Appreciation challengeTo Read the first installment of Volunteer Appreciation, please click here.

Yesterday, I introduced 10 ways that you could express appreciation to the volunteers in your organization. Here are ten more.

11. Make Them Feel Like a Part of the Team
I have worked in non-profit situations in which volunteers were considered to be a nice asset to have around occasionally, but no one fully grasped the true opportunity and value that the volunteers presented. For example, during a work weekend, volunteers would be stuck painting a fence, because it needed doing, but these people did nothing but hold a paint brush all day. We didn’t engage them in any kind of discussion to get their opinions on ways we could improve, nor did we solicit input on important policy decisions, although I now know that there were some pretty brilliant people painting that fence.

I wonder what it would be like to have a lot to offer and be willing to do so, but not to be asked, especially when you are right there. Therefore, I would strongly suggest that you do everything in your power to make a volunteer feel like a highly valued member of your team. Of course, there are matters which should strictly stay within the staff, but I believe volunteers can become a very valuable part of your organization. If you seek to include your volunteers in this way, you will go a long way toward making them feel appreciated.

12. Show Appreciation in Both Small and Large Ways
As a busy leader, it’s often difficult to remember to dole out those little signs of appreciation- like a pat on the back or a quick, but genuine word of thanks. These expressions don’t have to be elaborate or planned out. In fact, sometimes a spontaneous thank you is the best thank you of all.

On the other hand, items like a personally written thank you note, a t-shirt or hat with your organization’s logo on it, or two free movie tickets, for example, can be a very nice touch, as well. Try to mix your expressions of gratitude up a little bit. Your volunteers will feel honored and feel like they are a real part of the team.

13. Personally Greet Volunteers When They Arrive
I remember watching the television show “The Apprentice” with Donald Trump a few years ago. It was the season finale, and Donald showed up at the big gala event that each of the finalists had to organize and host. He actually deducted points from a finalist if he or she were not personally waiting for him with a warm, public greeting. I remember thinking how egotistical that was of him, but I do think that this is exactly the attitude that we should take with our volunteers.

You, as the leader, should position yourself so that you can personally greet the volunteers when they arrive. If this is impossible, you should absolutely make it a point to seek out all the volunteers as soon as possible and welcome them enthusiastically and sincerely. You see, the Donald wanted everybody at the party to see how important he was, because it fed his ego. I don’t believe your volunteers need that kind of ego boost, but if the leader makes it a priority to welcome each volunteer, it says that the organization places a huge value on their service.

Unfortunately, the opposite sends just as strong a message. Failure to welcome your volunteers early and warmly can result in the impression that you DON’T value their service. Which message do you want to send?

14. Include Volunteers in Your Mailing Lists
This may seem like an obvious point, but it can get easily overlooked. Make sure that each time a volunteer comes to work for you, that they sign in and update all of their contact information. This way, you can be sure to put their name on your “snail mail” and email lists. Because volunteers give so much to your organization, they should definitely be receiving all forms of communication you send out.

15. Instruct Your Staff to Adopt a Volunteer Friendly Attitude
If you put all of these recommendations in place, and you are appreciating the heck out of your volunteers, you will be doing a great service to your organization. However, if your example is not followed by your paid staff, all of that good will could be totally wiped away in a matter of minutes.

I am not saying that one of your staff members would purposely set out to offend your volunteers and sabotage your organization, but I do know that “stuff happens”. Sometimes inappropriate things are said, a staff member might choose to vent his frustrations about the organization to the volunteer, or a staff member might act in a way that would surprise a volunteer- and not in a good way.

Therefore, I would strongly suggest that you hold a staff meeting at the very beginning of your service year and explicitly instruct your staff on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior in regards to volunteers. Talk about all the standards you hold yourself to and give them the reasons for doing so. I would also urge you to follow up with reminders throughout the year to keep the message fresh. Make sure the staff knows that their jobs would be much more difficult were it not for the generosity of the volunteers. Your entire organization needs to be on the same page when it comes to showing appreciation to your volunteers.

