Showing Appreciation During National Volunteer Week


April 24 – 30, 2022 is National Volunteer Week and it is a great time to appreciate your volunteers! They have a number of excellent resources available for you to use as part of your appreciation efforts.

Recognition and appreciation are things that, in today’s organizations, are not always top of mind. In many cases, these things are either not done, glossed over or done in such a routinized way that any benefit of doing it is lost in the cynicism of an inauthentic action (which employees and volunteers can smell a mile away, but that is a blog topic for another day!)

How do you create a culture of appreciation?

Well, first you need to understand why you would do it. Once you understand the why behind something it, it is easier to buy in and commit to the cause, so to speak. There are really two “whys” behind a volunteer recognition program. While organizations that utilize volunteers are most often non-profit or charitable organizations, there is still a business why or a business imperative. Similar to the saying “happy wife, happy life”, “happy volunteers, happy clients” (I know it doesn’t rhyme, but you get the idea.) But, that seems too simple, so let’s go through a more detailed list of the benefits of volunteer recognition.

Strategic volunteer recognition is the stepping stone to:

  • improved sense of job satisfaction, which leads to increased volunteer engagement
  • increased volunteer engagement, which leads to increased retention of volunteers, thus saving time and money on having to replace those volunteers
  • increased retention, which leads to increased client satisfaction
  • increased client satisfaction, which leads to increased productivity
  • increased productivity, which leads to better program outcomes and that can translate into increased funding or fundraising success

All in all, a pretty powerful list of reasons and that is just a sampling!

The second reason why you want to build a culture of appreciation? Well, this one comes down to a purely personal reason. There is nothing that feels as good as giving to someone else! Try it – do something for someone without an expectation of anything in return and see how it feels. It is actually a selfish act and it feels great and the more you do it, the more you want to do it! One thing about volunteer appreciation programs that I would like to encourage is to do some of the giving yourself. Don’t hand it over to the Volunteer Program Manager and have them reap all the rewards! As a manager, a CEO, a co-worker – get involved! Feel some of the love and do something for someone else at work in the form of recognition and appreciation.

Having said that, let’s get down to brass tacks – what does a culture of appreciation really mean? In my experience, it means that recognition and appreciation are embedded in everything you do and all of your employees and volunteers are living and breathing it. It means that the mission and values of your organization are aligned to your belief in recognizing and appreciating people for their contribution.

How do you know if you have a culture of appreciation in your organization? When walking around your organization, you see evidence of thanks. This might look like a white board in the hallway that allows people to make comment about a specific volunteer’s contribution. Or, maybe people’s cubicles are decorated with thank you cards from clients. Perhaps the kitchen has leftover cake from a recent celebration of a project launch or from the welcome lunch that celebrated a new group of volunteers that started that month.

When you stop one of your volunteers in the hall and ask, “When was the last time you were appreciated for your contribution to this organization?” you don’t want your volunteer to look at you and say “Hmm, I can’t really remember.” You want to reach a point where they look at you, smile and say “Well, I just came from my program office where we discussed my latest volunteer shift and as I was leaving, my Program Manager smiled at me and told me I was doing a great job.” Now THAT is a culture of appreciation!

Your Engaged Assignment: Write down four different, simple ways you can appreciate and recognize your volunteers and use one each week. At the end of the four weeks, make a new list and do it again. Watch as this grows and feeds your culture of appreciation!