3 Lessons for Making Recognition Matter

With National Volunteer Week coming (April 21 – 27, 2013) I got to thinking about recognition and what it means to be recognized. I have volunteered with the Edmonton Folk Music Festival (EFMF) for the last eight years in various roles from night security to my current role as a member of the site kitchen team. The one thing that has kept me coming back to the festival year after year is the ability of event organizers to recognize all of its volunteers. Thankfully, the festival has the capacity to provide diverse recognition approaches and I understand many nonprofit organizations do not have the same capacity, but from where I sit as a volunteer, I think there are strong lessons for all organizations in what EFMF does.

Lesson #1: Recognition is continuous and happens simultaneously with retention and recruitment.

Every EFMF volunteer gets a package a couple of days before the festival starts that contains the information they need for the four festival days, as well as your crew t-shirt and I.D badge. We get a t-shirt with the new design for that year ahead of the general festival goer and we get a special badge that grants access to volunteer-only events. The badge is also a clear reminder of the diligence the festival has taken in ensuring each volunteer is screened and in the appropriate position so that I can feel confident in the abilities of the people I volunteer with, and them in me. These packages mean that recognizing volunteers is not an afterthought but rather integrated into all components of volunteer engagement.

Lesson #2: Make space for volunteering to be fun

During the festival, on the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, after the days concert has ended there are volunteer only (no exceptions) parties! The venue is smaller and there are quiet rooms for impromptu jam sessions and a large party room with live music, and the party lineup is different every night. After a long day of volunteering you are tired; you love what you do but it is still work. These parties are nothing but an unapologetic opportunity for the volunteers to have a ton of fun laughing, reminiscing, rehashing the best and worst parts of the day and getting to let it all out. These parties don’t make you anymore rested for the next day but the smiles and memories created will get you through.

Lesson #3: Say thank you in the biggest, most public way you can

Each night of the festival, just as the sun is going down, there is a lantern parade that makes its way through the crowd onto the main stage. This lantern parade is dedicated to the volunteers of the festival, and makes everyone stop and clap and say thank you. I get a little misty eyed each time because it reminds me of why I’m there. I volunteer to be part of this great festival so that those that paid to attend and those that volunteered have the best possible time. It’s great that other people care enough to say thank you. There is also a giant display on the festival grounds with the names of every single volunteer for all to see and it’s bigger than the signs the sponsors get!

These lessons aren’t ground breaking but it is important to be reminded of them nonetheless. I believe that each organization can find ways to incorporate these three lessons into their volunteer engagement approaches. As we move closer to National Volunteer Week let’s take the time to look at how we can make recognition an ever present part of volunteering in both subtle and overt ways. It’s the least we can do for the volunteers that drive communities forward.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager