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TopQTipWould YOU Want to Attend the Recognition Event You're Planning for Volunteers?

If there's one topic that is always included in the basics of how to engage volunteers well, it's recognition. And, I have been writing and speaking on this topic forever. We've arrived at April, which brings National Volunteer Week to North America (it's held at different times in different countries) and so you can expect the usual celebratory stories and events to pop up in local and national news this month. Apologies to all the fantastic volunteers out there, but too much of what we present as "volunteer recognition" is drivel.

So have I gotten your attention? Good. Back in 2005 I wrote a still-relevant Hot Topic called, "Why Be Boring When You Can Celebrate in So Many Ways?" I'm highlighting and updating the points again here.
April Hot Topic
By Susan J. Ellis, President Energize, Inc.

Continuous Learning Is NOT Optional
Who knew volunteer management was so complicated? We did. Leaders of volunteers have always known that first we need to learn the basics, but it doesn't stop there. We need to keep up to date and challenged. Think you don't have the time? Find (or make) the time. Read this Month's Hot Topic.  
You can subscribe to the Hot Topic as a podcast or  RSS text feed - or listen to the audio online.

News from the Field
Nationwide Volunteering S tatistics in Jeopardy!
Make Your Voice Heard by April 10!
This is an urgent call to action to our colleagues in the U.S. about a pending decision to radically reduce and marginalize the collection of data on volunteers in this country. The type of data that will be lost should proposed changes go through is found in Volunteering and Civic Life in America, reported by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS.) This data comes from the survey conducted annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics through its Current Population Survey supplement.

CNCS proposes to cut questions about volunteering and fold what remains into the CNCS commissioned survey on civic life. Eliminating or changing the questions will make the only national data of this type unavailable on its own and difficult to restore. It would make it impossible to compare new data with historical data on volunteering - at a time when past survey results have shown the nationwide level of volunteering declining - and it will send a signal that the important role non-stipend volunteering plays in American society is unimportant.

This is hard to explain quickly, but happily Tobi Johnson has provided an excellent summary of the main points in her blog post, " Keep Volunteers in the Volunteering and Civic Life in America Survey." (Thank you, Tobi!) We at Energize urge you to take a moment to read about this and then to act by voicing your opinion.

Written comments must be submitted by any of the following three ways listed below by April 10, 2017 (be sure to reference Citation: 82 FR 9726 Document Number: 2017-02527 in your letter):
  1. By mail sent to: Corporation for National and Community Service, Attention Anthony Nerino, Research Analyst, Rm. #3235; 250 E St. SW., Washington, DC 20525.
  2. By hand delivery or by courier to the CNCS mailroom at Rm. #4300 at the mail address given in paragraph (1) above, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, except Federal holidays.
  3. Electronically through (Note that some people have reported that this method is not working well, or difficult to find, and so using postal mail may be most effective.)

July 26-28, 2017
St. Paul, MN
  • The Summit will be the first time in almost a decade that volunteer mobilization and support - in any setting - will be the total focus of a major conference.
  • The Summit offers more than 100 workshops to increase volunteer management knowledge and skills.
  • Special sessions will provide a unique opportunity for funders and nonprofit leaders to learn more about each other's perspectives, approaches to collaboration, and challenges.
  • There will be a volunteer management bookstore on-site for all 3 days of the conference, plus a vendor fair on Thursday.
  • Interactive plenaries and small group discussions will allow collective strategizing for participants to determine how to build a new national presence for leaders of volunteer engagement, tackle the issues that affect this profession, and ultimately increase the community impact of the volunteers engaged.
  • It will be lots of fun!

Don't Miss Out!

e-Volunteerism The Electronic Journal of the Volunteer Community
New Articles Available 
Volume XVII, Issue 2

Free Access this Month 
From the Archives: 
When Should We NOT Involve Volunteers? (V, 3, 2005) This 2005 "Keyboard Roundtable" engaged seven colleagues from different countries in a discussion of times when an organization might consider assigning volunteers to a role or task, but ultimately decides not to do so. When would a "no" decision be best? What criteria should be applied or what circumstances should be considered, and why?
From the Current Issue:
The Professional Responsibility to Have and Share Opinions  - Susan and Rob explain why and how a strong profession like volunteer management must advocate for its beliefs, and why members have a professional responsibility to seize opportunities to express their educated opinions. Doing so empowers individual volunteer managers and will move the field forward more quickly and effectively than is happening right now.

Subscriber Access Only  
( Subscribe for a full year or 48-hour access)
New Postings Since the Last Update:

Doing Good Deeds for Love: A New Approach to Volunteering and Forging Relationships
- Hannah Whitehead, founder of Good Deed Dating, shares how she came to start this unique social enterprise that works with charities in London to coordinate volunteering events for single people. "We combine good deeds with great dates."
- Ken Culp, III, Harriett Edwards, and Jenny W. Jordan explain the roles of the special volunteer groups that govern and advise our organizations.

What's Coming Up? 
On April 15th, a new issue of e-Volunteerism will open. What can you expect in Vol. XVII, Issue 3? Quite a bit: A Points of View reflection on the benefits of failures; an article on how volunteer resources managers might apply the business concept of "continuous improvement"; the history and impact of Time Banks; a review of new live streaming video platforms and how to use them effectively; places online to find tools for volunteer recognition; tips for training teenage volunteers; and more.

