In the United States and Canada, we’ll be observing National Volunteer Week from April 15th to April 21st. For non-profit organizations, companies dedicated to corporate social responsibility (CSR), local governments and communities everywhere, this is an opportunity to recognize volunteers for their gift of time and talent. I urge others to take this opportunity and get creative about how these changemakers are acknowledged. While your first instinct may be to create yet another stuffy awards ceremony where volunteers receive a paperweight for their desk, my challenge to those making these decisions is to shake things up a bit. Yes, awards have their time and place. I’m not suggesting we get rid of those completely. What I am suggesting however is that managers of volunteers take action beyond a single week to show that appreciation.
If you’re a CSR practitioner this could mean getting buy-in for paid volunteer time off (VTO), more consistently creating opportunities for employees to volunteer, or bringing greater awareness to the work volunteers do year-round. If you’re a non-profit professional you may choose to post social media shout-outs for volunteers once a week for an entire year, work towards gaining executive buy-in for greater funding, or improve the training provided to volunteers. Or if you’re a leader in local governance this may prompt a renewed dedication to funding the volunteer program for local organizations that are at the forefront of addressing critical in the community.
In each instance, I believe investing in the mechanism that engages volunteers as the act of showing appreciation, can be the greatest act of appreciation.
Be strategic and long-term focused.
Beyond awards and gifts to volunteers, there are more significant and longer lasting ways to say, “thank you.” Volunteers sometimes voice concern about having their time wasted, not feeling equipped or trained, and not having their voice heard. Making a commitment to better supporting the mechanism that engages volunteers could perhaps be what make them feel appreciated more consistently and for a longer period. These actions could speak louder than any awards given, while also having a far greater positive impact on the volunteers. One thing that I’ve come to realize is that volunteers aren’t free. There’s a substantial amount of time and resources that are required to ensure a volunteer is engaged properly to satisfy the mission while having a meaningful engagement. A critical part of that meaningful engagement is recognizing their contributions.
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
That said though, you must remember to explore pursuing acts of appreciation beyond a single week. Don’t stop acknowledging the work of volunteers just because National Volunteer Week has come and gone. There’s always something more that can be done to acknowledge and say “thanks” to those giving their time and talent.
It’s not lost on me that these actions require an investment of time and money (in some cases). I would argue however, in many instances, it takes a simple commitment to do better, be better for the volunteers. Volunteers give one of the most precious gifts, their time. Perhaps they’re worthy of your being a good steward of it, and by your being a good steward you’ll give them the greatest recognition of all.
So, what will you do beyond National Volunteer Week to show appreciation to volunteers? What easy things can you commit to for a full calendar year to recognize and thank volunteers? If you’re doing something fun, creative and sustainable this year I’d love to hear from you. You may also find that you have something that others can benefit from and replicate elsewhere.