The Importance of the Unofficial

Tokens and awards I have received, including my favorite - the monkey who spoke no evil on a necklace
Tokens and some awards I have received. My favorite is the monkey who spoke no evil hung on a necklace, which is not an award.

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.

16 thoughts on “The Importance of the Unofficial

  1. Mark/Tibor

    Excellent observations and advice.

    “Official” awards are very top-down. They don’t build a cohesive social framework.

    What makes an organization worth joining, is feeling connected to people. Everything you have described, is connection or potential connection.

    The SCA could survive just fine without awards, as long as the people who are in it value each other.

    Like

  2. Nog

    I agree with the writer with this.
    Mark, If the SCA truly could do without Awards , well,, lets turn in all our belts and Knightly Necklaces. for that matter lets just Nix the King, Queen. Barrans and Barranesses as well as the Lords , Arts and Science award winners as well as the the rest of the royal courts local and National, Masters and all…..hmmm… Where will that lead us pray tell.
    Before you make an uneducated assumption remember. when you assume you make an ass of u & me.
    In my small Barony alone I can only think of about 30 or more people that deserve recognition;
    Like;
    Years of service
    Willingness to volunteer for EVERYTHING
    SQUIRES THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN KNIGHTED YEARS AGO (like 20 years ago) WTF!!!!!!!!
    the people who cook our meals and clean up after.
    The paper pushers that keep us in the green
    And I know I am overlooking MANY as well.
    It doesn’t hurt to say thanks or give them a token of appreciation.

    Like

  3. Kyppyn

    This is the best “best practices to play the SCA” article I have read in a long time. Thank you so much for writing this. I have started distributing it on facebook to a wide range of people!

    In Service,

    Baron Kyppyn Kirkcaldy, KSCA, OP

    Like

  4. Duchess Verena

    YES! So much better to continue thanking and recognizing people for what they are doing than to just create another official award! The official award can usually only be given once but recognition should be on-going in any volunteer group.

    Like

  5. Johnna da Verona

    I entered my first A&S event last Saturday and did not win. BUT, the Queen gave me a small token and a Laurel said thank you for entering by giving me some trim. I didn’t feel like I lost at all!

    Like

  6. Alys du Bois, MoAS for the Barony Beyond the Mountain

    The article is well said and speaks to the core of what the SCA represents (or should) to all Scadians, an opportunity to escape the mundane (all definitions thereof) and participate in an organization that promotes chivalry and the art of courtesy while giving way to healthy competition for a crown or ones hand with a needle. Every group being unique has its strengths and weaknesses, meaning oftentimes there are inequities with regard to the focus of the group. Perhaps you have a strong fighters circle but a struggling bardic circle or vice verse. It is easy “Oyez” our champions, buy a truly dynamic group finds a way to acknowledge the smaller or less high profile contribution like running the toll for an entire event, clearing the tables between courses or carrying the loaner armor for youth practices.

    The Periods we use to develop our personas could not have existed without these people and neither can the Creative Anachronists but part of the difference is the word Creative, meaning we know better and are choosing these roles not defined by them and that honors and titles are earned by our actions, not by the entitlement of birth or wealth.

    As a MoAS I have the privilege to work with and learn from many talented people, each bringing their own expertise to every event from teaching you to make a perfectly fletched arrow or an illuminated note card of hand made paper and ink. These items may never been entered into an A&S contest and the youth Marshall who runs those practices every weekend may never become a knight, but their contributions are no less important then the archer who becomes then Queens Champion, the scribe who becomes a Tyger Signet or the youth that becomes a squire.

    So whether your shire, canton, barony, principality or kingdom is “frugal” or “free” with praise, tokens, official awards or grants, you should not be discouraged from suggesting someone for an official recognition, a shout out or give them a token of your own appreciate.

    In the truest spirit, thank you Kathryn Gandek-Tighe

    Like

  7. Alys du Bois

    The article is well said and speaks to the core of what the SCA represents (or should) to all Scadians, an opportunity to escape the mundane (all definitions thereof) and participate in an organization that promotes chivalry and the art of courtesy while giving way to healthy competition for a crown or ones hand with a needle. Every group being unique has its strengths and weaknesses, meaning oftentimes there are inequities with regard to the focus of the group. Perhaps you have a strong fighters circle but a struggling bardic circle or vice verse. It is easy “Oyez” our champions, buy a truly dynamic group finds a way to acknowledge the smaller or less high profile contribution like running the toll for an entire event, clearing the tables between courses or carrying the loaner armor for youth practices.

    The Periods we use to develop our personas could not have existed without these people and neither can the Creative Anachronists but part of the difference is the word Creative, meaning we know better and are choosing these roles not defined by them and that honors and titles are earned by our actions, not by the entitlement of birth or wealth.

    As a MoAS I have the privilege to work with and learn from many talented people, each bringing their own expertise to every event from teaching you to make a perfectly fletched arrow or an illuminated note card of hand made paper and ink. These items may never been entered into an A&S contest and the youth Marshall who runs those practices every weekend may never become a knight, but their contributions are no less important then the archer who becomes then Queens Champion, the scribe who becomes a Tyger Signet or the youth that becomes a squire.

    So whether your shire, canton, barony, principality or kingdom is “frugal” or “free” with praise, tokens, official awards or grants, you should not be discouraged from suggesting someone for an official recognition, shout out or give them a token of your own appreciate. Oh and remember, true appreciation is never political.

    In the truest spirit, thank you Kathryn Grandek-Tighe for your inspirational words, I know what I will be doing from now on…

    Like

  8. Pingback: Why Did You Write That Email? – Fording the Sea

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