Supporting VolunteersNever assume that volunteers know they are appreciated. Recognition of their contributions should be part of the formal and informal operations of the organisation. Volunteers who do not receive frequent feedback and recognition begin to wonder if they are doing a good job and if anyone cares about the work they do. This often creates an unmotivating climate, and can result in high volunteer attrition.
Retention and Recognition
Retaining your volunteers is the key to success. There is no point in being good at recruitment if you cannot keep volunteers coming back. Recruitment is a solution to the problem of not having enough volunteers; retention is a way to avoid the problem altogether.
Volunteer programs are fuelled by the motivation of the volunteers and the staff of the organisation. Problems of volunteer retention can usually be traced to problems of motivation.
A motivated volunteer is one who wants to do the job that needs to be done in the spirit and within the guidelines of the organisation. People behave in motivated ways when the work satisfies a need of theirs. Children, for example, are motivated to open birthday presents because doing so meets a psychological need. Starting here, you correctly see that volunteer motivation comes from inside the volunteer, stemming from a set of needs which are satisfied by doing things which are found to be productive.
When you encounter volunteers who are not behaving as you would like, you may label them "unmotivated," but actually this is incorrect. So-called unmotivated people are actually just as motivated as a motivated person. Their behaviour meets their motivational needs. They behave in the way they do because doing so is more satisfying than the behaviour you would like them to choose. In other words, people behave the way they do for a particular reason.
All Behaviour is Motivated
Sometimes, "unmotivated" behaviour is caused by frustration. If a volunteer has a high need for achievement, for example, and he sees little to accomplish or "win" in his job, he may choose to set up a win-lose situation with those in authority. For example, a volunteer might go to the board of directors every time there was a disagreement, seeking to get the decision overturned. This so-called "unmotivated" behaviour meets the volunteer’s need for achievement. It provides a challenge. It creates an opportunity to win.
When we talk about motivating volunteers, we are talking about creating a volunteer experience that allows an individual to meet their motivational needs in ways that are productive for the organisation and satisfying for the individual. You remove barriers to motivation by designing satisfying work experiences and create systems that allow the volunteer to meet her needs. You make sure, in other words, that volunteers receive their motivational paycheck for the valuable contributions they make to the work of our organisation. This is the essence of volunteer retention.
Because each volunteer has a different combination of needs, each will do best in different working conditions. Some volunteers may be highly motivated by gaining job experience, whereas others may be highly motivated by the desire to meet new people. Still others may have a burning passion to do something to contribute to the cause. For the first type, you need to make sure that they have the opportunity to learn the skills they want to learn. The second must be placed in a work setting where they can work with others. The third needs a job that makes a meaningful contribution to the organisation’s mission.
This is further complicated by the fact that a volunteer’s needs may change over time. For example, a volunteer may work well on an independent project. It satisfies her need to achieve something meaningful. Then her husband dies. Her need to be with others may suddenly become much more important than the need to achieve something meaningful. To satisfy this need and retain the volunteer, you might transfer her to a group project.
To Each His Own Mix
Volunteers have combinations of needs. The art of motivating volunteers lies not only in knowing how to tap a given motivator, but in being able to figure out what combination of needs a particular volunteer has. One way to do that is to ask the volunteers periodically. Discuss their rating of the relative importance of the following factors:
• To gain knowledge of community problems
• To maintain skills no longer used otherwise
• To spend "quality time" with members of the family by volunteering together
• To get out of the house
• To make new friends
• To be with old friends who volunteer here
• To gain new skills
• To pay back
• To assuage guilt
• To feel useful
• To make business contacts
• To be part of a prestigious group
• To make a transition to a new life
• To fulfil a moral or religious duty
• To have fun
• To help those less fortunate
• To try out a new career
• To have fun
• To meet a challenge
• To improve the community
• To work with a certain client group
• To be in charge of something
• To be part of a group or a team
• To gain work experience to help get a job
• To meet important people in the community
• To gain status with my employer
• To get community recognition.
The mix of responses will give you a better feeling for why they want to volunteer and what you need to give them in return as their "motivational paycheck". For example, if a volunteer ranks the last three above as her highest needs, you will need to make sure she has a job which does indeed enable her to meet important people and which is highly visible in the community. To make sure that her employer is aware of her contribution, you can send a letter of commendation for her contributions.
