The East Kingdom has a new set of awards. You need to get busy, and I don’t mean writing award letters. You need to start acknowledging people yourself. Yes, you, whoever you are. Me too.
Awards are tricky things. They are more than official acknowledgements of work well done. They also convey a message of what it is a group values, and people without awards may feel undervalued, wholly unintentionally. It’s true for any organization, but especially for a nonprofit where volunteers don’t get raises or performance reviews.
Depending on the organization, an award can be given to a person who donated gobs of money, displayed great skill, volunteered insane amounts of time, or was a poster child for climbing the corporate ladder. Whatever their behavior was, it was rewarded. Therefore, it indicates what the organization values.
For any organization, there are downsides to relying on official awards as the primary way that people are acknowledged.
- Volunteers or donors who don’t receive awards may feel that they aren’t valued or noticed.
- People who have received every award possible may not continue to have their work acknowledged.
- Official awards can take on a terrifying level of importance when they are the only means of recognition.
If there are adequate amounts of unofficial thanks, attaboys, and acknowledgements, then an organization can avoid these problems. This is especially important for the SCA as a volunteer driven nonprofit. People are our most valuable resource. They are also a renewable resource, and I don’t mean renewable by having babies or recruiting. You renew this resource with praise, thanks, and appreciation.
Anyone can renew this resource, and everyone should renew it if they care about having a healthy organization. In fundraising, there are standard ways to thank donors, which are often the most important resource of other nonprofits. The process is called stewardship. So what can you do to help steward people in the SCA? What is our standard menu of options?
First things first. If there is someone who you think deserves one of these new awards – or an old one – drop them an email to tell them that they’re awesome. Hopefully you will write a letter to recommend them for the award, but there is no guarantee that they will get the award – especially these new awards. There are a frighteningly huge number of people who deserve them. Your person may not get one anytime soon, so take responsibility for making them feel appreciated.
Here are a list of other options in escalating complexity. They aren’t the only possibilities, but if you’re not sure what to do then this is a list to consult.
- Say “thank you” or “well done” if you see someone who deserves it, even if you don’t know them. It may take a deep breath to walk up to them, but people are rarely upset when you appreciate their work. Bonus point if you can tell them something specific about what they did.
- Give them a shout out on social media (and tag them)
- Write an email to thank them for their work or tell them about something that impressed you.
- Write a paper thank you note. These are rare and show real effort even if they are brief.
- Give them a token, which can be anything. Truly it can. The point isn’t how valuable it is or how useful. The point is that you cared to give it to them and they can keep it as a memory. Better to give them something trivial then neurose about creating the perfect token. (I am guilty of this myself.)
- Invite them to sit down with you at an event and ask them about their work or project. Listen to them. That can be huge.
- Invite them for a meal, give them a batch of cookies, or drop off a bottle of wine. Food is in effect a perishable token.
I will add one last plea to anyone who is an officer from the local level up to Board members. Acknowledge every email you receive. Your response can be a simple form note that you received the message, will take it into consideration, and then thank the person for taking the time to write it as long as you put their name at the top. Do it even if the email is aggravating. Like official awards, officers create the impression of what the SCA considers to be important. Courtesy is important. Ignoring communications from our members isn’t an option. We need to keep renewing our most important resource – people.