Appreciating your Volunteers

As a consultant working with companies around their Employee Volunteer Programs, I teach companies how to recognize their volunteers. This week, however, I was the unexpected recipient of some recognition that happily caught me off guard.

After my son moved to a new middle school this year, that is part of a K-8 program, one of my neighbors suggested I volunteer as a Reader Responder for our RHS Publishing House program. Essentially, all of the children in the school are invited to submit their writing and art work for the monthly magazine that is produced and goes on-line for our school community. Here is the newest edition.

RHS publishing House graphicEach month, the volunteer editor, sends out a list of all the articles and asks the volunteers to choose who they’ll respond to and send a written letter with feedback to the student. I remember the first newsletter that arrived in my email and reading through some of the student’s articles. Of course, the submissions vary widely since they are submitted from kindergartens through eighth graders but it’s always easy to find something to compliment these writers on. Their articles are often deeper than you might expect and very thoughtful. Kids just write what they see and know. I have enjoyed this volunteer job, and even though I am only able to reply to a couple of submissions each time, I try to put some thought and heart into each one.

On Tuesday, when the request came out from the editor to choose our assignments as Reader Responders (RR) for this edition, she also included a P.S. that said, “Here’s a good line from an RR to an 8th grader that points to the heart of these letters.” The quote was from one of my last letters! I was so excited and surprised. I sent her a quick thank you note but realized how that simple recognition, made me especially proud of the volunteer work I had done and eager to do more.

Don’t underestimate the value of recognition. Even an “old-timer” volunteer like me can be moved and elevated by some unexpected recognition. Be sure you are giving this liberally to your volunteers. Do it with heart and your volunteers just might increase their sense of commitment to their project or your company or organization.

To learn more about improving your Employee Volunteer Program or increasing your recognition to your volunteers. Feel free to contact me.

Get your Bink-A-Thon on!

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Yesterday, was MLK Day of Service sponsored by HandsOn Networks and United Way organizations all around the country.

My daughter and I participated in our first Bink-A-Thon for an organization started by my neighbor and friend called the Binky Patrol. The mission of this organization is very simple. To make blankets and give them away to 775254_10200515712760114_1668443850_o-1children who are ill, abused, in shelters or in hospitals. While the mission may be simple the operation to make these gorgeous quilted blankets was pretty sophisticated. There were probably more than 90 volunteers at the event. Volunteers were cutting, pinning, sewing and photo-150labeling the blankets. Folks brought their sewing machines and at the end of the day, the group had made more more than 158 beautifulblankets to give away to children in need. Everyone of them hand-made with love by a volunteer.

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I loved seeing the green shirted Starbucks workers, red shirted Wells Fargo workers and AmeriCorps young adults along side moms, dads and kids busily working together for a common goal.

There is definitely no greater feeling that working with someone else to help make something like a cozy blanket you know will make a difference in someone’s life. Even if you do get poked once or twice by the pins to make it happen.

If you missed out on MLK Day of Service, no worries, visit a Hands On network website in your community to learn about plenty of other on going projects. Make 2013 the year you do some volunteering!

Even if you can’t chaperone the trip, you can still load the bus.

This week, my son left for a two-day 6th grade overnight outdoor school trip. Originally, I had thought I would chaperone the event, but then some work related opportunities came up and I wasn’t able to commit to chaperoning. However, the teacher mentioned that she could use some help the morning the kids were leaving to load the luggage on the bus. I volunteered to help out.

Sometimes there will be opportunities to volunteer that just don’t work for us. We have other commitments, we have responsibilities we can’t move or change or perhaps we just aren’t interested to help out with what’s being asked of us. Don’t let that stop you from offering to help in whatever way you can. Certainly, chaperoning a two-day over night trip with 60 6th graders was an entirely different commitment than helping to load the bus, however, for this particular opportunity that was all I could do.

Even if you can’t run the auction, lead the fall fundraiser or chaperone the field trip, know that there are a plethora of other volunteer jobs you probably can do to help out. Don’t be afraid to volunteer yourself. Ask the teacher or volunteer coordinator what other ways you might be able to help or suggest something you can do. It’s always so refreshing when someone is willing and able to pitch in even if they can’t chaperone the entire trip.

I’ll be heading back this afternoon to help unload the bus!

Find a need and fill it

I admit it, I probably am a bit of a volunteer junkie.  I know how much I get back from volunteering. That said, I have discovered that sometimes there are some volunteer opportunities I enjoy even more than others.

I am on the board of a Willowbrook, a wonderful summer arts camp my kids have attended for several years. It’s a six-week camp. Every week we have new campers who attend. Every Monday morning there are new kids and parents who aren’t familiar with our check in/check out logistics or what they do after they’ve checked in. It’s kind of like Ground Hog’s day.  For a couple of years, I have voluntarily showed up on Monday mornings to be a greeter, parent/board liaison and trouble-shooter. The younger 20-year-olds at the registration desk have told me frequently how grateful they are to have me there. They know that sometimes an anxious new parent feels more comfortable talking with another parent than with a younger registration staff member – though they certainly are completely competent to answer all the questions.

Over the years, I have come to really enjoy this volunteer job. I have had other long time camp parents ask me if I am on staff or getting paid to work to weekly morning shift. I cheerfully answer no. The truth is that I love this self-appointed job. I feel useful and feel that I am helping people.  It’s actually something I look forward to ALOT. I especially enjoy the one-on-one interaction with fellow parents. Learning why they chose our camp and how they heard about us is valuable information for our board. In addition, the past two years, I have also passed out information about our auction in the parking lot in the carpool line while parents are waiting to pick up their kids. It’s a chance to connect again and perhaps get some valuable feedback as well.

Neither of these roles were filled before I volunteered, but because they were something I loved doing I said I’d do it. Sometimes volunteering is matching the right person with the right job. It creates a synergy and an opportunity for the volunteer to really meld into their experience in a way that is meaningful and beneficial to both the organization and the volunteer. I know for me personally out of all the roles I have played at the camp, being the Monday morning greeter has been one of my favorites.

If you are part of an organization, and you see a need, offer to fill it! You might be surprised how gratifying it can be.