The key to retaining volunteers is to make sure they are getting their particular complex of motivational needs met through their volunteer experience. Another way to say this is that if the volunteer experience makes the volunteers feel good, then they will continue to want to volunteer. When this is occurring across the volunteer program, a positive, enthusiastic climate is created which, in turn, encourages people to continue to volunteer.
An environment most likely to make a volunteer feel good is one which bolsters the volunteer’s self-esteem. When the work experience boosts a person’s self esteem, she feels good about her job, be it paid or volunteer work. She looks forward to going to the workplace.
Creating an Esteem-Producing Climate for Volunteers
Psychologists Harris Clemes and Reynold Bean have studied self-esteem for many years. They found that people with high self-esteem are people who simultaneously satisfy three particular motivational needs. They enjoy a sense of connectedness, a sense of uniqueness, and a sense of power.
When people feel connected, they feel a sense of belonging, a sense of being part of a relationship with others. In a highly mobile society, where friends and loved ones may live hundreds of miles away and the next door neighbour is sometimes a stranger, this need is often unmet, leaving people with a sense of isolation, dissatisfaction, and loneliness. The psychologist William Glasser points out that this need is often stronger even than the need to survive, in that most people who try to commit suicide do so out of loneliness.
A sense of identification with a work group can meet this need, producing healthier, happier individuals. In our seminars over the past four years, we have surveyed more than 1500 individuals who at one time in their lives felt a positive sense of connectedness. The following factors are most often mentioned as producing this:
• A common goal
• Common values
• Mutual respect
• Mutual trust
• A sense that one group member’s weaknesses are made up for by another group member’s strengths.
Positive feelings of connectedness can be enhanced in volunteer programs by many leadership actions, some of which have been referred to previously:
1. The Volunteer Coordinator can work with staff to make sure that there is a common purpose or goal for the team. Nothing is as fundamental to a team’s effectiveness as a common sense of what they are trying to achieve together. Both staff and volunteers should see themselves as equal partners in pursuing this goal.
2. In developing jobs for volunteers (other than for one-shot volunteers whom you don’t expect to retain) you should avoid setting performance standards that are too low. If the expectations are too easy to meet, people will not feel special about their participation. Volunteers should not have lower standards than paid staff.
3. The Volunteer Coordinator should insure that staff and volunteers are treated equally. Be on the lookout for inadvertent behaviour that makes volunteers feel excluded. A common example is that volunteers are not invited to staff meetings, not because they are deliberately excluded but because no one thought to give them the option to attend. Such a situation can make volunteers feel like second-class citizens.
4. When working with staff to develop jobs for volunteers, the Volunteer Coordinator should make sure that volunteers (or teams of volunteers) have a sense of ownership of a client or project. Fragmentation of ownership generates blame and criticism – which is the enemy of connectedness.
5. The Volunteer Coordinator should encourage leaders to celebrate the accomplishments of volunteers in context of their contribution to the goals of the group.
Recognition must be consistent so that people do not suspect favouritism. Team accomplishments can also be celebrated, giving equal credit to all team members.
People with a sense of connectedness have a sense of "we" as well as a sense of "I." The more special the "we" is, the more special the individual feels as part of the group and the greater the self-esteem that is generated. This is why it is important to have high standards for becoming a group member.
Leaders of volunteer programs should be on the look out for comments people make about the expectations they have of themselves and their co-workers. If people say things like "I’m just a volunteer," or "What do they expect for free?" it should cause alarm bells to ring. People’s self esteem drops when they regard themselves as part of a below average group. This negative sense of connectedness leads to high turnover of staff and volunteers. When they hear negative statements such as this, leaders should try to generate positive ideas for improving the situation. They might ask: "What makes you say that? What can you do to improve this situation? What kind of place would you want to work? What can you do to make this organisation more like the kind of place you want it to be?"
Leaders should spread the word about positive accomplishments. They should talk about the values and standards of the organisation and what it means to be part of the group.
Leaders should look for opportunities to promote interaction among group members. This is particularly important where there are few "natural" opportunities for people to share their common experiences. For example, in befriending schemes and literacy programs, volunteers will be working with the client on their own schedules. Volunteers work with little daily supervision and rarely appear in the office. Effective volunteer supervisors, knowing that "it’s lonely out there," take pains to bring their people together for training, pot lucks, and sharing of "war stories."
