A mentor from a non-profit once told me “People sometimes have bad attitudes towards volunteers due to lack of training and experience, but the truth is, these people are working 40 hour work weeks and volunteering weekends to make a difference. How many people actually do that?” The biggest question that I would have for that statement, which is a question for those of us who understand what they do, is how do we show them that we care? What can I do?
Volunteers at Get Outdoors Day in Vancouver, WA.
Working with volunteers is the majority of my job while interning for the Forest Service. These volunteers are mostly working full-time and selling their time off for a noble cause and a smile. One thing that a majority of my volunteers will get is education to complete their volunteer goals and a snack after the project is done. You might be asking who would ever return for that, and the answer might lie in a similar thank you that some of us vets received after volunteering to sign a contract to Uncle Sam: ‘Thanks for doing what you do’.
Work project during VetsWork Quarterly Training at Broadfork Farms.
So many people have said that to me while I was serving in the Air Force and it always felt so good. It left me with an overpowering proud feeling that I couldn’t describe to anyone else, unless they’ve been thanked in the same manner. But how many times have we said stuff like this to volunteers? Volunteers are often undervalued for their work. Like an underrated player in the NFL, they may not be recognized as much as the well known players, but the job could not be done without them. Volunteers are working full-time and giving away their time off without asking for anything in return. And how can we recognize them? We can recognize them by letting them know that they are making a huge difference and they are doing something that they should be proud of.
White Salmon Delta Riparian Willow Planting (Before and Current as of 5/2015)
I’ve had my first chance to thank volunteers for what they do. One in particular, I followed out to his car and thanked him one last time for giving a helping hand on painting the seasonal bunk houses followed by a firm hand shake. As he climbed into his car, he asked what we had going next and if our organization could contact him for the next volunteer opportunity. That ‘thank you’ may not be why he volunteered, but it might be why he’s planning to keep volunteering. That right there leads me to believe that saying ‘Thanks for doing what you do’ is how we can show our volunteers that we care. I don’t make enough money to throw a party for them to celebrate what we accomplished (like they deserve), but I can provide them with a genuine ‘thank you’ and let them know that their work is of huge value to us and the surrounding communities.
White Salmon Restoration Project