I’ve talked before about how to keep your volunteers around and after attending a volunteer open house at the Annapolis Maritime Museum this past Tuesday, I thought it might be a good topic to touch on again, this time focusing on one piece of keeping volunteers around—recognition. The open house at the Maritime Museum was a unique combination of recruitment event and volunteer recognition. I thought it was a great format for bringing new people in because it gave them a chance to mingle with existing volunteers and also see how much they would be appreciated as Museum volunteers. While everyone has a different motivation for volunteering and not everyone needs a formal thank you for doing so, volunteers still do a lot of hard work and deserve to be recognized for it! Following are some tips for great volunteer recognition:
Do it often – If you’ve ever attended a big awards ceremony or tried to schedule a meeting with more than one other person, you know how hard it can be to get several people in the same room on the same date and that, despite best made efforts, chances are that someone will cancel or just decide not to show up at the last minute. So it doesn’t make sense to base your recognition efforts around one big event that not all of your volunteers are going to show up for anyway. More importantly, if you think about what motivates different people to volunteer, you’ll realize that the big banquet is not everyone’s cup of tea to begin with. So, what to do? Well, don’t make the big banquet the only way you recognize your volunteers! Instead, be sure to say thank you or recognize their efforts in other ways multiple times throughout the year (if not every day)! Volunteers will appreciate the fact that you notice the impact they make every day, even if they only get a “thank you for coming in today.”
Keep it simple – Along the same lines, volunteer recognition doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Everyone wishes they had an endless budget (for volunteer recognition or even just operating costs), but the fact is that budgets are limited and chances are, your volunteers recognize this. Along with that, your volunteers probably don’t want you spending tons of money on them that could be put to better use in serving your clients. So keep volunteer recognition simple: use supplies that you already have around the office to make little tokens of appreciation or get supplies donated from local businesses.
– Use the paper your office recycles, get some seeds donated, and make seed paper book marks for your volunteers! Here’s how!
– If your organization has a gift shop, give volunteers coupons or free items from the gift shop.
– In winter, buy hot chocolate and marshmallows in bulk and make little hot chocolate mixes for each volunteer with a tag thanking them for contributing.
Ask volunteers for their input – Survey volunteers to find out things they liked or didn’t like from past recognition events or reasons why they didn’t attend at all (if they were absentees). If your organization has never had a recognition event, get a group of volunteers together and have them help you with the planning. They will have the best insight into what their fellow volunteers will enjoy and their assistance will take some of the weight off of your shoulders!
– An even better way to get volunteer input? Have a potluck luncheon! Make it a social event; don’t expect volunteers to supply the food and then sit through hours of boring speeches (a few minutes is enough), let them mingle and make new friends instead!
Do something different – Along the same lines as above, a casual potluck luncheon is a great alternative to the formal lunch or dinner that most organizations seem to fall back on for volunteer recognition events and there are many other great things you can do for volunteer recognition that don’t involve food at all! After all, no one ever said you have to do a volunteer recognition banquet and by doing something different, such as a field trip, continuing education classes, or staff-led karaoke night, you may get more volunteers to attend (which is the goal, really).
Get your clients in on it – Although we all know that people volunteer for different reasons, chances are that the chief reason they keep coming back is because they enjoy serving your clients. So why not get your clients involved in saying thanks? Your volunteers will enjoy knowing that the people they serve appreciate their service and your clients will probably appreciate the chance to say thank you as well.
– If you work in human needs, ask your clients to write simple thank you notes (or draw pictures or record them saying thanks) and give these items to your volunteers in lieu of other gifts.
– If you work with the environment, take your volunteers on a picnic under the trees they planted or in the area they cleared of invasives, give them pictures of the before and after results of their work, or vegetables from a garden they may have planted.
More ideas! – For more insight on volunteer recognition and how to do it right, check out Energize, Inc. (here, here, and here), Exploding the Big Banquet Theory, and Seattle Schools Volunteer Recognition Ideas!