Another way to promote interaction is to involve people in the decision-making process. When each group member feels she has a say in deciding the unit’s strategy, her feeling of connectedness is enhanced. In such meetings, it is important that you do not let your own biases and positions be known in advance. Group members who know what the person in authority wants will tend to support that position. If you already know the way you want to go, you might as well just tell them.
People’s sense of connectedness is enhanced by engaging in new experiences together. By insisting passionately on constant improvement, leaders encourage people to try out new ways of doing things. If these are done by teams, the sense of connectedness grows.
A second characteristic of people with high self-esteem is a feeling of uniqueness, a feeling that "there is no one in the world quite like me." This means that I have a sense that I am special in some way, that I have a unique combination of talents or personal qualities.
Volunteer Co-Ordinators build feelings of uniqueness by recognizing the achievements of individual group members and by praising them for their individual qualities. They encourage individuals to express themselves and, by giving them the authority to think, explore alternative ways to achieve their results.
People’s sense of uniqueness can also be enhanced by giving them challenging assignments that take advantage of their individual strengths. "This is a difficult responsibility requiring your special talents," a volunteer’s supervisor might say. Such a statement, of course, should be the supervisor’s sincere belief.
This need to feel unique is sometimes in conflict with a person’s need to feel connected. All of us tend to make compromises in our uniqueness in order to be connected and sacrifice some connectedness in order to feel unique. Imagine, for example, a volunteer named Julie. Part of her feeling of uniqueness revolves around her image of herself as a free spirit. This manifests itself in a variety of ways, such as wearing unusual clothing and jewel. Her organisation’s values, however, are quite traditional, and it is an accepted group norm to dress conservatively. Julie is faced with a choice between dressing conservatively to gain a sense of connectedness, thus sacrificing some of her uniqueness, or to continue her unique style at the risk of becoming something of an outsider to the group. Neither of these courses of action is fully satisfactory to her.
In a truly positive climate, people feel safe to be who they are. They can behave in an individual manner and yet feel supported by the group. People respect each other for their unique strengths and eccentricities. They support each other unconditionally.
Creating such a situation is often difficult. It cannot be done without lots of interaction among group members. It cannot be done without shared values and a common purpose. It may require the services of an expert facilitator to lead a retreat in which people explore their differences and gain an understanding of each person’s unique point of view. It is always enhanced by leaders talking up the strengths of individual members and their contributions to the purpose of the group. It is maintained by leaders regarding as "wrong" behaviour one person making fun of another or disparaging another’s accomplishments or desires.
It is also enhanced by encouraging the individual development of each volunteer. Provide people with maximum training. As they learn new skills, their sense of individual competence grows. A common way to do this is to send them to conferences and workshops to keep them up to date with the latest developments in their fields.
One good idea is to have volunteers research a topic and present their findings to the others. This enhances the presenter’s feelings of uniqueness—the person’s special knowledge is beingimparted to others—while also creating connectedness. It creates a sense that each team member can be depended on.
The word power has negative connotations for many people. We have searched for a better word but have found none which includes everything Clemes and Bean mean by power In part, power means a sense of effectiveness, a feeling that the volunteer is making a difference. This feeling is often throttled by traditional volunteer jobs. If people work in fragmented systems, doing menial tasks not connected to a final outcome, they are unlikely to feel they are making much of a difference. The self-esteem of people in such circumstances is thereby reduced.
To feel effective, volunteers need to work on things that matter. If they are engaged in support activities, for example stuffing envelopes, they should be told the purpose of the mailing and the results that are achieved from it so they can feel they are having an effect on something worthwhile.
Part of feeling effective is feeling in control of one’s life. Managers often take this away from people by trying to overly control their behaviour Rather than defining results and allowing people some say in figuring out how to achieve them, managers tell people exactly what to do. When one human being attempts to control the behaviour of another, the result is rarely top performance.
You can produce feelings of effectiveness by making volunteers responsible for results. Volunteers then have the sense of being in charge of something meaningful. You can then allow people to control their own behaviour by giving them the authority to think.
The need to feel in control is often in conflict with a person’s need for connectedness. People in teams sometimes yearn for more freedom of action. Their desire to influence others sometimes alienates other group members. If you can create a situation in which these conflicting motivational needs are met simultaneously, you will unleash a tremendous sense of well-being in your volunteers and enthusiasm for the job.
