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Luncheon and Food for Thought 001

Get your dancing shoes on! This year, volunteer appreciation week in the US is April 23-29. It’s coming up in May for Australia, and June for the UK and New Zealand.

If you have a luncheon planned, you’ve long ago selected the venue and contacted the speakers. You’ve ordered the cute online mini calculators for giveaways. (of course your calculators were shipped late because the vendor mixed up your order with one from the company, “Meals on Wheelies” who is actually a pizza delivery joint in Appleton Wisconsin) You will give up your Friday night tickets for the punk concert, “Zombie Brains Munchfest” and instead, you will sit alone, wrapping the calculators in cute purple tissue paper (which serves nicely to dab your tears) because your friends and family say they are tired of being unpaid labor.

Volunteer appreciation events vacuum up our time and emotional energy like giant tornadoes trailing balloons. Expectations are high. Is the food great? Are the speeches sincere? Will I be able to make each volunteer feel special? But what about the volunteers who are out-of-town or are ill or just can’t come? What about the day after the event? The week? The year? Do the speeches and chocolate fountains last?

I’m not against events. Not at all. I am though, for grabbing any opportunity to improve volunteer engagement. What if we made volunteer week a kickoff, rather than a stand alone event?

Why not use volunteer week as a brightly colored launch to enlist staff support for acknowledging volunteers all year-long? It makes sense to jump on the festive events as a springboard for a volunteer recognition calendar. With our orchestration, ongoing volunteer appreciation can become a learned behavior within organizations.

While the “we heart volunteers” posters are up, the splashy balloons float in the hallways, and the staff is sampling that star shaped cherry cheesecake, it’s time to pounce! As these vibrant visuals draw attention to your volunteers, it’s the perfect time to visit each department and share your recognition calendar for the year.
A sample calendar can look something like this:

The Volunteer Department Yearly Calendar of Volunteer Recognition!
Every first of the month I will pass around birthday cards for the volunteers who are celebrating birthdays. I would appreciate your signature. The cards will then be mailed to the volunteers. These simple but effective cards remind each volunteer that the entire organization appreciates them on their special day. Individual recognition goes a long way towards volunteer retention.

Every third Wednesday of each month I will visit one department to write down testimonials from staff on the incredible impact volunteers have on supporting our mission. These testimonials will be published in our volunteer newsletter which is shared with all volunteers. In addition, the testimonials will serve to recruit prospective volunteers as well. Here is the list of scheduled departments for the next twelve months. Please be thinking about our volunteers and their contributions. Your testimonials serve to reinforce the volunteer support your department deems beneficial. (Bonus: keep all the testimonials for other purposes such as recruitment ads, speeches to groups etc.)

Every quarter I will be videotaping several staff members expressing a simple ‘thank you’ to our volunteers and I will be showing the videos at the beginning of our volunteer meetings. These videos will serve to remind the volunteers that they are important members of our team. (Bonus-you can show all of the videos at next year’s luncheon)

I will remind everyone in an email blast the first of each month. Thank you for participating in our plan to retain our valuable volunteers and to encourage new volunteers. Staff appreciation is a motivating factor in cultivating a supportive team.

Your written plan can include:
A-what and when (the schedule)
B-how (the particulars)
C-why (the benefit to volunteers and organization)                                                                       D-in addition, your reminder schedule

Volunteer recognition is meaningful and fun on event day. We serve up praise along with chicken salad and we may even give awards for volunteer of the year. But awards look backwards. Let’s also look forwards. Let’s develop a plan to set the tone of appreciation for the coming year. Heck, maybe announce that at next year’s luncheon, there will be an additional award for the staff members who excel at engaging and recognizing volunteers.

Now wouldn’t that be something to truly celebrate?