This is How You Recognize Volunteers

Encouraging the Heart is the fifth and final practice of extraordinary leaders outlined in The LeadershipChallenge, the seminal work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner, and further explored in a book devoted exclusively to the practice.  The practice embodies two specific commitments:
  • Recognize contributions by showing appreciation for individual excellence.
  • Celebrate the values and victories by creating a sense of community.

An unexpected card received last week from one of the organizations I volunteer with, the American Society of Association Executives, models both of these commitments in pitch-perfect ways.

The card highlights the previous year’s accomplishments in hand-drawn graphic form, offering a simple yet effective visual illustrating the text on the cover of the card: “We Could Never Have Done it Without You.” 

On the back of the card was a handwritten note from the staff liaison for my particular responsibility, thanking me in very specific and personal terms for my individual contribution.

Imagine the impact of this appreciation initiative on the members who volunteered:

  • It strengthens the sense of pride in being part of a community moving a profession forward.
  • It trumps any generic thank you or words of encouragement by offering specific praise from someone you respect.
  • It reviews accomplishments in a way that may also educate recipients. I certainly learned of some work completed that I previously did not know about.
  • It dispels the notion of an impersonal organization and reinforces the power of personal relationships.

No doubt this effort took a healthy amount of time, planning, and coordination … an investment that is likely to yield additional dividends in terms of volunteer loyalty and engagement.  And in doing so, the initiative effectively models several of the specific essentials Kouzes and Posner identify for encouraging the heart:

  • The First Essential: Set clear standards.
  • The Second Essential: Expect the best.
  • The Third Essential: Pay attention.
  • The Fourth Essential: Personalize recognition.
  • The Fifth Essential: Tell the story.
  • The Sixth Essential: Celebrate together.
  • The Seventh Essential: Set the example.

As Kouzes and Posner aptly note, "There are few, if any, more basic needs than to be noticed, recognized, and appreciated for our efforts.”   

An attitude of gratitude is always appreciated, particularly when it is heartfelt and personal.  

How are you noticing, recognizing, and appreciating the people whose efforts are critical to your accomplishments?