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Tips For Appreciating An Essential Resource – Your Volunteers

Did you know that 64.3 million Americans and 13.3 million Canadians volunteer each year? Together, they contribute an estimated 10 billion volunteer hours across North America!

These volunteers are an essential resource for communities, nonprofits and membership organizations. And while the efforts of this legion of volunteers should be acknowledged every day, National Volunteer Week (April 21-27, 2013) offers an opportunity to formally recognize and celebrate our volunteers.

In a post last week, we identified some of the resources available through the Points of Light Institute (US) and Volunteer Canada to help with your National Volunteer Week planning.  But we wanted to offer some thoughts, tips and ideas to help organizations start or strengthen volunteer recognition and build a culture of appreciation year round. So we created a Volunteer Appreciation Guide (now available in our Membership Knowledge Hub). Here's a look at what is covered in the guide:
  • Volunteers are an essential resource
  • What does volunteer recognition mean to you?
    • Why do we volunteer?
    • How would you want to be recognized?
    • Informal versus formal recognition
  • Volunteer recognition best practices
  • Volunteer recognition planning
  • Ideas for formal and informal recognition
  • The impact of showing appreciation 

It starts by creating a culture of appreciation

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. William Arthur Ward (Quote Garden)

Finding ways to demonstrate your appreciation for your volunteers – through formal or informal recognition – is a win-win proposition. First and foremost, we all want volunteers to enjoy their experience and feel their efforts are valued. At the same time, saying thanks and formally recognizing volunteers keeps these individuals motivated so they’ll keep coming back (saving you volunteer recruitment and training time and resources). In addition, your volunteers are ambassadors – representing your organization during programs, at events, etc. – and their volunteer experience will directly impact the way in which they represent or personify your organization and its mission. So developing an on-going process to thank and recognize your volunteers can really impact your organization’s success.

Volunteer appreciation starts by ensuring that everyone in your organization acknowledges and supports all volunteers through a set of values instilled across the organization. And these values can be demonstrated through simple, informal appreciation. Here are a few of the tips suggested by Volunteering Australia in 101 Top Tips to Recognise Volunteers:

  • Always be courteous.
  • Don't treat volunteers as second-class citizens.
  • Make volunteers feel good about themselves.
  • Create a climate in which volunteers can feel motivated.
  • Share the results of program evaluations with volunteers so they can see their impact on clients and programs.
  • Make sure the volunteers are doing work that is meaningful to them and the community.

Ideas to kick-start your volunteer recognition planning

Every organization needs to create volunteer recognition programs and processes that suit their organizational culture. But here are just a few of the ideas that we’ve gathered in our Volunteer Appreciation Guide that might inspire your volunteer appreciation activities:

  • Have a "Volunteer of the Month" and post his or her personal story on your web page to inspire others.
  • Capture the moment. Have a photo booth at your volunteer appreciation event, ...to capture fun images of your volunteers celebrating. Post appreciation event photos on your website.
  • Row of Honor - plant a tree for honored volunteers
  • Mark and celebrate volunteers’ anniversaries and key milestones with your organization. 

Unique ways to celebrate National Volunteer Week

Here are a few unique ideas we found during National Volunteer Week that we noted in our post – Celebrating the Value of Volunteering:
  • “Freeze Mob”  - To “kick off” National Volunteer Week, Volunteer Ottawa staged a "freeze mob" which entailed having “volunteer freezers" stand still and hold signs explaining their reasons for volunteering at a local shopping center.  
  • Volunteer  Walk of Fame - Volunteer Maryland offered a step-by-step “how to” post about creating a red carpet with “Hall of Famers” names on cardboard stars (which they can take home for a keepsake.
  • Breakfast Event- One Red Cross chapter in the U.S., held their Volunteer Appreciation Event at a local casino which offered a “reunion-like atmosphere.” The event included presenting pins to commemorate years of service to both humans and canine volunteers

Check out our Volunteer Appreciation Guide

For more tips, thoughts and ideas for kick-starting or refreshing your volunteer recognition planning, we hope you'll check out our Volunteer Appreciation Guide - a new resource in our Membership Knowledge Hub.

How is your organization celebrating volunteers for National Volunteer Week?  Share the details in the comments below.

Image source:  Group of diverse people holding sign - courtesy of BigStockPhoto.com

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 08 April 2013 at 8:30 AM

Comments

  • Alice

    Alice said:

    Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 1:06 AM
    Very nice post. Volunteers are such an integral part of a charity or non-profit organization. They form an invaluable resource.

    http://www.missioncityfund.org/
  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Tuesday, 30 April 2013 at 8:57 AM
    Thanks Alice - I couldn't agree more.
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