A Season for Appreciation

It is that time of year again: a time to reflect upon what we are most thankful for and to express our appreciation. Every day thousands of lawyers across the country provide valuable pro bono representation to those most in need. Be it for an individual facing eviction or a non-profit organization that needs transactional assistance, volunteers are essential to the pro bono movement.

Organizations acknowledge the contributions of their volunteers in many different ways. As discussed in “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Recruiting & Managing Volunteers,”[1] a one size volunteer recognition plan does not fit all: “…[O]ne’s  idea of a volunteer reward may be another’s embarrassment…It is critical to make sure your volunteer-recognition efforts include elements that will appeal to the variety of people who make up your program.” In that vein, we take this opportunity provide food for thought when thanking your pro bono volunteers.

Annual Volunteer Events

Annual volunteer award ceremonies or parties remain one of the most effective ways to recognize volunteers. “They bring everyone in an organization together and make a formal statement as to the importance of volunteers.”[2] In the coming months, when deciding whether to hold another annual reception using a guest speaker or handing out awards, consider branching out and trying something new. Wouldn’t it be fun to coordinate an exciting activity for all of your volunteers like taking them to a dish crawl? Recently the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Pro Bono Project hosted a “Nothing Says Thank You Like Gelato” celebration to honor their pro bono volunteers. By finding a unique activity to appreciate your volunteers, you meet the goal of bringing everyone together and making a statement about the importance of your volunteers while creating a fun new experience.

Ongoing Recognition 

Just as important as annual recognition of pro bono volunteers is what you do on a daily basis to show appreciation. Daily gestures have a large impact upon volunteer retention. The following examples from “The Complete Idiot’s Guide” can be performed regularly to show volunteers how much their contributions are appreciated:

  •  Ask volunteers to look at a draft writing project or design piece and give feedback. At the end of the day call them up and leave a message or email indicating how much you appreciate their feedback and how it supports your program’s cause and success.
  • Take photos of volunteers on the job and be creative in sharing them in print, via email or on your web page. Also, consider sharing them with the Center so that we may highlight them in our social media and marketing materials.
  • Recognize a volunteer’s birthday or anniversary of service with a card.
  • Establish a volunteer advisory committee to solicit feedback from volunteers on a variety of organizational and program issues.

A Few More Tips from the Pro Bono Community

Over time the Center for Pro Bono has collected various tips and comments about recognition. Here are a few more examples from various pro bono managers that may be useful:

  • Personalize your message. Track volunteer activities, thank them by name and cite the work they did. If you can, share feedback—quotes from clients they helped or statistics about impact.
  • Have an annual “Design the Volunteer T-Shirt” contest and use the winning design as that year’s T-shirt for special events (No budget? Ask a local company to pay for having the T-shirts printed in exchange for placing their logo tastefully printed on the shirt).
  • Nominate your superstar volunteers for local, state or national recognition awards. It is a great way to show how much you think if them.
  • Schedule a quarterly drop-in potluck for volunteers.
  • Create an “Hour Club” (e.g. 100 Hour Club) similar to a hall of fame where each volunteer is inducted upon reaching a certain number of pro bono hours provided.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper making a statement of gratitude to all of your volunteers.
  • Acknowledge great work in a timely manner. If you wait until the annual award event a volunteer may wait months before hearing anything and may feel that their effort was not valued.

Although there is debate as to whether awards and appreciation of volunteers inspire those who would not otherwise volunteer, there is no question that appreciation assists with retaining and inspiring existing volunteers. This year, during the Thanksgiving holiday, take a moment to reflect upon and assess your volunteer appreciation strategy. And if you thank your volunteers in a way that we haven’t mentioned, please tell us about it in the Comments.

[1] John L. Lipp, Alpha Books (2009).

[2] Id.

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