Thank Volunteers Early and Often

Leaders provide encouragement when they recruit volunteers well, place them carefully, and evaluate their performance in a healthy way. In addition to this, leaders can and should formally recognize the volunteer’s contribution. 

Betty Stallings, a recognition expert, describes the Four P’s of recognition: making it personal, plentiful, powerful, and practical.

Personal. Making it personal means crafting a thank you that validates the person in a way unique to them. For instance, one organization sent its staff members a card of recognition on the anniversary on the date when they started working there.

Plentiful. Making it plentiful means, like the old joke about voting in Chicago, doing it early and often. Doing so can help spread the attitude of recognition throughout your work team.

Powerful. Making it powerful means recognizing the importance of small symbolic acts, such as the conference organizer who drew out of her pocket a partial roll of Lifesavers at the end of the meeting, handed one to her most trusted assistant, and said, “You’ve been a real Lifesaver today!”[1]

Practical. Making it practical means addressing the excuses people make for not providing recognition, most of them centered on its alleged impracticality. For instance, some will protest about the lack of money in the budget or observe that volunteers say they do not need recognition. To counter these objections, point out the ways in which recognition sustains the work by encouraging everyone involved.[2]

It’s not possible to offer too much appreciation! While we tend to think of recognition as occurring at the end of a project, recognition should take place throughout the volunteer experience.

[1] Marlene Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, Evaluation, and Accountability, vol. 6, Group’s Volunteer Leadership Series (Loveland, CO: Group, 2004), 91.

[2] Wilson, Volunteer Encouragement, 83-91.

Rhino Neal, 10.28.10. Flickr Creative Commons.

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