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VT readers ask questions about volunteer management and administration. Ask Connie, an experienced volunteer manager, consultant and trainer, provides the answers for all to see.
Send questions to AskConnieP@cs.com

~ November 2004 ~ Topics

Dear Connie:
I recently went to a volunteer director's networking meeting where the topic was volunteer appreciation. The presenter was from a large government organization with lots of money and resource. They were giving their volunteers all kinds of wonderful things like books and jewelry and paintings for hours of service. I left thinking, cool, but we’re struggling to stay open, we don’t have the money to give away large things like that. I want to find a nice way of saying thanks to all of our organization’s wonderful volunteers, but have a really small budget to do that with. Aside from verbally thanking volunteers for their work, what do you suggest?

Dear MM:
In my experience it's easy to provide appropriate recognition in inexpensive ways. When I was actively managing volunteers, I used to always be on the lookout for inexpensive little items that I could tie to a theme. For example, one year I gave volunteers a small packet of blank notes that I wrapped with ribbon. My card to them said, "Thanks for being a noteworthy volunteer!" Another year I gave them little tops and said, "Thanks for being a top volunteer!" Other easy and inexpensive ideas include:

  • Birthday cards to individuals
  • Birthday parties every month for individuals born that month
  • A volunteer of the year award based on an established point system or on nominations
  • An annual luncheon, dinner, and/or party to say thank you to all volunteers
  • Notices in the newsletter about special accomplishments by volunteers
  • Pictures on the office bulletin board of volunteers in action
  • Something fun during National Volunteer Week (April 17-23, 2005)

Check these Web sites for more information and resources on volunteer recognition: http://www.energizeinc.com and http://www.merrillassociates.net.

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Dear Connie:
I’m going to do an evaluation by volunteers of our program. What advice do you have for me before I create my survey?

Dear May:
Here’s my Top 10 Tips on surveys:

    1. Keep it focused ~ don't use this opportunity to ask volunteers everything you ever wanted to know. Do that in another survey next year.
    2. Keep it short ~ back and front of one page maximum.
    3. No essay questions ~ use multiple choice, true/false, etc. You can leave room at each question for a "Comment Line." You'll get a higher rate of return from volunteers if it takes only 10 minutes to complete.
    4. Thank them ~ at the beginning and the end of the survey.
    5. Give Instructions ~ why a survey and how/when to return it at the beginning AND the end of the survey.
    6. Field test ~ ask a few volunteers to complete the survey and get their feedback on how to improve it before you distribute it to the entire group.
    7. Promote it ~ if you have any sort of advisory group of volunteers, get their feedback on how to promote the survey and encourage volunteers to complete it.
    8. Award a prize ~ for the first 10, 15, you-pick-the-number of surveys returned. You can award a free lunch, a coffee mug, calendar, paperweight, free parking, or open rehearsal tickets (you get the idea). By creating a "buzz" about the survey, your rate of return will most likely be higher.
    9. Share results ~ we all hate to spend our time providing information to someone or something and then never know "whatever happened to............" So, compile a brief executive summary or chart or whatever and distribute it to ALL volunteers not just those who participated. (No need to punish the ones who didn't participate. You'll likely want them to change behavior and/or take on new ideas from the survey too.) And be sure to share the results with your supervisor and your colleagues on the staff. Even if their work isn't directly affected by the survey, never miss an opportunity for what I call "subtle" education.
    10. Evaluate the process ~ take a few minutes to put on paper what worked in this survey process and what you'll do differently next time. Don't rely on your memory to improve the process the next time. There's too much to do between now and then and you'll likely forget! Also, make a list of the good ideas and suggestions you picked up along the way. It will save you time later.

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Do you have a question? Now you too can ask an expert!

Connie Pirtle, of Strategic NonProfit-Resources, has 15 years' experience in working with volunteers. She has consulted and/or trained for such organizations as the Washington National Cathedral, Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Music America, and the Association for Volunteer Administration.

Send your questions to Connie at AskConnieP@cs.com.
Connie Pirtle
Strategic Nonprofit Resources
10103 Edward Avenue * Bethesda, MD 20814 * VOICE: 301-530-8233 * FAX: 301-530-8299

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