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Section 2. Providing Incentives for Staff and Volunteers

Example 1: Johanna Woodchild discusses volunteer recognition

Johanna Woodchild of the Greenville County Chapter of the American Red Cross in South Carolina knows the importance of recognizing volunteer service. She works with more than a thousand volunteers, and celebration is a year round business for her. From Christmas drop-ins to recognition dinners, Johanna is always organizing ways to thank volunteers and allow them to meet, have refreshments, and keep in touch with each other.

One way for Johanna to recognize her volunteers is to offer recognition ceremonies. That is what Johanna was doing when we talked to her. She was expecting a couple hundred people to show up the annual business meeting and recognition dinner. "We invite all of our volunteers, and there are several steps that go along leading up to this. In the past, we've had pretty interesting entertainment, and we encourage the volunteers to bring their families. It's a volunteer committee who selects what were going to do and what the menu is and so on. This year they decided to dispense with outside entertainment and have a huge icebreaker game, because they think we are too isolated in our services and need to meet Red Cross volunteers that work in other areas of service. We don't have very many expenses regarding the place (they had it in gyms churches, cafeterias), or the food (donations), or the preparation of the food. The teen volunteers serve the food. Most of our expense comes in the awards. I believe we spent twelve hundred dollars last year. Some of them are large framed certificates, and we give quite a few plaques."

"We have so many really dedicated and hard-working volunteers. For any of them to be singled out as being the epitome of what a Red Cross volunteer should be is something that means a lot to them," Johanna said. "I talked with two volunteers recently about their awards, each of them had won the Outstanding Male Volunteer of the Year Award. One of the gentlemen has his plaque on his wall in such a place that as soon as you open the door to his apartment that is the first thing you see. The other gentleman, who is a retired businessman who has served on many boards, is involved with us through a Learn to Swim program. He centered [his plaque] over his living room couch. So, the award itself is very prestigious, and it's a very high honor."

To recognize its volunteers, the chapter gives away various types of awards: competitive awards, top male and top female volunteer, diversified service volunteer, and new outstanding volunteers. Awards to organizations and companies are also given. The number of awards varies from eight to 50. "We give pins, year pins, (five, ten, fifteen, twenty) to volunteers who have been with us those numbers of years. This year, I was just going over the list, we have 66 people who have been active volunteers for five years. That's always the largest category but it's never been that large before. We give award recognition for people who have given the most hours in disaster services. Last year's winner was 1,452 hours. Armed Forces volunteers are also given certificates in recognition of hours of service given. We're retaining people better, and that's real encouraging."

Recognition goes beyond her organization's frontiers, Johanna said. "It's an ongoing process, and we nominate our volunteers for awards outside of Red Cross. For example, the Jefferson Award is a big award that is given to five people in a three to four county area and, in the past five years, we've had three winners. In the past two years our youth volunteer has been the winner of the Youth Volunteer of the Year Award, given by "Volunteer Greenville" (an arm of the United Way) and the J.C. Penny Co."

Johanna understands that recognizing and thanking volunteers is one of the most important ways to keep them. "One of the big things is the awards," said she. "We try to get people recognized in newspapers and on TV. Every time there's a disaster that's away from here, one that is a national level disaster, the local TV stations come over and film our national level volunteers as they drive away in the emergency response vehicle. That's neat, to see us on the news. People feel valued. We also have a newsletter that comes out four times a year. It's very folksy and it highlights volunteers and tries to educate the volunteers about what the different areas do. We're trying to build a family, so we all need to know who each other are, and what we are doing."

Example 2: Thank you note

Johanna also sends a thank you note to volunteers every year. One year, the following text was on the cover.

Our Red Cross Chapter is like a large extended family. Each service area represents a smaller, nuclear family. We don't see each other on a day-to-day basis, and are not even aware sometimes of what the other members of our family, the other services of our chapter, are doing. Our annual recognition dinner is our family reunion. We greet, we hug, we applaud the work that each of us does.  We celebrate the enormous impact for the good that our family, all 1,200 of us, does for the Greenville community, for America, and for the world. Thank you for being a vital part of that celebration! Thank you for making our family reunion such a special event - an event that we will cherish always.

On the inside of the card, Johanna included a personal message.