The Best Way to Recognize Your Association Volunteers

Yesterday in the closing hours of National Volunteer Week I had a conversation with one of our best volunteers, June Ring, president of the ISES DC, during which she told me how much she and the board appreciated Mariner. Her year is coming to a close and she thanked us. But it is us who should thank her – and her board. They have been extraordinary volunteers!It reminds me once again that National Volunteer Week shouldn’t be a week. It’s really a 365-day celebration.  In fact there are 365 ways (at least) that we can recognize our volunteers. It begins I believe not with a list of rewards (although this one from Indiana 4-H is packed with ideas – some of which show up below!)

It begins rather with a thoughtful, strategic approach to your volunteer program. We owe it to our organizations and to our volunteers to put at least as much effort and time into our HR for volunteers as we do staff.  (Here’s a good piece from on where HR for staff and volunteers intersect.) It’s time we think strategically about who we need and how we’re going to support them. While we won’t be setting pay scales, we should be setting compensation packages that include job descriptions, orientation, training, coaching, professional development, performance appraisals, knowledge sharing and vacations (yes time off!).

The failing of too many associations is that we do pieces of this job. Most commonly covered are: orientation for key volunteer leadership roles; basic rewards and recognition for volunteer leaders; a Call for Volunteers section on our website and nominating committee; and job descriptions for key jobs – although many I daresay haven’t been looked at and updated in eons. Bottom line we create our own volunteer problems.

Some of the key elements truly missing are exactly those that really say you care. To name a few that are the top of my list:

  • Provide useful and effective orientation for each volunteer position.
  • Include regular debriefings with volunteers following a conference, program, or activity which they participated in or assisted with.
  • Reimburse expenses incurred for volunteering, especially costs of travel and training.
  • Provide volunteers with adequate clerical or office support including technology and tools.
  • Provide flexible volunteering opportunities that offer short and longer time commitments, face-to-face and virtual options, individual and group work. 

ASAE’s Decision To Volunteer study hit us all right where it counts in enumerating how these elements can be big detractors when ignored. Quick look at findings can be found here. I love Deirdre Reid’s New Volunteer Manifesto which picks up the idea along with Maddie Grant’s take on the same.

True, meaningful recognition of volunteers begins with a setting up a fully-functioning volunteer management program. How’s your’s doing?

PS – If you do have great volunteers or are a great volunteer, join the Association Volunteers! Fan Page on Facebook.

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