Applying Retention Strategies to Short Term Volunteers
For many reasons, short-term volunteering is not as rewarding as long-term — it doesn’t provide the emotional satisfaction of being an integral part of something. Short-term volunteering is to long-term as fast food is to a real meal: you can survive on it but you don’t call it dining. Many short-termers may be engaging in sporadic volunteering as a sampling technique until they find the volunteer position that is right for them, practicing "comparison shopping."
To take advantage of this, a smart Volunteer Coordinator should develop a series of entry level, short-term jobs that provide volunteers with the opportunity to see how they like working with the organisation, its staff, and its clientele. Once volunteers are working in these "starter" jobs, the Volunteer Coordinator should work on retention, slowly grooming them for more work and ensuring that they truly enjoy the work they are doing. Volunteers are curiously rational: they won’t stay in jobs that aren’t enjoyable, and they will stay in those that are.
From this perspective, emphasis on volunteer retention is much more important than emphasis on recruitment. Rather than focusing on constantly bringing new volunteers into the system, with the concomitant expenditure of energy required for recruitment, screening, orientation and training, concentrate on maintenance of the existing volunteer force through retention of the incumbents. Over time, the organisation will benefit from the increased experience levels of its volunteers and from the decreased costs of recruiting newcomers.
There are three different ways of "improving" volunteer jobs to make them more interesting and involving.
Give Them a Great Place to Work
The process for strengthening involvement necessarily varies from job to job and from volunteer to volunteer, but some factors are probably common to all situations. One of these is providing for the volunteer a rewarding job, one in which working facilities are satisfactory and social relationships are positive.
Some research has identified factors that might be important in this conversion process. A study of volunteer workers in three Israeli social service organisations found that organisational variables (such as adequate preparation for the task they were asked to do) and attitudinal variables (such as task achievement, relationships with other volunteers, and the nature of the work itself) were the best predictors of volunteer retention. Another study identified the following factors as important to volunteers in any volunteer job. The factors are ranked from 1 to 4, with 1 being "Not At All Important" and 4 being "Very Important."
Colony, Chen, and Andrews
Rank and Mean Scores of Individual Items for All Volunteers
|2||Clearly defined responsibilities||3.58|
|4||Competence of supervisor||3.51|
|6||Seeing results of my work||3.46|
|7||Working with a respected community organisation||3.43|
|8||Reasonable work schedule||3.41|
|9||Doing the things I do best||3.39|
|11||Freedom to decide how to get work done||3.21|
|12||Chance to make friends||3.20|
|13||Pleasant physical surroundings||3.17|
|14||Opportunity to develop special skills/abilities||3.09|
|15||Challenging problems to solve||3.05|
|16||Convenient travel to and from volunteer work||2.94|
|17||Opportunity to work with professional staff||2.88|
|19||Adequate reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses||2.07|
|20||Chance to move to paid employment||1.50|
Note that most of the top 10 items deal with the situation
in which the volunteer work is performed and the design of
the job itself: clear responsibilities, interesting work,
After analysis it was noted:
"Perhaps the single most important finding reported in this study is the relatively high importance volunteers accord situational facilities…In addition to the intrinsic and extrinsic incentives associated with volunteer work, then, it appears that individuals strongly desire conditions and organisational settings that facilitate effective and efficient volunteer work."
Roughly translated, this means that volunteers like good working conditions, just like the rest of us, and that volunteers tend to prefer jobs where the environment is friendly, supportive, and effective.
The factors that are key elements for each volunteer job will vary. A study of another volunteer program identified three top perceived benefits that volunteers thought essential: receiving new sources of information, obtaining new gardening knowledge, and gaining access to experts and information. Note that none of these is "altruistic." Each factor involves a benefit that the volunteer felt to be of value to herself and which was gained through volunteering and the additional training provided.
Give Them What They Don’t Have
Another way of approaching the process of making a job more interesting is to look at it from the perspective of the potential volunteers. What is it, for example, that they want out of this volunteer job that they aren’t getting from their current paid job?
A study of volunteers at three social service organisations tested the hypothesis that some people volunteer in order to satisfy needs that are not currently being met in their paid employment.
