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Volunteer Power!

Volunteer Power News — Number 31
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter

© 2005 Advantage Point Systems Publishing

A warm welcome to all volunteer managers—those of you who recruit, motivate and mobilize volunteer workers.

In this Issue:

1. Recognition: What are specific examples that successful organizations are using to reward and recognize their volunteers?
2. Continued response to question, "How do we get the younger generation to volunteer?"

Rewards and Recognition

The Question:

Dear Tom:

Thank you for your wonderfully helpful site. I am the Secretary of the International FOP Association, a small nonprofit organization of families dedicated to supporting those struggling with a rare genetic disorder called Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva. Our mission is Instilling HOPE through Research, Education and Support, while Searching for a CURE for FOP. My eleven year old son, Daniel, has FOP, which turns muscle and other connective tissue into bone, eventually creating a second skeleton that drastically restricts movement. I guess you could call me a passionate volunteer. Please visit our site for more information.

I just spent an enlightening hour reading old articles looking for methods of recognizing and appreciating volunteers, but it was never a major subject before, which really surprises me. I know you say "positive feedback" is the most important thing you can do to keep volunteers happy and healthy, but you don't describe different ways different organizations have formalized their volunteer appreciation."

I guess what I am asking is for more details about how other organizations have recognized their volunteers. . .

Any suggestions you can offer would be greatly appreciated. . . .Thank you for your time and attention.

Jeri, Peter, Daniel & Copper Licht
IFOPA Secretary and Skilled Canine Companion Team

The Answer:


Thanks so much for your questions and for prodding me to do some more work on the topic of specific rewards and recognition. I jumped right on it and have collected information from several volunteer organizations and what they are doing. I hope this helps.

Last week I interviewed Charlie Wick, Volunteer Coordinator for the American Red Cross-Del Norte County, California. Charlie had just spent three weeks in New Orleans coordinating relief effort. She said they do the following:

  • Write an article featuring a volunteer in each of the in-house newsletters. The article includes a picture and the specific details of what the volunteer does. Charlie also sends the article to the local newspaper.
  • Have a yearly volunteer appreciation dinner with place cards for each volunteer that includes an item of praise specific to them. Certificates are given for the years of service. Outstanding volunteers are often asked to speak to the group about their volunteer experience.
  • Have volunteers vote each year for the outstanding volunteer of the year. The person is recognized at the appreciation dinner.
  • Give "good job" pins for over and above service.
  • Send regular hand written notes of appreciation with specific details of an area in which the volunteer excelled.

I also interviewed Wendy Reiss, A member of the board of supervisors of Trinity County, California. Trinity County is a small, rural county in Northern California, and they depend on a lot of volunteers for their fire departments, library, count fair, etc. She told me about an "Olympic type medal" that they give out to people who have volunteered to work in the fair for more than five years. Joe, a 75 year old gentleman who has been volunteering for 15 years, wears his medal around his neck the whole time he is volunteering. When I asked what Joe does as a volunteer, Wendy said, "Anything we ask. He just wants to help. But most of all he loves behind the scene work like setting up chairs, cleaning, etc."

Mark, a volunteer fireman in Weaverville, California (Trinity County), overheard me interviewing Wendy and shared his story with me. Mark is a mechanic for the county and volunteers his time keeping the fire equipment in top shape. He takes the equipment home to his shop and repairs the trucks. A month ago he was totally surprised when he got a plaque recognizing his volunteer work at the annual volunteer recognition dinner for volunteer fireman. The thing that surprised Mark the most was that everyone in a small community kept this from him. He was totally shocked when he was called up in front of everyone and the Fire chief read a proclamation outlining all of the work that Mark had done.

Mark said that each year the fire department sponsors a "fireman's ball," and it is one of the largest dances of the whole community. At the dance, which draws most of the people in town, volunteers are recognized with awards and recognition pins.