As always, the articles from past issues remain available in the journal
Archives .
You can subscribe to e-Volunteerism  for a full year or for 48-hour access. Note that subscribers have full access to the Archives of all 16 previous volume years.
Copyright-free Graphics about Volunteerism
Did you know we have created copyright-free graphics to use as you wish in motivating volunteers? Here's a sample. Visit our Pinterest page to see this board and more images we collect for you. 
QTipSusan's Quick Tip Continued...
Does anyone actually like sit-down banquets? In my opinion, too many of them are stultifying: dull speeches (even if I'm the speaker!), mediocre food, boring table talk. And imagine what Millennials think of them! So here are some ideas to consider:

Money doesn't matter
It is a red herring to complain that your organization has no money for recognition. Why? Because the cost of the event or the food you serve is never the point. You want to allow volunteers to meet each other, recommit them for another year, but mainly celebrate! Create buzz, laughter, and passion. If all you can serve is punch and cookies, that's fine, if the other elements are in place.

Plan the event with volunteers, not just for them
Ask volunteers to evaluate past recognition events honestly. Even more important is to contact volunteers who did not attend the event and find out why. Then ask what they might like to do as a celebration. (Note: Most volunteers will tell you they don't "need" recognition and don't want the organization to spend a lot of money on this. But the organization should express thanks.) Refer to the event as a "celebration of our efforts" and then ask volunteers of what they are most proud to have contributed.

Allow volunteers to speak
Where is it written that the way to thank people is to call out their names and hand them a certificate while they meekly and silently come forward to shake the hand of some dignitary they have not met before (while posing for a photo they never see)? Why not let each unit prepare a presentation of their own about their work in the past year? You can ask them a month in advance to prepare a 5-minute report, skit, song and dance, whatever. Alternatively, use the first 30 minutes of the recognition event to allow volunteers, who do the same work but may not know each other, to share ideas on the spot and come up with "The 6 Best Things that Happened this Year" to present to everyone assembled. Bet you can come up with other nifty ideas!

Make volunteers feel individually appreciated, not just thanked as a corps
Certificates of recognition that have nothing more than the organization's logo and volunteer's name may just as well be birdcage liners. If you do hand out certificates, at a minimum include the assignment the volunteer filled that year or the location of the work. Even better, add a sentence or two about what the person actually did: "Our thanks for how you always go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure our residents have a good time at the bingo game." "For scanning all our 2002 paper files into digital storage." "For your role in making sure your assigned child passed grade 4."

Project a self-running slide show with photos of the "year in review." Make sure it includes as many different volunteers as possible, doing actual work. (People love these and you'll also have pictures to use later in recruitment and orientation.)

Use the time you have to make everyone interact
  • Create a mix-and-mingle opening. Provide name tags with print large enough to read at a distance. To encourage early conversation, include other information, such as the assignment the volunteer holds, maybe the day of the week s/he works or the number of years (or months) s/he has been with the agency. Do this for any paid staff or board volunteers who attend the event, too. You can get creative and ask everyone to answer one or two funny or unusual questions onto their nametags as discussion starters.
  • Have something interactive for early arrivals to do. Post newsprint sheets and have them write down their best memory of the year as a volunteer, or the funniest thing that happened during volunteering, or anything that makes them think back. Not only will more and more people arrive to add things to the sheets, but they'll all enjoy reading everyone else's comments. The next day, you can transfer these sheets to the hall outside your office and keep them up for about a week for others to enjoy. Be sure to transcribe them for future use.
  • Designate a leader for each table in advance. These can be staff members, board members (themselves volunteers, of course), or representative direct service volunteers. Prepare this group to make the event memorable for their table by paying attention and ensuring everyone meets everyone else, seeding the conversation with fun questions, and so on. You can also run friendly competitions between meal courses by giving prizes to the table that comes up with the most things that start with the letter V that can be seen at your agency, the most organizational acronyms in daily use, etc.
Keep focused on the purpose of the event
An annual appreciation event is more than a thank-you for work done for the last twelve months. You are really hoping to re-kindle and extend the enthusiasm that volunteers brought to your organization when they first joined. A lot of volunteering is isolated, and this is an opportunity for everyone to feel a part of the bigger picture and truly "on the team." That's why it's critical to remember the people who are unable to attend your event. What are you doing to make sure that they, too, get that boost of energy? Today's live streaming technology may allow you to bring the event to more people's computer screens - and even to let them interact remotely with volunteers on site. How much fun would that be?

Want more ideas? Here are a few other pieces I've written about recognition:
This Quick Tip comes from Susan J. Ellis, President of Energize, Inc. 
Want more of Susan's Wisdom? Read her books
You'll find them in our Online Bookstore. 

Energize, Inc. has been on the Web s ince 1997  offering over 1200 pages of information about successfully involving volunteers in your efforts. Visit our site to learn all about volunteer engagement techniques; find ways to connect with colleagues; gain insight into trends, issues, and even controversy in the field; locate conferences and other professional development opportunities; and more!

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