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The Art of Rewards, Recognition & Thanks

Written by Caitlin Struhs | on November 19, 2014 at 2:28 PM

Our guest blogger, Peggy M. Hoffman, CAE, is Mariner Management's president and the resident expert on communication, marketing and building community. In addition to managing organizations, Peggy has provided training and consultation on leadership development, component relations and strategic planning to more than a dozen national associations and many local groups over the past 30 years. She loves to write and share, and has a true passion for volunteerism. Find her on Twitter @peggyhoffman or send her an email at phoffman@marinermanagement.com.

While not listed as a key reason for volunteering by most volunteers, ineffective recognition does appear on the list of why they don't volunteer. Too often in associations, it's our fault. No, I'm not saying we're Scrooges at heart; just that we haven't spent the time developing a meaningful and deep recognition program. In this season of thankfulness, maybe it's time to reflect on how we could do better.

An effective volunteer reward and recognition program has six characteristics. How does yours stack up?

Culture of thanks

This is more than an annual thank you or shout-out at an annual meeting - this is an ongoing process. It's about what you do day-in and day-out to make your member volunteers feel welcome, and a part of a team that's moving the mission and connected to the group.

Respects the volunteer

This is about using their time and talents appropriately. Don't waste time on ineffective calls or trivial assignments. This is where technology plays a key role. Providing a platform which simplifies a volunteer's work and offers a 24/7 resource says you care.

Doesn't skimp on support

When we think of recognition, we often focus on the act of thanking, yet there is another side to this: support. In ASAE's Decision To Volunteer (ASAE, 2008), we learn that one of the reasons for not volunteering is related to volunteer management practices - not enough support. Providing support, such as clear policies and procedures, user-friendly technology, reasonable access to resources and responsive staff, it all tells your volunteers they are important. That is recognition that matters.

Built on the mantra "Recognize activity, reward results"

While reward and recognition are similar, many mistakenly view them as synonymous. Think in terms of past and present to better understand the difference. Reward is about focusing on past performance and results; recognition is about the present, focusing on current activity to encourage continued involvement and work. The risk of rewarding activity is that it could send the message that putting in time is more important than results. Need ideas for how to do both? Check out the Energize.com idea center or the AppreciateVolunteers.com blog.

Is inclusive

We do a good job of recognizing the highly visible volunteers, board, chapter presidents, key committee chairs, the annual meeting or convention committee, while our army of less visible contributors goes unnoticed. I'm thinking about our virtual and ad hoc volunteers. These are members who have an impact on our mission by doing jobs like feeding conversations in our online community, participating in research, collaborating on content and helping out at a meeting. There are many ways to recognize these members, such as with virtual badges, social media mentions, profiles on the website and posting a "wall of fame".

Connects to the bigger picture

This may seem unnecessary, but knowing that the chief motivation for volunteering is tied to making a difference, one of the best ways to appreciate members is to showcase the difference they made, and provide them a perspective on how they are important.

To improve our efforts, let's begin by asking our own volunteers to rate our performance - where can we improve?

Topics: Volunteerism

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