Peer-to-peer recognition in volunteering

Volunteer recognition

I’m a big believer in the power of peer-to-peer appreciation.

It doesn’t seem to be a common practice, though. A card from the board of directors. An award recognizing years of service. Perhaps a thoughtful gift from a volunteer coordinator. In most organizations, the duty of acknowledging and showing appreciation to volunteers usually rests with program leaders.

In today's volunteer landscape, though, peer-to-peer recognition carries more weight than traditional methods of acknowledgment. Why is that? In a recent survey at a large organization, about half the volunteers explicitly expressed one of the best forms of recognition is written or verbal praise from their colleagues.

In fact, one respondent wrote, “The most meaningful recognition for me is hearing directly from a client or fellow volunteer that I’ve made a difference.”

What Is peer-to-peer recognition in volunteer engagement?

Simply put, it involves volunteers acknowledging each other's contributions. In concrete terms, it's feedback and appreciation that comes directly from other volunteers, especially those with whom you interact and collaborate the most.

Peer recognition doesn't need to be elaborate or meticulously planned. It can be as straightforward as saying a simple “well done" or sending an appreciative email. A sincere expression of gratitude from someone who really knows what their roles involve uplifts volunteers, and enhances engagement, teamwork and morale. Positive feedback and recognition result in increased volunteer retention and satisfaction, which contributes to a stronger organization overall.

Advantages of peer-to-peer recognition

Still not sure about the benefits? Here are a few others:

• Fosters a culture of appreciation and gratitude

• Nurtures trust among volunteers and across volunteer roles

• Bolsters retention rates and reduces volunteer turnover (lack of recognition is the primary reason volunteers quit)

• Enhances volunteer satisfaction

• Elevates the quality of volunteer service

• Empowers all volunteers to share their appreciation

“All well and good” I hear you thinking, “but how do we do it??” Well, I have a few ideas.

1. A simple "thank you" goes a long way

Never underestimate the impact of straightforward appreciation, like saying "thank you" or "great job!"

The whole idea of catching somebody doing something right comes into play here. The leader of volunteers can’t be everywhere all the time, so empower other volunteers to point out and acknowledge when someone does something well right in that moment. It can be a huge incentive for everyone.

There are studies that show that helping others releases the “happiness” hormone, oxytocin. That receiving help releases oxytocin. Even watching someone help another person releases oxytocin. I believe the same is true for heart-felt appreciation. Just ask the volunteers to spread that hormone.

2. Encourage public celebration of achievements

Public recognition is a fantastic way to honour both significant and small volunteer achievements.

Encourage volunteers to show appreciation in public forums such as online platforms or meetings (virtual or in person). If your volunteer management system has an online community board, that would work well, too. Public acknowledgement encourages all volunteers to join in the celebration, further fuelling their motivation.

I used to work at an organization that had a “kudos” section of every meeting, where people could acknowledge the major or minor accomplishments of their peers. It helped build trust and cooperation throughout the organization and reduced turnover of both staff and volunteers.

You could also put up an “appreciation board” where volunteers (or staff) can post notes about the amazing things they’ve seen other volunteers do. This works better for those of us volunteers who are introverts.

Whichever idea (or ideas) you implement, you’ll find an increase in volunteers’ wellbeing.

Build a culture where volunteers actively seek out opportunities to recognize and appreciate their peers, identify the positive aspects of things they do and provide immediate feedback on their fellow volunteers' contributions. Doing so not only makes them feel more connected with each other, it also gives them a welcome sense of empowerment and importance within the organization.

While you should never (never never never!!) use a peer-to-peer recognition system as an excuse to slack off on your own appreciation efforts, it can be a great way to add to them.

Give it a try, and let me know how it turns out.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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