Say Thank You….. And mean it.

It is a paradox—people’s willingness to volunteer versus the system’s capacity to use them effectively~Tom Weidmeyer,COO of United Parcel Service

It’s a new year. You have been reading this blog 🙂 and you have been inspired to help.  Thanks so much  for stepping up. I appreciate you giving your gifts to help heal the world and build stronger, healthier communities. This post is not for you. It’s REALLY for the organization you will be volunteering with or maybe it’s for the organization you work for. You may want to print a copy and take with you, post it on a bulletin board in the kitchen.

Over the next few weeks I will spend time discussing Strategies for Moving Volunteers from Success to Significance. Now that you have an increase in the number of savvy, smart, high-skilled folks who believe in your mission and want to volunteer, what do you do with them and how do you keep them? Here are few basics: All volunteer programs should be customer focused, competitive in the context of other volunteer opportunities and develop volunteers into future leaders of the organization. If your programs do not  hit these three points and hit them WELL,  then we need to talk.

For now let’s start at the end…make sure you recognize and thank volunteers every step of the way. The success of any volunteer organization relies on its ability to attract and retain dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers. It is important to recognize the contributions of volunteers to your organization. It is partly through this recognition that volunteers gain the motivation to stay involved. Do not be afraid to think creatively when it comes to thanking volunteers! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Praise Them…

  • Offer public praise
  • Offer meaningful praise
  • Praise them to friends, loved ones, employers
  • Write letters of recommendation

Food for Thanks…

  • Offer coffee and treats
  • Throw pizza or ice cream parties
  • Invite committee members out to lunch to celebrate a project

Tokens of Appreciation…

  • Letters, postcards, emails of appreciation
  • Tokens; key chains, pens, pins, mugs, t-shirts, hats, etc
  • Offer gift certificates or coupons to local eateries or entertainment facilities
  • Design T-shirts and give them to volunteers  Create volunteer Name badges
  • Send birthday, anniversary and holiday cards Arrange discounts at local shops
  • Offer progressive recognition, giving greater rewards for successive milestones achieved

Skills Training…

  • Pay registration fees for conferences
  • Invite volunteers to participate in workshops and involve them as speakers

Public Recognition…

  • Include volunteers’ names on recognition plaques or billboards in public areas.
  • Recognize them at staff or board meetings.
  • Nominate a volunteer for a leadership position.
  • Write articles about your volunteers in  local newspaper, or on your website.
  • Create a yearbook of volunteers.
  • Host formal recognition events (lunches, dinners, teas, etc.)
  • Produce a video of individuals’ contributions to your affiliate.
  • Start an award program; “Volunteer of the Month/Year”
  • Nominate volunteers for community, state, or national awards

Invite them to deepen their involvement…

  • Ask volunteers for input and feedback on programs, policies, goals, etc.
  • Include them in planning meetings
  • Ask for their help in training new volunteers
  • Give them more complex assignments or more responsibility

Keep them informed…

  • Let them know the impact of their contributions
  • Send newsletters with important relevant information

Over the next few weeks I will write post that will look at concrete steps to help move a volunteer from an occasional one- off volunteer to a long term donor and advocate for your organization.

The concept is simple:  a strong , trained base of volunteers and “grass roots, local, concrete work” will continue to differentiate your organization from other organizations. In 2010 be more strategic in how, when and where you utilize your  volunteers and their gifts. Oh yeah– and do not forget to say thank you. And mean it.

The picture I have included with this post is of one of THE most enthusiastic volunteers I have ever met. You may have seen him before, his name is Prince William. A few years back I was at the 100th anniversary of Scouting  in England and he joined me at my table to participate in activity and learn  about volunteering.

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