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Last updated August 20, 2014

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about the need to recognise and reward their volunteers, but few people talk about how much they genuinely appreciate their volunteer team. It seems that ‘recognition and reward’ have become catch-phrases that simply mean sending a thank you card or hosting a volunteer’s dinner.

Don’t get me wrong, both are fabulous ways to recognise your volunteers, but sadly some organisations do it because they’ve been taught its good practice – not because they genuinely appreciate the work that’s been done around them. They have unwittingly fallen into a place where they expect people to help out – after all, you’ve been doing it for years, isn’t it about time other people pulled their weight?

Rightly or wrongly, people do not have to volunteer their time or energy, regardless of how good your cause is. It is not mandatory to volunteer for anything, so when people do, we as the organisations involved should be genuinely grateful and look for ways to show we genuinely care.

Thank you cards aside, here are some great ways to recognise and reward your volunteers for their effort.

1. Feed Them
If you’ve got people volunteering their time, energy and skills, the very least you can do is feed them. Imagine if you had friends around to help you build a fence at home. You wouldn’t dream of asking them to bring their own lunch, and neither should you of your volunteers. Most people would prefer food than a thank you card any day.

2. Dress Them
I’m not suggesting you buy all your volunteers a new wardrobe, but giving them a ‘Volunteer’ T-Shirt is a great way to make them feel important and a part of your team. Not only can they wear their ‘uniform’ while they’re helping out, wearing it at other times will help spread the word about your organisation. If your organisation can’t afford T-Shirts for your volunteer crew, look at other options such as caps or badges.

3. Include Them
If you want to keep your volunteers on-board, you need to make them feel included. Ask them for feedback, keep them informed with what’s happening, and invite them to take part in various meetings or brainstorms. Show them you value their ideas, not just their labour-hours.

4. Laugh With Them
If you truly appreciate your volunteers, surely you want the whole experience to be enjoyable? Think of ways you can make your organisation a fun place to work. Perhaps you could have silly volunteer competitions, regular volunteer vs. staff challenges, or monthly social activities. Consider challenging another non profit group to a game of Ten Pin or Trivial Pursuits. Don’t wait until Christmas to do something just for fun.

5. Make it Easy for Them
If people are willing to give up their time and energy to help you, it is important that you do everything you can to make it easy for them. Circulate the names and contact details of other volunteers so they can organise car-pooling, reimburse their expenses, and provide training or mentoring for jobs they need help with. If it’s too hard to volunteer, people will simply stop doing it.

By all means continue to send cards, give certificates and host dinners, but reward and recognition shouldn’t just happen ‘after the fact’. Look for ways you can show genuine appreciation as you go along.

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