We need to thank our volunteers by really listening to them

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As National Volunteer Week was celebrated a few months ago, many organizations made sure to thank their volunteers for all their support through parties, thank you letters, teas, tokens and other forms of appreciation. This type of formal appreciation does say thank you but is it really reaching the audience that it is intended for?

Recognition for volunteers

When it comes to recognizing our volunteers, here are some questions that need to be asked:

  • Who are our volunteers?
  • What do they want from their volunteer work? What is their motivation?
  • What is their impact to the organization?
  • Are you engaging your short-term and episodic volunteers in an appropriate recognition plan?
  • Is the recognition plan as diversified as the volunteers themselves?
  • Is there an annual recognition plan that includes both formal and informal activities?
  • Are you including the right people in your recognition plans?

And here is the big one...does your volunteer appreciation convey the impact that the individual volunteers have made to the organization?

Recognition is more than thank you; it is about acknowledging the time and effort that volunteers commit to the organization. Recognition is about connecting the individual efforts of the volunteer with the goals of the organization. Recognition is about connecting the dots between the mission, vision, goals and activities of the organization to the work of the volunteers and the volunteer program itself.

Acknowledging volunteer efforts requires reaching volunteers in a meaningful way, and that is the challenge for many volunteer programs. Managers of volunteers need to look at the different generations of volunteers and examine how technology can be used for recognition, in addition to using more traditional ideas such as David McClelland’s Motivational Styles, which identifies the motivations of affiliators, achievers and influencers.

Remember to recognize the program too

As a manager of volunteers, you need to tell the stories and make clear the connections between the volunteers, the organization and the community that they both support.

For instance, National Volunteer Week is also a great opportunity to highlight the work of the volunteer program internally. This is that “one week” where volunteers are in the spotlight - and those managers of volunteers that do not start a dialogue with their staff, senior leadership and board are missing a potential opportunity to engage those who may not normally be involved with the volunteer program.

Take the time to answer the questions that were posed above and ensure that your volunteer recognition plan addresses the diversity of your volunteers, the impact that they have contributed to and the support that your staff and leadership team have provided. Look for unique ways to say thank you such as:

  • Education and training as part of recognition
  • Mentorship and coaching as part of retention
  • Succession planning and supporting the growth of your individual volunteers
  • Engaging your staff in meaningful ways
  • Telling the great stories of the commitment of the volunteers and the impact they have made
  • Sharing your successes through social media and networking

Finally, ensure that an annual plan is in place that includes both formal and informal ways to acknowledge the efforts of the volunteers and always remember to ask your volunteers what they consider to be meaningful to them. You may be surprised by what they consider to be appropriate recognition. The key is to develop a recognition system that reflects the unique individuality of your volunteers by sharing the impact that they have made. Remember, recognition is key to retaining your volunteers.

For more information and other articles by Lori Gotlieb, go to lorigotliebconsulting.wordpress.com.

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