More Than Just “Thank Yous”: Volunteer Recognition Strategies from an All-Volunteer Organization

The importance of volunteer recognition is something we can’t stress enough. Sure we all know that appreciation is important, but while talking with the executive team at Do Good Lab for our April Volunteer Spotlight article, I realized that recognition isn’t just about saying thank you to your volunteers. This organization focuses on proving their appreciation to volunteers instead of simply saying the words, and I think this is something all of us can learn from.

So what else can be included in volunteer recognition, aside from appreciation? Our friends at Do Good Lab—a 100% volunteer international development organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area—have some great insights on how they keep their volunteer team involved and motivated through continued support and recognition. In my conversation with this group of management-level volunteers, they each share their advice on what’s involved in volunteer recognition beyond the simple “thank you.”

1. Make volunteering worth it: Recognize this isn’t their first priority (and make your cause worth their time).

Executive Director Aezed Raza emphasizes how Do Good Lab needs to be even more appreciative of its volunteers than most organizations; after all, everyone there—including Aezed—is volunteering his or her time. People could do much easier work to pad their resumes than volunteering, he points out. Instead, they’ve chosen to give their time and energy to help your organization. So, he explains, organizations need to make sure volunteering is worth their volunteers’ time.

Do Good Lab recognizes that people volunteer because they are passionate and care about their cause. As a result, Aezed says, “we make this something bigger.” The organization makes a big effort to show “outward appreciation” through regular team meet-ups, parties and annual events. This creates momentum and makes volunteering fun, engaging and rewarding.

2. Get them involved: Support their efforts and welcome their contributions.

People volunteer because they want to make a difference. For Project Director Shannon Radsky, Do Good Lab was a way to not only do something good, but to become part of a passionate and engaging cause community. She’d been involved in various volunteer projects and causes before, but the community feel of Do Good Lab is why she chose to volunteer with the organization initially, and it’s why she’s still there years later.

Do Good Lab works around a community structure, where everyone can pitch in and contribute as much as they can or want. They hold monthly Community Meetings, where all volunteers and first-time guests are welcomed and encouraged to present their thoughts, ask questions and give feedback. There are also tons of ways for volunteers to get involved, including proposing new development projects, conducting research, writing blog articles and helping with events. “We all feel like part of something,” Shannon explains; and there is always room for everyone’s contributions.

3. Build a solid support network: Friends take care of each other, inside and outside of the workplace.

Do Good Lab relies on every minute that its volunteer staff can contribute. Because of this, the organization has learned to work around their volunteers’ day jobs. They have developed an extensive team structure, creating different levels of accountability so that the team will be responsible for a project and no one will feel overwhelmed, because work can always be shifted if necessary.

This network of support has also helped to build a closer community within the organization. Not only do these teams motivate team members and hold everyone accountable, Molly explains, but they have also helped volunteers build close friendships outside Do Good Lab. “We happen to enjoy each others’ company,” she says, and volunteering with friends can definitely make things more enjoyable.

What are some other ways that your organization can or does show its volunteers how much they are appreciated? How would you use these tips from Do Good Lab to make volunteering more fun, to engage your volunteers in your cause and to build a solid support network? We hope you find this helpful, and we’d love to hear your feedback!

Stephanie Rosenburg is a Communications & Social Media Intern at VolunteerMatch. You can reach her at srosenburg@volunteermatch.org and follow her at @smrosenburg.

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