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The Congregational Consulting Group, organized in 2014 by former consultants of the Alban Institute, is a network of independent consultants. We publish PERSPECTIVES for Congregational Leaders—thoughts on topics of interest to leaders of congregations and other purpose-driven organizations. —  Dan Hotchkiss, editor

Getting Volunteers to Say Yes

Most congregations have ideas about how they’d like to innovate. However, things fall flat when it comes to recruiting volunteers to carry out those ideas. Discover how you can strengthen the practice of influence, ethically persuading others to invest time and energy in a new idea. If you follow the right principles, more volunteers will say yes.

What is your go to approach when asking someone to volunteer? Do you use straightforward logic? “This is what needs doing, and here is why. Can you help us out?” Or perhaps you use the apologetic approach. “This really shouldn’t take too much of your time, you only need to …” When these approaches don’t work, do you resort to some form of begging. “No one else will step up, can you please help, just this one time?”

It’s really no wonder that people aren’t joining in. These recruiting approaches don’t demonstrate much energy, confidence, or imagination.

Is It Ethical?

In congregations, the ethics of influence trouble us. We’d like to focus on simple logic, and trust that members will respect our mission, prompting engagement. We don’t want to manipulate, and we don’t want to resort to marketing schemes when it comes to asking for help.

This is shortsighted and a little bit lazy. Our mission is important. We need to bring the best of our influential and persuasive abilities to bear on the task of recruitment.

Dr. Robert Cialdini researches, writes, and teaches about the power of ethical influence. In his bestselling text, Influence: Science and Practice, Cialdini teaches seven basic principles for strengthening your influence abilities. According to Cialdini, these seven principles are perfectly ethical when we use them to elevate the truth. They only become manipulative when we counterfeit the principles with faulty information or untruths.

Seven Principles of Influence

The building blocks of influence are not individually groundbreaking. Most of you already observe one or more of these principles on a regular basis. Their power comes when you employ them all and practice them with greater intentionality.

  1. Reciprocity. People will feel obliged to give something in return for what they have already received. This principle works most effectively when the person receives something from you that they value, something that is both personal and unexpected. Examples include your attention and care, access to information about what is happening, an invitation to participate in decision making, connections to important others, and an opportunity to learn something new. The key is to establish a reciprocal relationship first, by giving them something of value before you ask for engagement.
  2. Scarcity. People want more of what is scarce and are drawn to things with dwindling availability (last chance offers) or things not generally available to everyone. When you offer someone an opportunity to serve, highlight the unique benefits of the opportunity and what they stand to lose if they pass on this. Explain how they are uniquely positioned or gifted to fill this role.
  3. Authority. People will follow the lead of credible, knowledgeable experts. Before you invite someone to volunteer, consider your role and assess your credibility in this area of ministry. Engage your potential volunteer from the fullness of your authority, not in a heavy-handed way, but authentically. “As the chairperson of the board, I’d like you to consider…”

    If you don’t have credibility in the area for which you are recruiting, consider bringing along someone who has more credibility with the potential volunteer. Inviting someone to sing in the choir because you think they have a lovely voice won’t carry much weight if you have no musical abilities of your own. An invitation from a choral section leader will be more influential.

  4. Consistency. People like to be consistent in their behavior with things they have already said or done. Someone who has already agreed to participate in a very small way is more likely to increase their level of involvement. This principle has two important implications:
  • First, imagine that you are thinking of asking someone to take on a major task down the road. You would like them to lead the capital campaign next year. Ask them first to do something now, on a much smaller scale in the same area. “Would you be willing to make an announcement in worship about the launch of our pledge drive?”
  • Second, when you invite, help your potential volunteer see how this action is consistent with the path they have already chosen. “Last month you helped by assembling craft supplies for vacation Bible school. The kids really loved those craft projects. I wonder if you’d be willing to serve as the craft coordinator for our primary grades in Sunday school this year?”
  1. Liking. People prefer to say yes to those they like. Research shows that likeability stems from three key attributes. We like:
  • People similar to us
  • People who pay us compliments
  • People who cooperate with us to reach similar goals

This principle reminds us to begin our recruiting efforts by establishing rapport. Strike up a conversation that reminds your potential volunteer about what you authentically share. Use flattery truthfully and appropriately. Remind your recruit about the ways you have cooperated in the past.

  1. Social Proof. People look to the actions and behavior of others to determine their own. Let your potential volunteer know who else is working on this project, who has validated or supported the project up to this point, and who else you are inviting to play a part.
  2. Unity. People want to say yes to those individuals who are “of them” or “one of us.” People want to see themselves as part of a meaningful, cohesive group.

    To that end, asking for advice in advance of a decision or plan is always better for soliciting engagement. It works better than asking for an opinion or feedback after a decision has been made. Put your potential recruit in the room when decisions are being made about the area of ministry you will be inviting them to lead.

Getting volunteers engaged is more difficult than ever—all the more reason to brush up on your influence skills and expand your approaches. With a little bit of practice and a lot more intentionality, you can become a persuasive influencer—getting them to say yes!

Susan Beaumont is a coach, educator, and consultant who has worked with hundreds of faith communities across the United States and Canada. Susan is known for working at the intersection of organizational health and spiritual vitality. She specializes in large church dynamics, staff team health, board development, and leadership during seasons of transition.

With both an M.B.A. and an M.Div., Susan blends business acumen with spiritual practice. She moves naturally between decision-making and discernment, connecting the soul of the leader with the soul of the institution. You can read more about her ministry at

Books by Susan Beaumont

Beaumont, How to Lead When you Don't Know
Beaumont, Inside the Large Congregation
Beaumont, When Moses Meets Aaron
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