We’ve just completed another full season of the Miracle League of San Diego and this is the time I ponder what volunteer recognition means, and more importantly, what is required.
In our case, we have about 250 regular weekly volunteers between our coaches, buddies, announcers and select umpires. These are people young and old who are dedicated to coming out for eight Saturdays a season to enjoy our special brand of unscripted baseball played by children with special needs. I am convinced that every single one of us who is out there as a regular volunteer does it without any need for recognition – we do it because we love the cause and we have become part of a great, community family. We get much more out of it than we give. Nonetheless, our league faithfully prepares buddy and coach certificates, with the buddy certificates incorporating community service hour records that many of our children need (although I think they’d be out here even if they weren’t getting the credit required for school or church or synagogue). Like typical little leagues, the parents generally pool together and get a gift for the coaches and in our case the announcers.
We also have individual game day volunteers who work the snack bar and BBQ and also serve as umpires. Our organization has become so popular for such volunteering that this season over half of the game days featured an individual group acting as volunteers, through a local church group, through a local university, through a youth group called Teen Volunteers in Action, and through a local Optimist Club (who do it every season). What recognition do these volunteers deserve? I know that our announcer makes a point of recognizing these volunteers and their efforts at least once during every game. Do we need to do more than send a letter thanking the organization and its members for their time?
My bigger question is what is required of the organization? Of course, like most non-profits, we rely heavily on volunteers (we have only one part-time paid position) and would be remiss in not formally thanking them for their efforts. Yet, from my personal experience of thanking people who show up and helping every Saturday, the almost universal response is that they love being there and no thanks is necessary.
Much is made of putting on special volunteer recognition parties, providing modest gifts, etc. I don’t think the volunteers put their time in expecting such recognition, nor do they want us spending hard-earned donation dollars recognizing them, either at an event with free food or with gifts.
So what is the best way to recognize them? I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on what works, especially when we need to keep our volunteers coming back while keeping our cash outlays low. I know that your thoughts will be helpful for every non-profit organization.