Those of us who grew up in the church were taught that to truly “Give” is to give without asking for recognition or compensation. Anonymous donations or favors done in secret are the only absolutely “selfless” gestures. As we grew into adults many of us began volunteering outside of the church. Community service organizations, school councils, ratepayers associations, and local clubs are made up of volunteers who give freely of their time, and often personal funds. In these circles I often hear the words “I don’t need any thanks”, or “I’m here to volunteer, you don’t need to cover my expenses.” In fact I’ve said the same things myself. “The satisfaction of a job well done is all the reward I need”
These feelings are real in most cases, not superficial. These people are helping for all the right reasons, not expecting anything in return. However, every volunteer has other commitments in their life, such as work, family, and other hobbies or volunteer positions, and all these have to be shuffled, reduced, or arranged in such a way that creates time for the ATV club, and it is often this part that leaves a bad taste in their mouths upon completion of a thankless task.
It is when a volunteer is asked to help AGAIN that the true measure of their satisfaction is gleaned. The immediate thought of “Was it worth it?” crosses the mind, and this is weighed against their feeling of fulfillment on their last task. Not to put it too bluntly, every volunteer needs and deserves recognition, and out of pocket compensation. This article is intended to give you some ideas on how volunteers can be appreciated and recognized simply and sincerely.
Most clubs are now well versed in the use of social media, and this can be their first and immediate choice for volunteer recognition. A simple Facebook or Twitter post about a job well done, tagging or at least naming the persons involved goes a long way, (while keeping members up to date on progress at the same time).
Hosting at least one annual volunteer diner can in itself require volunteers, but it is well worth the effort and must be planned and announced months in advance (a last minute dinner that no one can change plans to attend doesn’t work). Recognizing the hard work of the volunteers at this event can range from a simple printed certificate to small gifts, trophies, or plaques. These awards, presented with a few kind words and a handshake will warm the heart of any volunteer, and at the same time make guests, and members who read about it want to volunteer in the future. I have witnessed countless dinners and award banquets such as this, and the beaming proud smiles on the volunteer’s faces are priceless.
There is one type of volunteer however, that often gets overlooked; those who have left the organization. No one likes to lose a volunteer, but in spite of the real-world reasons they give, in many cases the deep down reason is dissatisfaction with the club or a lack of recognition, neither of which you will likely ever hear of. Be sure to recognize those who have left, and the accomplishments they have made, as they may someday return. It is in the clubs best interest to leave them with positive thoughts of the club to share with others (as they are potential volunteers).
This can be a complicated endeavor, particularly for a small club, but volunteers are more valuable than dollars in my opinion. Problems usually start with small insignificant purchases that are hardly worth the trouble to claim expenses for, but often gradually build up to a messy situation.If the club has strict procedures regarding what is to be spent on behalf of the organization, and that not claiming for these expenses is simply not acceptable, you can avoid this potential cause of friction with volunteers. Most wouldn’t care about the $10 in chain saw fuel they once bought, but if they buy it every week without compensation they will eventually turn from a willing participant to a disgruntled outsider who thinks the club ripped them off.
Many volunteers end up in the business end of the group, sitting on the board or a committee. This is a normal progression from the weekend trail helper as they become more concerned with the clubs successes and wellbeing. Loose bylaws (or no by-laws at all) leave the board to “Interpret” what the procedure should be, and we as human beings rarely interpret things in the same way as the person sitting next to us. This leads to arguments and dissatisfaction, or worse, the loss of a volunteer. The more detail that is available about how your board is selected, how decisions are made, and what the policies are for common tasks such as expenses, the less debate is required (and less time at meetings).
If your club runs like a well-oiled machine, your volunteers will enjoy the meetings and tasks, and certainly feel good about the progress you are making. Creating, or expanding a clubs by-laws is very time consuming, and requires a certain skill set. However the time saved in the long run, and the reduction in fighting is worth every effort. Rather than try to come up with by-laws and procedures from scratch, why not look to your larger community service organizations? Their success is in part due to their detailed guidelines. Alternately, look to another ATV club that is considered successful and ask if you can review their by-laws for guidance.
KEEP THEM IN THE LOOP
Keeping your members abreast of everything that is going on within the club is of utmost importance. For instance, receiving an email about a possible land use to build a trail not only excites volunteers, but makes them feel important. I remember hearing volunteers saying under their breath “If they are going to do all this without us, why are we here?” A situation you want to avoid. Communication is so key to keeping volunteers engaged. If they know what is going on, or even what is tentatively going on, they can plan for some volunteer time to help (for example, if that possible trail should need some work). An informed volunteer is a happy volunteer.
CHANGE IN COMMAND
Any organization that has executive members in place for more than four years is most likely in a state of invisible toxicity. The people who are experienced at the top carry on doing what they do with the best intentions at heart, often never knowing of the unhappy volunteers who deserve a chance to help out in different ways. If your club doesn’t have a by-law requiring at the very least a new presidentevery two terms, the potential candidates will shy away, not wanting to “unseat” the current position holder. The longer a president remains in office the more they are perceived to have too big of a responsibility, or their shoes are too big to fill.
Volunteers tend to see all of the things a president has done in X number of years, and assume that that is what is required of their successor in one term. That is usually intimidating enough to scare off anyone willing to try for the position. A healthy board who knows their president’s term is coming to an end can take steps to find and educate the successor, and this keeps fresh people on the board. Furthermore, the board should have positions open to a past executive member to continue their participation, and allowing them to offer their experience and guidance to the board and new executive members.
I hope that some of these ideas are of some help, as volunteers are a precious commodity and the real goal is to have fun while feeling good about what you are doing. My passion for the sport and the success of the clubs remains, and I cherish the multitude of friends I have made along the way. As clubs grow these challenges can be overcome, and the volunteer numbers will simply increase every season. It can be the most rewarding experience of one’s life.
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