Why volunteers should always go for free

no money from youth workersDacia Bryan, youth pastor at Higher Ground Pentecostal Holiness Church in Ahoskie, NC, wrote me with the following question:

“Should a portion of the money we raise go to help pay for hotel expenses for youth staff members who go with us on overnight trips? Most of my youth staff are college age or a little older, most of them are relatively low income, and its a pretty big sacrifice for them to take off work and chaperon trips throughout the year.”

In my opinion, the youth volunteers should never pay a dime for anything ministry related, regardless of their income. They’re already sacrificing their family time, work time, relax time, friend time, sleep, energy, etc — that’s payment enough. I try to make it easy for the leaders to go on trips because if they can’t go, neither can the kids. Instead, I suggest splitting all the youth leader’s fees between the kids going on the trip: the cost of the trip for everyone divided by the number of students attending. For example, if a trip costs $50/person and there are 10 students going and 4 leaders, I take $50×14=$700 and divide that by the 10 kids, so now the trip costs $70/student and leaders go free. Besides making it easier for the volunteers, it shows them that you appreciate their sacrifice and dedication to the students. Even if a leader wants to pay, don’t let them. That way there’s absolutely no pressure on any other leader to pay also. If some leader demands that they make some sort of financial contribution, ask them to sponsor one of the students instead.

Now, I don’t really make this “formula” public to everyone when announcing the cost of trips and events. I just tell them what it costs and leave it at that, especially if no one is used to the slightly inflated prices. If someone asks, tell them the truth and back your volunteers 100% with this. Make it clear that if the leaders don’t go, then no one can go at all. Your leaders are the ones who make the trip possible for everyone, the ones sacrificing so much personally and giving so much to the kids during that time. The least the kids can do is cover the extra money to get them there.

Your leaders are the ones who make the trip possible for everyone, the ones sacrificing so much personally and giving so much to the kids during that time. The least the kids can do is cover the extra money to get them there.

Unfortunately there’s an attitude in many churches that expects programs to be offered either free of charge or at minimal cost. Those same parents have no problem forking over $200 for a band uniform or paying for their kid’s sports leagues because they deem those programs to be valuable. How much more valuable are their kid’s spiritual development?

In most cases, raising the price a little won’t affect anyone, as much as their outcry may indicate otherwise. Every marketing study out there shows that students are the #1 targeted demographic because they spend more money than anyone else and have the least amount of financial responsibility. The question isn’t usually whether students have money or not, the question is how they choose to spend it. If they’d stay home one Friday night instead of going out to eat and seeing a movie with friends, that’s almost an extra $20 right there. When my students committed to support one of our church’s missionaries, it was like pulling teeth to get them to meet their $30 pledge every month. But if I announce something about paintball, every kid immediately has $40 and is ready to go.

So, to answer your question, don’t ask the leaders to pay for anything. Cover their gas, meals, lodging, 100% of any youth ministry related expenses. Charge the kids a little extra to cover it. Give each of your leaders a hug in the process for making the trip possible and let them know just how much you appreciate their sacrifice and dedication to the students.

Posted on March 1, 2007

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  • I completely agree. That is the exact approach I have always taken. The least we can do is cover the costs for our leaders. They deserve so much more.

  • Lynn

    i totally agree with the leaders going for free for the reasons stated.. and having to pay for 2 people out of the same household can get costly… the problem with the “formula” i’ve found is if you have a SMALL youth group, say only 2 kinds going, you can’t split the leader’s cost b/c it would double their cost. I have the church swallow the cost. It’s a tough thing. -Good article!!

  • This really does show the leaders how much they are appreciated. I have liked watching you go into a church that is not use to this and seeing a new light in the leaders knowing that they are valued.

  • Joe

    Excellent article. This is something new I’m doing this year. I went to our board and presented this idea. They didn’t just come out and say, ‘yeah, go ahead and pay for your volunteers’, but my pastor gave me the go ahead. Instead of the kids splitting the cost, the church is taking the hit. I love it! I have the best volunteers in the world and they deserve to be taken care of.

  • Fantastic post – I completely agree. It is so important that we remove the barriers that can stop people helping lead in the youth team. If you regularly do trips out and that costs them then over the course of a year they could easily spend £100 on being a volunteer, and that’s before there are any leaders conferences or socials. We need to show the value of the leaders, and as you say so clearly Tim, without the leaders there is no trip.

  • I completely agree. During 15 years of youth minsitry, I made it a point never to charge my adult leaders. There cost was covered out of the youth budget. Some chose to pay their way anyway, but it was standard practice that the youth budget covered adult leader expenses. It was one way I could value them and their participation.

    Pastor Chris

  • Great artice! We do something similar like that in our student ministry, and it really does show your support for a volunteer staff. When you love on people, you are definitely being Christlike.

  • I agree. When possible, we should find a way to cover leader’s expenses for trips. In addition, I think it’s a good idea for a church to pay for leaders to go to local youth ministry training seminars. Volunteers should be treated as staff, in that they should be trained well and compensated for ministry-related expenses. When volunteers insist that they would really like to help with expenses (and many do when they are not required to pay), I suggest that they make an in-kind donation to the retreat scholarship fund or to the ministry in general.
    While we’re on the topic, it’s also important that the church help the volunteers by providing information on how many expenses and mileage they incur are often tax-deductible.

  • Tim

    Exactly, Benjer. In May I plan to take as many volunteers as possible to Youth Specialties’ The CORE training. The youth ministry will cover all their training costs, lunch, gas/mileage, everything. I almost feel like I should pay them for their time, too!

  • I too am taking my staff to The Core this Spring and covering all their costs. I see my job as much of an equipper of staff, as i do a discipler of students. I budget money each year for that purpose. The more we can build into our staff the more effective we will be in ministering to our students. It does cost money though.

    I also encourage my staff to turn in receipts when they drive their vehicles on ministry events, so that I can cover that cost.

    I know it is not possible for all churches to cover such expenses, but the more you can, the more encouraged your volunteer leaders will be.

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