By Karimah Nonyameko
Faith congregations are often filled with people who are inclined to think of others and step up to serve fellow congregants and the community. That makes them particularly appealing to local nonprofits seeking volunteers to help kids thrive and connect the generations.
But it’s not always easy to get a foot in the door.
I spoke recently with Angela Carron, executive director of Fostering Hope, and her colleague Barbara Lara, about how they’ve successfully worked with faith communities in Colorado Springs, matching congregations with foster families that need support. Currently, volunteers from 28 local congregations support dozens of foster families, some for more than a decade.
How did Angela and Barbara get their feet in so many doors? Here are 10 of their best tips on topics from getting started to sustaining strong relationships.
1. Do your homework. Learn as much as possible about a congregation before you make any kind of ask. Be familiar with their mission, values, culture and existing community projects or volunteer programs. Be aware of faith-based decorum, protocols and expectations.
2. Find an internal champion. Find someone who knows a member of the congregation who is willing to connect you to the pastor or pastoral staff. If possible, ask for an introduction to both the youth pastor and the executive pastor, as they can represent the younger and older members of the congregation and may have additional ideas for you to consider when it comes to connecting generations.
3. Identify alignment. Talk about where your missions overlap and address any potential concerns a congregation might have up front. Make clear requests for volunteers, meeting space, pastoral support, equipment use, etc. Don’t ask for donations or any kind of financial support.
4. Be collaborative. Listen and be flexible. You might need to make some changes to your ask. You are working to build trust over the long haul. Don’t let short-term desires distract you.
5. Speak to the entire congregation. Get time on the pulpit — ideally, during a weekend service. Having the pastor standing next to you adds credibility, and you’ll reach people of all ages. Targeting subcultures or groups within a congregation is less likely to spark interest or translate to volunteer engagement.
6. Be quick. Keep your pitch between 90 seconds and two minutes, and have a video prepared if you’re approaching a large congregation. Mentioning the fun that can be had when sharing meals and spending time with young people can resonate with older parishioners who don’t live near grandchildren.
7. Take responsibility for logistics. Congregations are often overwhelmed by programs asking for their support in one way or another, so take the burden off of them to manage details. Have a coordinator for each congregation.
8. Encourage being over doing. When volunteers spend time with young people, they get hooked. Explain to volunteers that what’s most important isn’t achieving a task or goal, but simply spending time with young people who need stable and supportive relationships in their lives.
9. Give reports, not praise. Volunteers from faith congregations are typically motivated by the desire to serve, love and make an impact. Instead of providing rewards or organizing special events to honor volunteers, ask coordinators to provide routine reports to the congregation and the pastor. Sharing results with the broader congregation is the best reward!
10. Ask for a referral. Ask someone who has had a positive experience with a congregation to help you form a relationship with the same (or another) congregation. This will help your faith-based network grow organically over time and will increase the chances that a new congregation will be receptive to a conversation.