The findings indicated that volunteers whose regular paid employment failed to satisfy their needs for psychological growth tended to be more satisfied with volunteering when it could satisfy those growth needs.
The study’s conclusion was particularly intriguing: "The present study suggests that volunteers who perceive their paying jobs as relatively unfulfilling should be asked to do the more challenging work."
This would suggest that volunteer motivation could be improved by first analysing potential volunteer’s attitudes toward their current job to identify deficiencies and then structuring volunteer assignments to fill the gaps. Variables that might be examined would include whether the paid job is worthwhile, interesting, satisfying, diverse, flexible, and allowed for such factors as social interaction, expression of leadership skills, etc. Sample questions which could be used during the volunteer interview would include:
• "What do you get out of your current job?"
•"What do you not get to do sufficiently in your current job?"
•"What would your ideal job look like? "
•"What would you do in it, and what would you not do?"
The prospective volunteer would be encouraged to identify elements of a possible volunteer job that would meet motivational needs not currently being met in their life and particularly not being met in their paid work. It would then become important to make sure that the volunteer job provided this perceived need.
Give Them a Good Time
Another way of thinking about more effective retention is to develop ways to let the volunteer have more "fun."
This is not quite as strange a notion as it might seem. It is suggested that one way to view volunteering is as a "leisure" activity—something which is done freely without expectation of monetary benefit. Volunteering and leisure have similar expected benefits: "People want to do something interesting, to achieve something, meet people, have fun, learn new things, be refreshed, and relax." All of these factors might be examined as aspects of volunteer jobs that could be strengthened.
Research suggests that the Volunteer Coordinator focus on four areas to take advantage of this relationship between leisure and volunteering:
• The self-interest and recreational expectations of volunteers that might make volunteering more appealing to people.
• Providing volunteer opportunities that will be perceived as worthy leisure.
• Utilising the "recreational aspects" of volunteering as a technique for recruitment.
• Matching a person’s leisure expectations to potential outcomes associated with a volunteer experience. A survey alluded to earlier suggests that some aspects of leisure, such as enjoying activities conducted with one’s social group, may be of particular significance in tapping this aspect of motivation.
Focusing Retention Efforts on Critical Points
One way to encourage volunteer retention is to focus on critical points in the volunteer’s cycle of relationships with the organisation. There are two critical periods:
The First Six Months
Studies of volunteer retention have determined that the first six months experience of a volunteer is critical towards their retention. The greatest loss of volunteers occurs during this period, as volunteers resign or simply drift away and disappear.
The loss probably occurs because new volunteers have approached the organisation with a set of expectations for what they will encounter and what they will be able to accomplish. During their initial contact with the organisation and its work, they will come face-to-face with the reality of the situation. If there is a significant gap between the high expectations and the actual situation encountered, the volunteer is more likely to reach a decision to depart.
Volunteer Co-ordinators must pay close attention to volunteers during this early period and smooth the transition through the normal ups and downs of this acclimatization period. They should also ensure that the volunteer does not have problems created by an inappropriate job match.
Volunteers also require more attention at "anniversaries," such as annual evaluation dates, the end of large projects, or the completion of an agreed term of participation.
At these critical points, volunteers are likely to engage in a re-evaluation of their service to the organisation, reconsidering their commitment to and interest in the work that they are doing.
You can assist volunteers in re-affirming that commitment by pro-actively assisting them in this analysis, helping each identify new interests and goals. You can then suggest possible jobs within the organisation that will help them obtain these new motivational objectives.
Do not assume that a volunteer who has been doing a job will always want to do that same job.
Volunteers change over time, due both to changes in their own lives and to exposure to types of volunteer work. Periodically review what they are doing with them.
Don’t Forget the Obvious
Two final comments about retention: the first is so obvious that many programs not only ignore it, they do exactly the opposite. Since volunteers are coming to the organisation because they want to help, it is essential that you do everything you can to give volunteers work to do as soon as possible. Under-utilisation create serious retention problems, because motivated volunteers who are trying to be of assistance will feel useless if they are not actually involved in doing something. They will also lose any sense of relationship with the organisation over long periods of non-involvement. In the words of Hanawi: "There is a minimal level of activity which is necessary for volunteers to feel connected to an organisation; there are individual variations in this critical level but certainly when a person’s involvement falls below one or two hours a month, or when there is no continuity in the level of contact, volunteers will drift away."
