I was getting a rare manicure earlier this week when a group of women came in for a bit of pampering. What caught my attention was that this was no ‘girls day out’. It was a ‘thank you’ for the key volunteers who had organized a recent fund-raiser for a local charity. The kind and clever volunteer who had agreed to organize the fund-raiser had decided that something more substantial than a simple ‘thank you’ was in order for what had to be many unpaid hours of hard work by the six committee members. It made me think. A huge amount of the work in drowning prevention is done by volunteers. How do you recognize their contribution? Is it even necessary?
Volunteers are the heart and soul of any not-for-profit organization, and in a significant way. When I volunteered for Northwestern Hospital, there was an annual volunteer appreciation dinner, held in a huge ballroom of a Chicago hotel. I will never forget when the CEO of the hospital looked at the crowd and said, ‘Thank you. You have contributed over 1 million hours of time to the hospital. We could not operate without you.’ I was stunned. I never thought beyond getting far more satisfaction out of being a baby cuddler in the nursery than in actually contributing in any real way. That simple acknowledgement of what my time meant in the greater scope of the organization gave me enormous pride, and reinforced my dedication to show up every Thursday night for two hours for many years – rain, shine or work deadlines notwithstanding. I understood it might be just a drop in the million hour bucket, but it was a drop that helped the dedicated nursing staff and freed them up for other tasks.
Saying ‘thank you’ is the simplest and most overlooked way of rewarding volunteers. For the casual one-time helper it can be a simple ‘thank you, your help today made a big difference.’ For the tireless volunteer who shows up week after week, think about doing something special once a year. It doesn’t have to be expensive, after all, volunteers are there for altruistic reasons, not raking in the big bucks. A beach BBQ or an annual dinner, t-shirts with ‘XYZ org loves their volunteers!’, a shout-out in the local paper for someone who has really put in the time, bringing in someone to do 5 minute shoulder massages if everyone is stuffing envelopes for a day. It doesn’t take much, but it matters.
Back to the mani/pedi/lunch event. The women were doing fund-raising for a local organization that serves about 2,000 disabled people. Not huge, not with a professional fund-raising arm, not even extending beyond county borders. And yet, these women raised $23,000 for the organization in one event. I calculate that the mani/pedi and some sandwiches and drinks for six key volunteers cost about $420, or 1.8% of the amount they raised. I suspect it worked out to about $1 per hour in ‘salary‘ for each woman. The return on that $420 investment? Probably a dedicated organizing committee for next year, and another $23,000 raised, or more. The willingness to say, “Thank you. You worked really hard to make this event a success, on your own time, and we really appreciate it.” can make a big difference. I listened to the women chat about the success of the fund-raiser, what they will do the same, and what they will do differently next year. They were committed.
Rewarding volunteers, and especially key volunteers who just donated a significant chunk of time to put together an event or who put in hours every week doesn’t cost a lot, virtually nothing compared to the benefits your organization has reaped – free labor, public relations, good-will. Don’t take your volunteers for granted. A small bit of appreciation and they will stick with you, providing physical support for your organization and great publicity as they proudly tell their friends and family about their volunteer work and the importance of your organization. Simple appreciation is the best volunteer recruiting tool around.
Did you thank your volunteers today?