August 21, 2011

Recognition & Rewards

Posted in Best Practice, Leading Volunteers, Valuing Volunteers at 4:54 am by Sue Hine

We might have had a week of once-in-a-lifetime weather in New Zealand, but recognising and rewarding volunteer efforts requires ongoing everyday initiatives.

I’ve written quite a few columns which link to a category of ‘Valuing Volunteers’.  It’s a huge topic, ranging from economic measurement to stuff that is pretty intrinsic and hard to measure, let alone find a specific description.  Yet there is nothing more important in a manager’s canon than the continuous acknowledgement and appreciation of volunteer effort.


Well, it’s payback, isn’t it?  A volunteer might not get a pay packet, but there are other ways of being rewarded for ‘work’.

When volunteers are valued and appreciated they are going to stick around for a while, so you are not going to be so worried about turnover and retention issues.

And you can bet there is a flow-on effect for your organisation’s reputation in the community.  You might even have volunteer applicants lining up at the door.

One more thing, and possibly more important than any of the above.  It’s Volunteering New Zealand’s definition of volunteering:

Volunteering is an expression of active citizenship, giving, and value to community wellbeing

Which hits on volunteer motivation – seeking social relationships and being ‘useful’, or simply ‘wanting to help’.  Maintaining recognition and reward strategies for volunteers is a way to keep volunteers motivated and enthusiastic, even for those who are formally directed to volunteer experience.

What do you have to do to demonstrate how you value and appreciate volunteers?

There is a very long list of practical ideas: Google will give you 80 million sites to explore.  To narrow it down a bit, here are some basic principles:

  • Say Thank You, not just once
  • Offer positive feedback to reinforce motivation to do well
  • Establish open communication: listen to volunteers; know them as individuals so you can tailor appreciation to their personal style
  • Make sure volunteers know how they are adding value to the organisation.
  • Offer opportunities for skill development – eg leading a new venture; taking responsibility for a project.
  • Make recognition timely, and make it public
  • Ensure there is recognition for paid staff who appreciate volunteer effort

It is not solely the responsibility of the manager of volunteers to distribute the thank you’s and to organise the functions or the ceremonies or the certificates for volunteers.  The Board, and all paid staff from the Executive Team down, should be involved in recognising and rewarding volunteers.  That’s how you get all the best volunteer efforts towards achieving the organisation’s mission.

(As an aside, I would like to think the principles outlined above could be just as easily applied to paid staff.  There is more personal investment in ‘work’ than the return of a pay packet.)

There are many examples of demonstrating appreciation of volunteers.  Here is one I heard about recently:

I’d been having a battle getting the volunteer programme acknowledged at executive team level. So for Volunteer Awareness Week I sent out to all volunteers a small branded corporate gift and a letter of thanks signed by the CEO. It was a small effort and didn’t cost much. But the result was a huge success: the CEO received numerous letters of thanks from the volunteers. Our volunteer programme is now on the organisation’s radar!

So what are your best practice strategies to get organisational and individual recognition of volunteers?

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