The second is equally obvious: when in doubt, ask them what they want to be doing. Part of the original volunteer interview and part of every subsequent evaluation session should consist of ascertaining what the organisation might do that would meet the volunteer’s motivations. This includes identifying the right job for the volunteer, but it also includes identifying what it would take for the volunteer to feel successful in the job. Questions such as: "How can we show you we care?," "What would it take to make you feel successful in this job?," "Who would you like to know about your accomplishments?," are designed to uncover possible retention and recognition strategies. It is vitally necessary to keep exploring this area because the motivational needs of volunteers will undoubtedly change over their lifetime and during the course of their relationship with the organisation.
Recognising Volunteers Volunteers must receive a sense of appreciation and reward for their contribution. This sense can be conveyed through a number of processes, including both formal and informal recognition systems.
Formal Recognition Systems
Formal recognition systems are comprised of the awards, certificates, plaques, pins, and recognition dinners or receptions to honour volunteer achievement. Many organisations hold an annual ceremony in which individual volunteers are singled out for their achievement.
In determining whether to establish such a formal ceremony, consider the following:
• Is this being done to honour the volunteer, or so that staff can feel involved and can feel that they have shown their appreciation for volunteers?
• Is it real and not stale or mechanical?
• Does it fit? Would the volunteers feel better if you spent the money on the needs of the clients rather than on an obligatory luncheon with dubious food?
• Can you make it a sense of celebration and a builder of team identity?Formal recognition systems are helpful mainly in satisfying the needs of the volunteer who has a need for community approval but have little impact (and occasionally have a negative impact) on volunteers whose primary focus is helping the clientele. These volunteers may very well feel more motivated and honoured by a system which recognises the achievements of "their" clients, and also recognizes the contribution that the volunteer has made towards this achievement.
Informal Recognition Practices
The most effective volunteer recognition occurs in the day-to-day interchange between the volunteer and the organisation through the staff expressing sincere appreciation and thanks for the work being done by the volunteer.
This type of recognition is more powerful in part because it is much more frequent – a once-a year dinner does not carry the same impact as 365 days of good working relationships. Day-to-day recognition may include:
• Saying "thank you"
• Involving the volunteer in decisions that affect them
• Asking about the volunteer’s family and showing an interest in their "outside" life
• Making sure that volunteers receive equal treatment to that given staff
• Sending a note of appreciation to the volunteer’s family
• Allowing the volunteer to increase their skills by attending training
• Recommending the volunteer for promotion to a more responsible job
• Celebrating the volunteer’s anniversary with the organisationThe intention of day-to-day recognition is to convey a constant sense of appreciation and belonging to the volunteer. This sense can be better conveyed by the thousands of small interactions that compose daily life than it can be conveyed in an annual event.
Recognition can begin quite early. A card of welcome sent to a new volunteer, or a small welcome party conveys an immediate sense of appreciation.
Matching Recognition to Types of Volunteers
It is also possible to think about systems of volunteer recognition that are appropriate to particular types of volunteers:
By Motivational Orientation
One could think about recognition which was more appropriate for different basic motivational needs, as follows:
• Ideal result of recognition is additional training or more challenging tasks.
• Subject for recognition is best linked to a very specific accomplishment
• Phrasing of recognition through "Best," "Most" awards
• Recognition decision should include "Checkpoints" or "Records"
• Awardee should be selected by co-workers
• Recognition should be given at group event
•Recognition should be given in presence of peers, family, other bonded groupings
• Recognition item or award should have a "Personal Touch"
• Recognition should be organisational in nature, given by the organisation
• Recognition should be voted by peers
• If primary affiliative bonding is with client, not others in the organisation, then the client should take part in the recognition, through a personal note of thanks or as presenter of the award
• Key aspect of recognition is "Promotion," conveying greater access to authority or information
• Recognition should be commendation from "Names"
•Recognition should be announced to community at large, put in newspaper
• Recognition decision should be made by the organisation’s leadership
Style of Volunteering
Recognition might also vary between long-term and short-term volunteers:
• Recognition with and by the group
• Recognition items make use of group symbols
•Recognition entails greater power, involvement, information about the organisation
• Presenter of recognition is a person in authority
• Recognition is given in immediate work unit or social group
• Recognition is "portable;" something the volunteers can take with them when they leave—a present, photograph or other memorabilia of experience, training, etc.
