New incentives for new volunteers?

Andy Fryar September 1, 2008 1
New incentives for new volunteers?

HOT TOPIC – SEPTEMBER 2008

By OzVPM Director, Andy Fryar

Not so long ago* I was reading an article in the Weekend Australian all about how, in an effort to retain staff members and be more receptive to the lifestyle needs of working mothers, babies are now sharing the office space in some of our major corporations.

In the US, this is already becoming a wide spread practice with some 100 major companies already employing this form of support for its workers, with many tipping that this type of program will continue to take hold here in Australia.

With the contents of this article fresh in my mind, I also recently attended a meeting with a representative of a major Australia coffee retail company. The specialty of this company is to provide small, modern coffee making units which at the push of a button dispense high quality fresh coffee products such as cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolate along with more standard coffee products.

The most interesting part of our conversation (for me at least) centred on the fact that while in the past these type of ‘luxury’ coffee products may have been confined to a local café at lunch time, many Australian companies are now installing these coffee dispensing units throughout their operations for staff to access (free of charge) right throughout the work day. In fact, I was told that many major corporations now have at least one of these units on every floor!

Why? Well because workers today are demanding this – not as a luxury but as an expectation in their workplace. For employees, having access to these small luxuries can often make all the difference between them staying with the company or moving elsewhere. For employers, the expense of providing coffee and retaining employees for longer is far more cost effective than having to continually recruit and induct new staff.

In both cases, the equation is a simple one.

Happy staff equals a happy workplace which in turn equals greater company retention. As the availability of workers continues to become even scarcer, this equation will continue to become an even more critical one.

So where does that leave the volunteering world?

For many years, the ‘traditional’ way of providing support and recognition to our volunteers has been simple. Badges acknowledging years of service, the odd Christmas party, certificates of appreciation.

But the question must be asked of whether or not these forms of retention and acknowledgement still ‘cut it’?

Volunteers, like paid staff have busy lives to juggle

Consider:

• Part time workers

• Grandparents with responsibilities for caring for grand kids

• Young mothers with pre-school age children to care for

• The unemployed with little or no disposable income

• Students with busy study schedules and limited income

• Parents who only have weekends free for both family and social responsibilities

Is it time the voluntary sector took a leaf from the book of human resource management and found new ways to support volunteers in undertaking their involvement within the community?

• How many volunteer programs provide access to free child care?

• Are parking spaces made freely available to your volunteer workforce?

• Are volunteers provided with meal vouchers or fuel reimbursement

• Are there ways volunteers can access technology through your organisation that they cannot gain privately?

• Are volunteers able to access cheaper memberships or products as a result of their contribution with your agency? • Can you utilise the expertise of others in your agency or corporate partners to provide additional training opportunities for your team?

There are two key points here:

There is little doubt that those volunteer organisations who find ways to make volunteering more attractive will both attract – and more importantly retain more volunteers

The ways we have traditionally achieved this are becoming less effective, and we need to find new ways to address these issues as we move into the future

So my questions to you all this month are:

• Do you already offer ‘out of the box’ incentives to your volunteer team? If so what are they?

• What are the limitations to your agency being able to offer more of this type of opportunity?

• What other thoughts would you like to share on this topic?

*July 26, 2008 ‘Weekend Australian’

One Comment »

  1. ozvpm_andy March 20, 2012 at 11:33 am - Reply

    Response posted on 19 September by DJ Cronin, Brisbane, Australia

    I think we are missing some important points here. And the reason that we miss them is that we perhaps don’t see them as recognition tools.

    I am talking about recognition through

    Well resourced and professionally managed programs
    Empowerment of the volunteers
    Evidence based results of volunteer input
    Well resourced and professionally managed programs

    Take a new volunteer entering an agency for the first time. Even at the interview stage the volunteer can pick up that there are good resources in place for the volunteer service. There is a full time volunteer manager and perhaps other coordinators and staff. In my experience volunteers appreciated the fact that the volunteer program is taken seriously by agency management. That is to say, it is well managed, structured and professional in how it deals with orientation, training, recognition and growth. If a volunteer joins a program where the opposite to this is the case they will instantly realise that the program is under funded, that there is no real structure and that their leader or coordinator does not sit with the rest of management. I refer mostly to organisations that have well funded and structured management in all departments except for the volunteer service. We cannot underestimate ever the intelligence of the volunteer workforce. It is my belief that they will easily correlate the value placed on them with the value placed on volunteer management. This has been my experience talking with volunteers.

    Empowerment of the volunteers

    Again, a topic seldom discussed when talking about recognition or incentives for volunteers. I hope that every VPM evaluates their program yearly and gives the volunteer major input into this evaluation. Giving the volunteer team a say in the running of your program can be a very important recognition tool. One other method I have engaged is the setting up of a Volunteer liaison or representative committee. This committee meets with senior organisational management once a month and provides feedback on volunteer programs, volunteer management and on how volunteers are travelling in general. It’s not just a talkfest and adheres to strict terms of reference. It empowers volunteers and provides a voice for the team and an input into direction of the program moving forward. It says to the volunteers “not only do we recognise you but we value your input and advice”

    Evidence based results of volunteer input

    Most volunteer programs record the number of hours provided. But how good are we at “selling” and promoting volunteer achievement both internally and externally? And is this too not a valid recognition tool? For example, where I work we record extensive data on our volunteer activity. Every volunteer task is tracked and recorded. At the end of the month not only are we able to report on the hours that volunteers have donated but we are able to show how many enquires were received at volunteer information desks, how many patients had a volunteer visit, how many volunteer requests were received from across the agency, how many massages were given, how many people were transported, how many walks and escorts etc. then we break it down to averages per day. The results? As well as being able to present evidence based achievements to management we are able to demonstrate to the volunteers themselves the astounding service they provide. At our quarterly volunteer meetings the team are amazed when they see these staggering statistics on the big screen. At the Christmas function we do a presentation titled “Year in review” where we collate all the achievements for the year. Every time I’ve done this volunteers keep breaking out in applause at the magnitude of their achievements.

    While certificates, lunches and the normal tools of recognition are important, and I do believe we have developed these tools well, I believe we need to look beyond these and begin to see different ways in which we can recognise and provide incentive for volunteers.

    And at the end of the day should we not link an organisations true value of volunteers with how they value and support volunteer management? And do the volunteers themselves make the same connection?

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