VolunteerToday.com ~~ The Electronic Gazette for Volunteerism
When I take the time to help out during a community event or program, I feel inspired and motivated. I find it rewarding to contribute my skills, knowledge and enthusiasm without any expectation of financial or material compensation. But if you want me give it my all, I highly recommend recognizing my efforts.
In the National Park Service, Volunteer Managers have a variety of ways to express their gratitude and appreciation to volunteers. Each park has a designated volunteer budget to spend on supplies, training, uniforms, and recognition. Some programs have annual parties or BBQs with speeches and awards. Other programs organize field trips, special presentations with guest speakers, or distribute functional items with volunteer logos like T-shirts, mugs, or bags.
There are programs that establish specific gifts for completing a designated amount of time; golden nametag, lapel pin, belt buckle, or plaque. These material rewards are unique and appreciated. They mark a volunteers contribution to the Park Service.
Above all, I believe the most effective recognition over time is the small stuff. Ask a volunteer to volunteer. It is gratifying when I am asked to return and help out. Create a special project to match a volunteers skill or interest. This confirms the value and desire of my help. Send a Birthday or a Happy New Year card. You remembered me. And my favorite recognition at the end of a volunteers shift, simply say "thank you."
Interested in more information? Check out our online bookstore for: "Recognizing Volunteers and Paid Staff," by Sue Vineyard.
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Reviving a "Settled" Volunteer Program
When I arrived at Eugene ONeill National Historic Site two years ago, I was immediately assigned to managing the volunteer program. I soon realized the program was functioning, yet "settled." What I mean by "settled" is the program had been the same for many years. No new volunteers had been brought on board. Communication with volunteers was inconsistent. Training and field trips were random. My goal was to revive it.
If you decide you need to revive a "settled" volunteer program, I recommend giving yourself a lot of time. Do not expect changes to happen overnight because change is challenging. Allow room for flexibility, patience and endurance in order to stay on top of a growing program. It is hard enough for volunteers to get use to a new manager, let alone overhauling aspects of their duties.
I believe the best place to start is with the volunteers. Facilitate a roundtable and ask current volunteers how you can help them improve their experience. The volunteers at my site asked for a quarterly newsletter, regular volunteer meetings, suggested field trips locations, and requested skills training. I joined up with a neighboring National Park site to share resources and planning, combining our efforts to streamline the program with uniforms, events, and trainings. I asked volunteers with leadership skills to coordinate a particular program.
By establishing a thriving program and including the current volunteers in its development, they feel ownership. They are the most effective recruitment tool. If they are satisfied, other potential volunteers will become inspired to be part of the experience.
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In the mission of the National Park Service, one section states that park sites will be left "unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." What better way than to get the future involved now.
High school students are a great way to meet your volunteer needs and connect the community to the site or program. In the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, I worked with youth volunteers who were involved in several native plant restoration projects from the nursery to field plantings. Many were students learning through a curriculum-based education program or volunteering with a conservation corp. Some were fulfilling their community service requirements through their schools.
Youth are often not included in Volunteer Program planning because managers are unsure of how much responsibility to give them. By working with an established youth program where leader are familiar with the participants, and offering group projects, the work gets done, the community is involved and the future generation experiences your program or place.
Margaret Styles has been an Interpretive Park Ranger for the National Park Service since 1997. She is currently working at Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in Danville, California and Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial in Concord, California. She manages the public programming, public relations and volunteer program, as well as guiding visitors through both sites. Previous employment includes Yellowstone, Death Valley, Golden Gate National Recreation Area/Presidio of San Francisco, New England Aquarium, Audubon Society of Rhode Island, and San Francisco Recreation & Parks.
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