• Recognition is provided via home or work—letter to employer, church, or family
• Presenter is either the immediate supervisor or the client
should note that an "ideal" recognition system might
require a mixture of different procedures in order to have
something for every type of volunteer. This is not unusual
and is quite appropriate. Many organisations fail to do this,
with interesting results. Consider, for example, an all-too-typical
organisation that gives its volunteer awards only according
to the amount of time donated, a "longevity" prize.
If you’re a short-term volunteer how do you feel about
this system? Or if your busy schedule limits the time you
can offer? Could you possibly ever "win" under these
rules? What would this type of award suggest to you about
the value that the organisation places upon your own contribution
Ideas for Recognition
Here are some examples of different levels of recognition activity:
means of providing recognition:
• Saying "Thank you."
•Telling them they did a good job.
• Suggesting they join you for coffee.
• Asking for their opinions.
• Greeting them when they come in the morning.
• Showing interest in their personal interests.
• Smiling when you see them.
• Bragging about them to your boss (in their presence).
• Jotting small thank you notes to them.
• Having a refreshment with them after work.
• Saying something positive about their personal qualities.
Intermediate means of providing recognition:
• Taking them to lunch.
• Providing food at volunteer meetings.
• Letting them put their names on the products they produce.
• Buying the first round of beer for "the best crew of the month."
• Writing them a letter of commendation (with copies to personnel file and other appropriate people.)
• Getting a local radio station to mention them.
• Putting them on important task forces or committees.
• Giving the best parking space to the "employee of the month."
• Posting graphic displays, showing progress toward targets.
• Mentioning major contributors by name in your status reports to upper management.
• Having them present their results to higher-ups.
• Giving permission to go to a seminar, convention, or professional meeting, if possible at the organisation’s expense.
• Writing articles about their performance for newsletters or newspapers.
• Having them present a training session to co-workers.
• Decorating their work area on their birthday.
• Having your boss write them a letter of thanks.
• Celebrating major accomplishments.
• Having them represent you at important meetings.
• Putting their picture on the bulletin board with news of their accomplishments.
• Cutting out articles and cartoons they might be interested in.
• Organizing informal chats with organisation leadership.
Major means of providing recognition:
• Making special caps, shirts, belt buckles or lapel badges honouring the group.
• Encouraging them to write an article about some accomplishment at work.
• Giving a plaque, certificate, or trophy for being best employee, best crew, most improved results, etc.
• Offering tuition assistance.
• Buying them good equipment.
• Getting their picture in the paper for outstanding accomplishment.
• Giving additional responsibilities and a new title.
• Renting newspaper space to thank them.
• Putting up a banner celebrating a major accomplishment.
• Honouring them for years of service to the organisation.
• Giving them a bigger office.
• Enlisting them in training staff and other volunteers.
• Involving them in the annual planning process.
Whatever mix of recognition system you utilize, remember the following rules:
1. Give it or else.
The need for recognition is very important to most people. If volunteers don’t get recognition for productive participation, only bad things can happen. The least of these is that they will feel unappreciated and drop out. Alternatively, they may start getting recognition from their peers (in the form of attention, laughter, camaraderie) for snide remarks and other more serious disruptive behaviour.
2. Give it frequently.
The most common complaint of volunteers is that they don’t get enough recognition from staff. Staff are usually surprised by this and can often cite examples in which they have given recognition to volunteers. The reason for this discrepancy of perception is that recognition has a short shelf life. Its effects start to wear off after a few days, and after several weeks of not hearing anything positive, volunteers start to wonder if they are appreciated. Giving recognition once a year to a volunteer at a recognition banquet is certainly not enough.
3. Give it via a variety of methods.
One of the implications of the previous rule is that you need a variety of methods of showing appreciation to volunteers. Fortunately, there are hundreds of methods.
can be categorized into four major types:
• From a person for the work the volunteer did.
Examples include saying "You did a great job on this" or writing a letter to that effect.
• From a person for being part of the organisation.
Examples include birthday celebrations or personal compliments such as "I am impressed by your uniformly pleasant attitude." These have nothing to do with the volunteers’ work performance but are expressions of appreciation of them as a person.
• From the organisation for work the volunteer did.
Examples would include a plaque commemorating their work on a project or being honoured as "Volunteer of the month" because of their outstanding achievements.
