Volunteer Appreciation and Engagement

One of the biggest challenges volunteer organizations face is retaining their volunteers over time. After all, the only reason that students volunteer with Students Offering Support is because they truly want to! Therefore, it’s incredibly important that we ensure volunteering with SOS is fun, and that we recognize our volunteers’ hard work. Below are a few ideas for how to appreciate and engage your volunteers. Is there something your chapter does that isn’t on the list? Email chapters@studentsofferingsupport.ca to share it!

Why Volunteer Appreciation and Engagement is Important

Volunteer Alberta sums up why recognition is important to your volunteer program:

  • It contributes to morale. Demonstrating concern for your volunteers, ensuring that the tasks and jobs they are assigned meet their needs, and recognizing their contribution, will only increase a volunteer’s satisfaction and willingness to further participate in your organization.
  • It contributes to productivity. If volunteers are given meaningful tasks and rewarded and recognized appropriately for these, they will have a sense of belonging and a feeling of accomplishment. This in turn will result in productivity.
  • It contributes to retention. As a manager of volunteers, a lot of time, effort and energy go into recruiting volunteers into your organization. It is to your benefit to ensure that these volunteers continue on. Volunteers are more likely to stay involved with your organization if they feel appreciated for the work they do and feel connected to your organization.

If you put in the time to recognize and thank your volunteers, it will save you considerable amounts of time later when it comes to recruiting and training. Happy volunteers not only stay with the organization, but they will also tell others about their great experience. Word of mouth is key, especially in a university setting, and when volunteers want their friends to share in their experience with SOS you will get a bigger volunteer base that will likely share a lot of the characteristics you like in your current volunteers. Furthermore, if a volunteer feels like they matter and have made a real contribution they may want to progress in the chapter, looking to become a VP or President at some point. This helps to foster a strong SOS community and develop a knowledgeable and competent volunteer base.

For more information see: http://volunteeralberta.ab.ca/varc/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/rcvo-volrecognitn.pdf

What is a Rewards & Recognition Program?
A Rewards & Recognition Program is targeted to engage, appreciate and retain volunteers. The goal is to make sure your volunteers feel like they are a part of a club that is fun, engaging, and recognizes the time that they give so we can accomplish our goals.  Rewards and recognition programs can include chapter socials, award programs, milestone celebrations, and end of semester events.

Rewarding your Volunteers
One important component of your rewards and recognition program will be recognizing the hard work of your members throughout their time with SOS. Below are a few ideas of awards you can give out:

  • Volunteer of the month: Recognize some of your top volunteers each month in order to share the good work they do; you’ll not only recognize your superstars, but hopefully also inspire others to get more involved and go above & beyond in their roles.
  • Exam-AID Instructor of the month: Similarly to recognizing a top volunteer each month, you can also recognize Exam-AID Instructors each month for their hard work; this allows you to highlight EAIs who are examples of how you would like to see others take on their work.
  • Exam-AID Instructor recognition: In general, it’s ideal to recognize your Exam-AID Instructors for the hard work they do; this might include a thank you card, small gift or certificate for their work.
  • End of semester & year awards: At the end of each semester and/or school year, holding some form of volunteer appreciation event and giving out awards for top contributors to your chapter; this gives your volunteers something to work towards and allows you to shine a light on the hard work being done.
  • Volunteer milestones: If you have volunteers who have been with the organization for a long time, and done outstanding work, you can choose to recognize them with a specific “Volunteer Achievement Award” or something to that effect. This might include long standing Exam-AID Instructors with high ratings, or volunteers who have committed a number of hours over a few years.

Volunteer Engagement Events

Another component of your program will be volunteer events aimed at engaging your volunteers in the social aspect of SOS. Below are a few ideas for ways to engage your volunteers, but make sure to tailor them to suit your chapter and university’s unique situation!

  • 30 minute meeting: These short, monthly meetings are a great way to keep everyone up to date on what’s happening with the chapter, and for volunteers to meet each other. You can also add on a social afterwards if people want to hang out and chat!
  • Social events: Organize fun nights out with your team so you can get to know each other and just have fun! I recommend hosting one at least every month or so. Activities could include bowling, laser tag, board games nights or karaoke!
  • Team bonding events: These events are less focused on the social aspect and more so on getting your volunteers used to working in teams. These are more meant for department teams, but can be done chapter wide as well! This could include a team retreat with activities, playing team sports and more!
  • Informal recognition – personally thanking individual volunteers on an ongoing regular basis for all the work they do for SOS, whether in-person or through a thank you note/email
  • Announce important milestones, including the number of volunteer hours, lives touched, stories from trips, and goals met on social media continuously – according to a study done by Volunteer Canada, volunteers like to know the impact of their contributions. This will reinforce that the work you all are doing is making a difference.

For more information on event planning and socials check out this post

Be creative about how you want to recognize your volunteers. Think about what you have the time, budget, and population to carry out. However you choose to recognize and appreciate your volunteers, remember that the gestures don’t have to be grand, they just have to be meaningful. Also make sure you are recognizing your volunteers on a regular basis and not just sporadically throughout the year.

If your volunteers feel appreciated, engaged, motivated, and valued you are doing it right!

Best Case Practices
Coming soon


For more information on volunteer recognition see: http://volunteer.ca/content/2013-volunteer-recognition-study

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