16. Maintain a Professional Relationship with Them
This point goes right along with the previous one about the entire staff adopting a volunteer-friendly attitude. It is very important to maintain a professionally friendly relationship with your volunteers. I know that this is easier written than done, and that in the real world of non-profits all sorts of personal relationships are in play. However, as the leader, you must make sure that you and your staff represent the very best of your organization, and that means being careful in the language you use, the things you say about other people, and the opinions you express.

I am sure that many of us have acted unprofessionally before, and it has backfired on us. Don’t let this happen with volunteers, or it is likely that volunteer will not feel appreciated, and you could lose their service in the future.

17. Be Patient with Know-It-Alls
We’ve all met this guy before. He’s the volunteer with a million ideas of how to doing things better. He’s the resident expert on everything, and he’ll talk anybody’s ear off who’ll listen. Every organization has at least one, maybe more.

While it is very easy to dismiss people like this and make fun of them behind their backs, that is not grasping the true meaning of appreciation. Imagine if somehow your mocking (or at least your open frustration) came back to him. That would not only crush the person’s spirit, but it would also cast a very bad light on you with the other volunteers. If they knew you spoke poorly of that one guy, what’s to stop you from doing the same to all the volunteers? Who wants or needs that? You could lose a huge portion of your volunteer core and severely damage your reputation.

So, the next time, the big mouth starts spouting off again, just smile, be patient, and remind yourself that you are doing what’s right and what’s good.

18. On Work Projects, Think about Things Like Gloves, Water, Breaks, Sun Screen, and Food
Basically, when you are planning any kind of an event with a significant volunteer presence, make sure you don’t forget all of the little things that make the experience more enjoyable. Or less painful. A lot of people might forget about sun screen or work gloves. Remember for them. Also, don’t forget to make sure volunteers have plenty of hydration. Give them lots of breaks. Keep them comfortable.

Remember, it’s the little things in life that add up, and if taken care of properly, you can really show your appreciation by doing them.

19. Create a Volunteer Wall of Fame Photo Board
Most people like a little bit of recognition for the hard work they’ve done. You can easily accomplish this by taking a lot of pictures and hanging them up on a bulletin board in your building. You could even pick a “Volunteer of the Month” and create a little biography of him or her. This is a great way to both honor your volunteers, as well as allow others to get to know them.

You could also carry this photo-type recognition further by including it in your organization’s newsletter. However, before you take or display anyone’s photo, make sure he or she has signed your image release form. There are legitimate concerns about this issue, so please take this seriously.

20. Do Thorough Background Checks
Sometimes it can be awkward to ask a volunteer to submit to a criminal background check, especially if you’ve known the person for a long time. However, in many states (if not all) this is now required in circumstances in which a volunteer is working with a minor child.

Most people will understand this requirement and will have no problem supplying you with the necessary information. I believe that in the long run, volunteers will actually feel that you are appreciating them by doing the right things for your organization. Being thorough, professional, and responsible will give the volunteer the impression that he or she is devoting valuable time in the right place.

Conclusion
For most non-profits, volunteers are a very pleasant fact of life. The more active a volunteer force you have, the more effective of an organization you will become. By committing yourself and your staff to the principals of volunteer appreciation, you will ensure a long and rich future for your organization.

This article is part of the Appreciation series.

  1. The Appreciation Challenge by Sandra Sims
  2. 5 Ways to Show You Appreciate Your Donors by Sandra Sims
  3. Showing Appreciation to Board Members by Sandra Sims
  4. Volunteer Appreciation, Part I by Jim Berigan
  5. Volunteer Appreciation, Part II by Jim Berigan
  6. Interview with Mike Robbins: The Power of Appreciation for Non Profits by Sandra Sims
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Posted on 29 May 2008

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