• From the organisation for being part of the team.
Examples include a plaque commemorating years of service or being featured in a newsletter article that tells interesting personal facts about the volunteer but is not written due to particular job performance.
• All of these types are valid.
Some appeal more to some people than to others. Try to make sure that your program has a mixture of methods.
Give it honestly.
Don’t give praise unless you mean it. If you praise substandard performance, the praise you give to others for good work will not be valued. If a volunteer is performing poorly, you might be able to give them honest recognition for their effort or for some personality trait.
5. Give it to the person, not to the work.
This is a subtle but important distinction. If volunteers organize a fund-raising event, for example, and you praise the event without mentioning who organised it, the volunteers may feel some resentment. Make sure you connect the volunteer’s name to it. It is better to say "John, Betty, and Megan did a great job of organising this event," than to say "This event was really well-organised."
6. Give it appropriately to the achievement.
Small accomplishments should be praised with low-effort methods, large accomplishments should get something more. For example, if a volunteer tutor teaches a child to spell "cat" today, we could say " Well done!" If she writes a grant that doubles our funding, a banner lauding her accomplishments might be more appropriate.
7. Give it consistently.
If two volunteers are responsible for similar achievements, they ought to get similar recognition. If one gets her picture in the lobby and another gets an approving nod, the latter may feel resentment. This does not mean that the recognition has to be exactly the same but that it should be the result of similar effort on your part. Otherwise certain volunteers will come to be regarded as "favourites," a stigma they may grow to dread.
8. Give it on a timely basis.
Praise for work should come as soon as possible after the achievement. Don’t save up your recognition for the annual banquet. If a volunteer has to wait months before hearing any word of praise, s/he may develop resentment for lack of praise in the meantime.
9. Give it in a individualised fashion.
Different people like different things. One might respond favourably to football tickets, another might find them useless. Some like public recognition, others find it embarrassing. In order to provide effective recognition, you need to get to know your people and what they will respond to positively.
10. Give it for what you want more of.
Too often your staff pay most attention to volunteers who are having difficulty. Unfortunately, this may result in ignoring good performers. We are not suggesting that you ignore sub-par volunteers, just that you make sure that you praise the efforts of those who are doing a good job.
If All Else Fails, Do Things Correctly
The final answer to volunteer retention and recognition is quite simple – operate a well-managed program. Volunteers, like the rest of us, tend to make rational decisions about the allocation of their time; they will strive to spend it in settings where they obtain value. This value may be the social aspects, the work objectives, the situational settings, or a combination of all of these. Programs that enable volunteers to do good work, in a good setting, with good people are uniquely positioned to provide this sense of value and accomplishment, and often can do so in ways that paid work settings are not able to provide. The principles of good volunteer management described in other sections of the Website outline the actions that can enable a volunteer program to provide this positive environment.
Volunteers should be regularly appraised of their performance just as though they were professional paid staff. Feedback and skill development are as important to those who are not paid for their work as for those who are. Sometimes it is even more significant since volunteers do not receive that regular indication of satisfaction -- a paycheck. A volunteer's position should be evaluated after he or she has been with the program six months, and then yearly thereafter. If problems arise between these scheduled appraisals, a nonscheduled appraisal can be arranged.
The purpose of the appraisal is to give feedback and offer input to help the volunteer improve on the job. It is not a punitive process. The appraisal process should be a positive and helpful experience for the volunteer. Allow the volunteer to participate by offering an opportunity for self-evaluation. Ask what areas they would like to improve, or special topics they could learn more about.
Performance appraisals can also serve a variety of other functions. They can be excellent opportunities to solicit feedback on supervision. They can be:
• A natural time for volunteers to review whether or not they wish to remain with the program;
• An opportunity for the organisation to encourage alternative or additional program functions; and
• A time for soliciting general suggestions about the program.
To develop a volunteer performance evaluation form, begin with the position description and rate the volunteer's performance in each area. Then proceed to the volunteer's individual goals, and determine jointly with the volunteer whether those goals were met completely, in part, or not at all. If the volunteer falls short of the goals, explain why. Next, review the volunteer's self-appraisal, and discuss any areas of concern. Finally, the performance appraisal should include a plan of action to address any training needed or desired during the next year.
Source Energize Inc...
Used with Permission