Redefining the 80/20 rule

I first became aware of the “80/20 rule” concerning volunteers (specifically church volunteers) while conversing with a friend about the reasons why more people don’t engage in volunteer activities.
For those unfamiliar with this “rule”, it basically states that 80% of the work is typically completed by only 20% of the congregation.
The basic suggestion of the rule is that few are selfless and too many are self-serving. To express it more mildly, few are participants and many are spectators.
This is how a recent article I read describes it:

“The Selfless volunteer is unconditionally committed. There is zero ego, no personal expectations and certainly no What’s In It For Me thinking.
The Self-Serving volunteer is only conditionally committed. Everything else comes first and if their schedule allows they’ll pitch in, maybe!”

While I agree with some of this, I believe we often tend to overlook the extremely busy lifestyles most of us are living nowadays.
Of course, even with busy lives, 20% still find time to dedicate to serving so, being busy is not really an adequate excuse. However, it should get us to re-think how we recruit and schedule volunteers.

I believe the remaining 80% can be won over with scheduling flexibility and options they can have some control over.
Okay, maybe not the entire 80% but still a decent number of that population.

For example, lets look at a scenario where I am a team lead for the Greeters team during Morning Service.
Lets say I have 4 people on my team. Like most organizations, my scheduling approach will most likely be to rotate those volunteers on a weekly basis so that everyone serves roughly once a month.
This creates a “fair” schedule and everyone works an equal amount.
Well, the truth is while this approach may work for some (20%), others (80%) will be left out of the chance to participate on this team because of their inability to commit to a set rotation.
Lets face it, between work, family and other social obligations, most of us have very limited free time. So, while one person may be able to adhere to the rotation schedule, others may shy away altogether because of it.

Now, if we take the same scenario listed above and add flexibility so that anyone who volunteers will have the ability to choose how often they work in a given time period, which events they prefer to be scheduled for, and which days they are available/unavailable, I will now have the attention of many in the 80% category.
A person who wants to participate but is only available once every 7-8 weeks will be able to sign up alongside someone who is available as often as needed.

This idea may seem like a stretch to some however, I simply don’t believe that the 80% are mostly made up of those who are self-serving.
I believe many in the 80% do not want to:
– be overworked
– disappoint team leaders when they are not able to attend events due to life events
– constantly feel like they are always having to decline assignments that were created without their input
– get “stuck” in a scheduling rotation they have little to no control over
– come across as difficult or uncommitted when they express their scheduling preferences, which may change periodically based on life events
– feel guilty when they need some time off to rejuvenate

On the other side of the coin, the truth is that team admins are busy people too. Finding people who are willing to volunteer, then scheduling them as fairly as possible, then planning out the week-to-week activities for the team is not exactly easy even when it is your full time job.  An example situation for an admin:

Greeter Mr. Smith is only interested in working 2nd Service when Mrs. Smith is also working at the Information Desk. Furthermore, Mr. Smith is not available on the 1st and 3rd Sundays of each month and will be on vacation for 2 weeks in June and November. He would prefer to not be scheduled more than once every 4 weeks. 

The difficulty in the scenario above is further compounded if several other volunteers on the team also have scheduling preferences. No matter how good your spreadsheet is, trying to keep up with all these variables can only cause stress.

The simple answer to these situations is to have a scheduling system in place that handles the various complexities of trying to accommodate volunteer preferences when creating schedules.

If your organization is currently only using about 20% of the total Congregration for volunteer activites, I encourage you to consider putting in a system that adds scheduling flexibility.
Reach out to the 80% with a promise of flexibility and some scheduling control, and you may just be able to turn the 20% to 50%.

At the end of the day, the goal is not just to have enough workers to fill slots; the main goal should be to get as many involved in ministry work as possible.
Many in the 80% are willing, they just need a little more flexibility.

With a good system in place to manage volunteer scheduling, the 80/20 rule can be redefined into a positive term.


Edward Aifah Founder

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