Several years ago I interviewed Mary Lynn Perry when she was the director of volunteers for Shriners Hospital in Sacramento, Ca. The following is a section from my interview:

We also do recognition. You see the fellows walking around with these pins with the hours on them. Earl, who you met when you came in, showed you his pin with the number 5,800 hours. He is really proud of that pin. We did that in lieu of certificates. We find the pin more significant. After 100 hours you get a pin that says "Shriners Hospital Volunteer" with the number of hours. At the end of each year the volunteers get a bar with the total number of hours. And at the end of five years they get a pin that is a gold numeral 5 that they can wear. They put it right on their uniform and they walk around showing their gold pin. They are showing that they are part of the group that has actually contributed a lot of hours. For the students we give out certificates and a letter of recommendation. We have lots of college students who each contribute a 100 hours during the semester or for the summer and they respond to the letter and certificate rather than the pins. In the letter we state how many hours they have volunteered.

Annette Shears, Director of Volunteers, Catalina Island Conservancy, Avalon has developed a special column in the organizations' quarterly newsletter. The column, titled, "Conservancy Volunteers Have," lists a few of the man projects volunteers have been involved with, along with some noteworthy statistics (source: Volunteer Management Report). One of the articles read;

Conservancy Volunteers Have:

  • Removed 11.5 miles of old fence line.
  • Walked 438.4 miles monitoring their fence sections in the Fence Walker's program.
  • Installed tail posts' markers around the island designed to assist visitors and residents exploring the island's interior.
  • Spent 1,203 hours pulling, cutting and removing nonnative weeds.

Steven Drew, curator at the California State Railroad Museum, said that they use the following rewards for volunteer service:

  • Graduation certificates when volunteers complete a training program
  • Hour bars for five, ten and twenty years of volunteer service
  • An annual outstanding volunteer recognition for each department
  • 0% of their annual budget to volunteers
  • Thank you cards. Each supervisor gets 200 thank you cards at the beginning of the year, and they must have used them all by the end of the year.

The last idea is from the Volunteer Management Report (December 2001).

For the past two years, Janet Gordon, director of volunteer services for the Jewish Hope for the Elderly of Fairfield County, Connecticut, has been giving her approximately 350 volunteer a certificate for a free lunch along with a birthday card. The can take the certificate to the coffee shop or employee cafeteria and have a free lunch anything during that month.

I hope this helps.


Note: I got a thank you note back from Jeri and she noted that their volunteers are not in one location to gather around the water cooler. Their volunteers are connected through e-mail and the phone. She encouraged me to give her some ideas on long-distance rewards and recognition. I will follow up on her suggestion in our next newsletter on the topic: Managing the Virtual Volunteer. This topic actually blends greatly with Gen Y - the digital natives.

How Do We Get the Digital Natives to Volunteer?

Gen Y - the 68 million people born between 1980 and 1994 who constantly question the standards and expectations imposed by society.

In the last newsletter I covered three characteristics of Gen Y:

  1. They are impatient.
  2. They are adaptable.
  3. They are multitaskers.

Four more characteristics of the Gen Y volunteer are the following:

They are "street smart" digital natives

Baby boomers are digital immigrants. Gen Yers are digital natives. Digitals grew up using technology. Marc Prensky, a pioneer of digital game based learning and CEO and founder of games2train.com coined the term, "Twitch Speed". He says that this generation grew up on video games (twitch speed), MTV (more than 100 images per minute) and the ultra-fast speed of action films. The under-30 generation has had far more experience of processing information quickly than its predecessors. Therefore the digital natives are defined by the following:

  • They're skilled at multitasking and parallel processing.
  • Hyper linking has accustomed them to random access of information, instead of linear thinking.
  • Asynchronous worldwide communication gives them a sense of connectedness, affecting the way they seek out information and help.
  • They believe that active is better than passive and that achievement and winning are important concepts.
  • They have much less patience with experiences that don't pay off.

