Visit our service sites

Recognition Reflection: Recapping Our Last Think Tank Conversation

Think Tank Conversations is a bi-monthly meetup of those who manage, coordinate and engage volunteers in Edmonton. The space we’ve created is one of discussion, networking and working through the trends, challenges and success volunteer coordinators face in their roles. Our March session was prep for National Volunteer Week (April 15-21 2018). As always, Think Tankers had a lot to say about this topic. Here’s what we heard:

There are a multitude of ways to show recognition, but we wanted to find out what organizations in the room did to show their volunteers they’re valued. So we took a poll.

The majority of organizations shared that they give handwritten thank you notes to their volunteers. Managers also said their organizations give small gifts, host annual appreciation events ranging from banquets and galas to training events for volunteers, or give special recognition for years of service. These are pretty standard recognition methods.

Digging deeper, we realized organizations had many other unique ways they gave back to volunteers. Interestingly, many managers didn’t even consider these as recognition:

  • Social media shoutouts sharing volunteer successes (this is especially great for younger volunteers on Twitter or Instagram and Facebook for older volunteers)
  • Inclusion in staff training (giving access to training helps show that you value volunteers and want to invest in their development)
  • Nomination for city, provincial or community awards
  • Profile in organization newsletter
  • Recognition wall at the office
  • Perks to arts and cultural events

Needless to say, organizations recognize volunteers in a variety of ways. But how do organizations decide on their recognition methods?

Some organizations struggle to get volunteers out to their recognition events. Others find that volunteers don’t want the gifts or tokens they give them, and instead want that money invested back into the organization.

David McClelland developed a Human Motivation Theory that can be useful in working through recognition struggles. His theory argues there are three different motivational styles: achievement, power and affiliation.

When you think of volunteers that might be those different motivational styles, what recognition things would they be most receptive to?

And maybe the question is more so do your recognition methods reflect the diversity of volunteers you have in your program? It sounds like a lot of work to try and figure these things out. Luckily there’s research to help you out.

Volunteer Canada’s 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study asked Canadians: how do you want to be recognized for your volunteer contributions? The biggest takeaway was “volunteers want to be thanked and shown how they have made a difference—they want to know the impact of their contributions.” The study goes on to say that “volunteers and volunteer organizations have identified a need to redefine perceptions of volunteer recognition—away from once a year banquet and towards a holistic, year round practice…”

Volunteer recognition shouldn’t be just a once-per-year concern. How about ongoing formal recognition (tied to volunteer success and achievement) or ongoing informal (finding small ways to show appreciation)? Volunteer organizations need to incorporate recognition throughout the year and into their daily practice.

Recognition shouldn’t only be the responsibility of the volunteer manager or coordinator either! It takes an entire organization to build and sustain a culture of appreciation and to recognize volunteers for their work. It starts from the minute volunteers enter the program. Do your roles inspire and motivate volunteers or are they just busy work? Are you matching volunteers to suitability of role or just filling in gaps? Those are all questions that should be considered.

Volunteers ultimately want to hear how they’ve made an impact in community and why your organization values them. With that, I leave you with three questions with which Think Tankers closed out our March conversation:

  • What positive outcomes have you seen as a result of volunteer effort in your organization?
  • How have volunteers made it easier to fulfill your organization’s mission?
  • Tell us about a volunteer who made an impression on you, why?

The next time you’re stumped with how to recognize volunteers reflect on those questions, and then find a way to tell and show volunteers your answers.

To read the last Think Tank recap and catch up with what Edmonton volunteer managers are thinking, click here.

Want to join fellow volunteer managers at our next Think Tank? Save the Date for May 25th and get notified about the next event via our newsletter. Subscribe Here