Like most volunteer involving organisations, we are heavily reliant on our team of volunteers, who outnumber our paid staff by five to one. Ensuring that our volunteers are well supported and appreciated is one of the keys to keeping them engaged.
It is important that our volunteers feel they matter, that they make a difference, and that they are an integral part of our organisations. An end of year gathering is another opportunity to remind them of this, and of how they have contributed to the organisations’ mission and successes.
Although volunteer engagement and recognition is a continuous process and far more than a once a year gathering, for many of us the end of year gathering is often the most successful way of bringing our wider team together. No matter where we come from, what our culture, faith or beliefs are – we still have a tradition of getting together for a celebration near the end of the year.
Community organisations more often than not have very limited funds for gatherings, although many funders are receptive to funding ‘volunteer recognition’. Getting creative to make your celebration a special event to thank your team does not need to be costly.
Several years ago we started a tradition as part of our end of year celebrations. This involves a shared lunch with paid staff, volunteers, our board and patron, at which we present certificates in recognition of our own volunteers. For some volunteers, receiving their certificates in front of our board and patron adds an extra specialness. We follow the brief formality of speeches and presentations with a group activity.
As someone who does not have a creative bone in my body, I balked at the idea of a craft activity (creating a Christmas decoration) as part of our Christmas party – but our team loved it! This small project got board members working alongside team members that they had never met before. Ensuring that the task was fairly simple meant that people were able to chat, and everyone got something to take home for their tree. This has now become a tradition at our Christmas function.
Gifts don’t need to be expensive – and many businesses will give community organisations a discount or some sponsorship if you ask. Where possible add a personal touch – handwrite cards and ask your staff to sign than, rather than simply printing their name and a generalised ‘from’ message.
December 5th is International Volunteer Day – and for us it makes perfect sense to combine this day with our Christmas gathering when we can. Having our event early in December also reduces the number of people who cannot attend due to other end of year commitments.
Remember to use the opportunity of an end of year gathering to celebrate the organisation’s successes from the past year, and to outline any plans or changes for the coming year. Make sure your volunteers understand their part in the success, the plans and achieving the mission of your organisation.
If you are stuck for an idea about how to make this year’s gathering extra special, ideas for gatherings with a difference, or great ideas for meaningful gifts for your volunteers, have a look at the ideas that Energize Inc has on their website: http://www.energizeinc.com/ideas.html
Thanking your team both individually and collectively is an important part of volunteer recognition and retention. We all like to know we are appreciated, and that we are making a difference. Make your end of year gather a special way to deliver the collective ‘thank you’.
Heather Moore - Tonic Magazine (Issue 20, November 2013-January 2014)