In one of the most famous speeches of his career, John F. Kennedy called upon a nation to “ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” Fast forward five decades later and hop north of the border, and the recruitment and retention of quality volunteers is more important than ever to government agencies burdened with shrinking budgets and growing public expectations. Fear not-creating a call to volunteerism isn’t as difficult as you may think. Start with two simple words: thank you.In a report compiled south of the border by the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 42 percent of volunteers became involved after being asked to participate, typically by someone within the organization. This statistic is likely similar here in Canada, and highlights the importance of a positive experience for your current workforce. To create a perception of value for your volunteers, first consider their motivation for giving their time. Helping others is the primary focus, but volunteers typically have a secondary motivation, like anchoring themselves within an altruistic community.

The “A-VICTORY” model was created by Dianne Clarke-Kudless and Andrew McCabe to assist local governments implement volunteer recruitment and retention strategies. The acronym A-VICTORY is a series of volunteer-centric questions designed to assess the following areas: ability, value, idea, circumstances, time, obligation, resistance and yield. Combining these elements of servitude with small tokens of appreciation will undoubtedly create a rewarding and fulfilling experience. Here are a few tips for acknowledging your participants throughout the service process:

Pre-service
Many volunteers are often anxious and unsure of their ability to contribute. Here are a few ways to convey gratitude for their presence and put their minds at ease:

  • Show appreciation for their donated time by communicating expectations. This ensures a likely fit for your organization and shows respect for your volunteers’ time.
  • Give each volunteer a welcome kit that defines the mission of your organization. Include a branded T-shirt for them to wear while volunteering (or any time) and encourage your volunteers to tell others about their experiences.
  • Engage your volunteers by establishing realistic and achievable goals for their service.
  • Open lines of communication to empower each individual and establish a sense of community, which are common motivators for volunteerism.

Service
According to a study conducted by the Volunteer Centre | Ottawa-Carleton, participants didn’t return to an organization for several reasons, including disorganized management, staff indifference, lack of support or having the wrong assignment. Here are a few ways to be attentive to their needs:

  • Monitor the little things, like ensuring basic needs are met on your watch and fostering a caring atmosphere. Provide water and periodically provide meals or energizing snacks like goldfish crackers or comfort grip sport bottles to keep them hydrated.
  • Provide personal items depending on the service project location. For example, volunteers at city-led Canada Day festivities across the country will be outdoors and exposed to the elements all day, so provide sunglasses, bandanas or umbrellas to volunteers to help stave off the elements.
  • Show interest in personal progress by providing volunteers with both verbal and written feedback on their initial goals. Assessing their progress on a schedule, based on the duration of the project, allows them either positive reinforcement or recognition that they are not on the appropriate assignment.

Post-service
When a volunteer has completed their project, you should remain connected with them. Maintain a dialogue to retain their affiliation and recruit other volunteers through the power of their experience. Create a community of volunteers by using this post-service period as a recruitment opportunity. Help them continue with your organization and the community of volunteers they met.

  • To convey a genuine appreciation, avoid informal e-mails and opt instead for a personalized, handwritten thank-you note. If applicable, include photos illustrating their participation.
  • Explain how their specified task helped the cause. This reminder of their contribution will entice them to volunteer again.
  • Create an online community allowing volunteers to virtually reconnect and share their experiences and advice.

Incorporating these gestures of appreciation into your organization will give volunteers the rewarding experience they are looking for. As Winston Churchill once stated, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

Kennedy, John F. Inaugural Addresses of the Presidents of the United States.Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1989; Bartleby.com, 2001. 13 April 2012.

Volunteering in the United States, 2011.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2 Feb. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

Canada Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating.” Statistics Canada. 21 Mar. 2012. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

Clarke-Kudless, Dianne, and Andrew McCabe. “NJLM – Skills Update – A Challenge for Towns Large and Small.” New Jersey State League of Municipalities. Web. 30 Apr. 2012.

Ancans, Indra S. “Why People Volunteer.” Volunteer Centre Ottawa-Carleton. 1992. 30 Apr. 2012.

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