
2 – Inspire Enthusiasm and Optimism
“You need to demonstrate what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and what the desired future is.”
3 – Meet your Volunteers’ Inner Needs
“Volunteers need to be granted a certain degree of autonomy… every one of us want to show that we’re good at something. That we want to show mastery. As leaders we can allow people the opportunity to demonstrate that mastery.”
“Volunteers also need friendships and relationships. Good leaders work hard to create friendly, safe, supportive environment.”
Find out more about Stephen and his work at stephenfogarty.com.