Eric Chester says that they have been exposed to far more, at an earlier age, than previous generations. These young people have seen the good, the bad and ugly. Sometimes labeled as 'street smart," there is very little they have not seen, through the media or virtually. They are resilient, slow to be shocked, quick to react, and willing to take risks. Life has been an adventure of constant change, and they feel well equipped to tackle any situation.

They crave respect

If you have established a relationship of honesty and trust, they will stick with you through anything. Many adults label this generation as disrespectful and outspoken. After all, if you grew up never trusting anyone over thirty, you certainly don't "respect your elders." They address their elders as equals, using first names rather than Mr. or Mrs. While they like older people (especially the Veteran generation) and respect their life experiences, they are not awed or overly impressed by anyone of anything. Though they often appear disrespectful, they crave respect. They believe that power equals respect. While they are slow to give respect, they expect respect automatically. "Gen Ys respect authenticity, accomplishment, and competence" (Chester, 2002, p. 46).

The children of "never trust anyone over thirty" parents, this generation has lived in a time when the media and tell-all books debunked all past heroes. As Chester points out, they watched the confessions of Princess Diana, saw sports figures discredited, and heard a president lie. They have few illusions about what the world is really like and thus are skeptical and wary. They have seen too much to believe everything at face value. Because their skepticism has led them to question much of what they see and hear, they value honesty and truth. They dislike embellishments, half truths and over inflated promises.

They want to be heard.

"Children should be seen and not heard" has not been the axiom of this generation. They have been included in family decision from their earliest days. They have been taught to speak up, and their opinions have been considered and valued. They are very independent thinkers and feel very comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions with anyone. I was cornered by a young man (28 years old) last week during a break in a management workshop. He was so frustrated because he told me that management (most of them in their 50's) often criticize him for being blunt, when he believed he was just being honest and open and giving immediate feedback. What management saw as "attitude" was "authenticity" to him. They felt that he had not been in the organization long enough to criticize their way. He felt that they needed fresh, young eyes.

They are not judgmental.

Diversity is a value for this generation, and thus they display an incredible tolerance and a slowness to judge other people. Though adults sometimes challenge this saying they are can be rude and outspoken, they have a great spirit of openness. True products of the civil rights movement, these young people do not display the same prejudices that have divided earlier generation. They are great team members, ignoring gender and racial biases to work with anyone to accomplish common goals.

They are looking for causes.

Although this is true of most volunteers, across generational lines, Gen Ys are highly motivated by causes. Since they are very busy with lots of youthful activities, they are looking for ways to volunteer with organizations in order to make their mark and find their causes. When the match is right, they are highly committed and fiercely loyal..

Evaluate your organization. Is it Gen Y friendly?

So what does this mean? Bottom line-they don't want to be managed. They want to be lead. Management: "Please do this job and have it done by Friday." Leadership: "What can you do to help us accomplish our mission?"

  • As a leader rather than a manager. Leaders demonstrate these four characteristics:
    • You can only lead someone you know. Do you spend time with each volunteer getting to know them? Do you listen to them?
    • Are you a coach? A coach challenges volunteers to do their best, yet nurtures the individual and encourages each to reach his/her full potential.
    • Do you value people? This person-centered approach puts highest value on each volunteer.
    • Do you involve people in decision making? Gen Ys' want to be a part of the team in making decisions.
  • Do you use titles? Are you Dr. Johnson, or Pete? Are you Pastor Jon or Jon? Gen Ys are not impressed by titles.
  • Does your group practice diversity (i.e. ethnic, gender, generational) in recruiting, promoting, hiring and seeking leadership?
  • Do you market your cause? Have you developed a brand that is "cause driven?" (see newsletter on branding)
  • Are you are virtual organization?

Next months' newsletter:

  • The virtual organization-not just for Gen Y.
  • Gen Y - are they team players or a "team of one"?

Thomas W. McKee
Volunteer Power

Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at tom@advantagepoint.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.

For more articles by Thomas McKee, visit the Articles section on our website.

Please recommend this e-mail newsletter or ezine to anyone who is interested in volunteer management. Thank you for reading this month's issue of Volunteer Power News!