No volunteer program lives within a vacuum. It is shaped, influenced and often molded by the world in which it resides. Its clients, services, volunteers, paid staff and efforts are subject to its ups and downs, its variables and changes.
The world of volunteerism itself is a changing kaleidoscope. Where once volunteers were considered to be white, female, non-working moms willing to give 40 hours a week to the church or organization, we now find such a description to be rare for those who volunteer for our agencies.
In our new century, the Gallup Poll on Volunteering & Giving produced every two years by Independent Sector of Washington, DC, gives us a for more accurate picture of who volunteers. The polls consistently tell us that over 50% of American adults a volunteer on a regular basis but nearly half are male, a growing number are non-white and very few are non-working.
As our population ages, it offers us more challenges but also an expanding work-force potential as people in their sixties see themselves as "middle aged" rather than old.
More and more families are seeking volunteer opportunities to work together. It affords quality time that everyone can enjoy as well as offering an example to the younger members of helping others.
It is critical for leaders of volunteer programs to look around them and get the facts about the world that most impact their work force. Such information will offer clues as to how best to recognize workers.
In retirement villages around North America many program leaders have identified needs in their volunteer or paid staff to connect to new people and surroundings. In response they have planned social events which can accomplish this.
In suburbia recognition potlucks for the whole family are popular. They are held on weekends and afford families the opportunity to interact in a safe environment while also receiving public recognition in the form of certificates, gifts, etc.
In lower income areas, volunteers often appreciate coupon books which offer practical and effective discounts at grocery stores, movie houses, drug and discount stores, cleaners, auto repair shops and even health clinics. Volunteer program managers who work within a Site which can offer free meals, transportation, used clothing, education, skill-building, etc., find that allowing volunteers to top into these benefits have built-in rewards to offer!
Know your community. Let it suggest reward and recognition venues.