Recognition Done Right! A Special Note for the Not-For-Profit Sector

This week’s topic is for my not-for-profit colleagues. Not only to say thank-you for what you do – how you serve our community on tight budgets with a litany of competing priorities. But also, to give you ideas about how recognition can help you retain your amazing volunteers and staff that dedicate themselves every day to serve your clients and community.

I’ve shared before how recognition is the easiest, least expensive and accessible tool you have in your toolkit to retain and engage. So how can you make the most of it? Let’s explore it using three powerful questions.

  1. How do your employees and volunteers most want to be recognized?

Often times what we see, and this is not unique just to the not-for-profit sector, is that we have recognition programs in place that we spend a lot of money on, but they may not match up with how employees and volunteers most want to be recognized.

In the not-for-profit sector, the most common recognition approach is Years of Service (long service awards). Recently, the Conference Board of Canada updated their findings on the Power of Appreciation Study. They found that the not-for-profit sector often puts all of their eggs in this basket and yet, it’s not a timely approach that shows our talent how valued they are. And let’s face it, it’s not easy providing direct service; waiting years to be acknowledged doesn’t get you through the tough times.

It may also be tough to sustain such programs in times of austerity. So maybe you take those gold watches and make them smaller, or cut them out completely. What will people think? How will they experience that change? And how do you manage expectations of others who don’t value those things? Where do you go from here?

Let me help you get unstuck. From having led many recognition audits, needs assessments and revamping of recognition programs, in the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors, I’ve learned time and time again the answer lies with the people. “How do you want to be recognized?” We have to ask the recipients.

For some, the long-service award is as important as having coffee in the breakroom. In other cultures, it’s not needed or desired. There are individual differences too, however, overall, individuals will tell you where they feel the money is best spent. Inquire about what’s working with the current system and what changes staff and volunteers would like to see. And what would they tolerate if the organization was strained? (having to make cuts or changes). The creativity, support and clarity will impress you, guaranteed.

Without this input, it can have very significant consequences. If we make changes without valuing input, expect resistance and backlash. There has to be a way of working within your existing budget without it causing huge strife. Your talent will help you find it.

  1. How is recognition practiced on a daily basis?

If we are going to leverage recognition, in a sincere, timely way, how are people practicing it on a day to day basis? If we leave it all up to programs like long service, then we’re missing out on regular, meaningful opportunities to acknowledge the meaningful contributions, however small, of our staff and volunteers.

The same study shows (and I see this every day when I speak with clients and people who approach me after speaking engagements) that we have gatekeepers in our recognition processes that discourage and frustrate people. Often there will be sign off steps before something is approved, and although I understand this from a fiscal responsibility standpoint, have we gone too far? If it’s a $5 gift card, must the process be so cumbersome? Sometimes the process is that the manager must sign off on recognition. Why? The more steps in place, the less likely individuals will use well-meaning recognition systems.

Besides all of this, the forms of recognition most desired by the majority of people are: (1) a verbal thank you; (2) personal, specific works of acknowledgement, and (3) a written thank you. These can be practiced on a regular basis and given they cost nothing or virtually nothing, there should be no barriers put in place.

  1. Are you practicing peer-to-peer recognition?

I am sure you can see the value of peer-to-peer recognition, yet how often does it happen in your workplace? It’s essential to have a recognition culture that retains our best people. Recognition can’t just fall to the busy Executive Director and supervisors alone. It’s not sustainable!

For lots of ideas of how to fuel a peer-to-peer recognition, you can read more here. For now, my suggestion is to start is by role modelling it. Beginning today, recognize a peer from another department or somebody that is a peer within your own team. Make it public, make it sincere, and make it timely.

People are also practicing peer-to-peer recognition every time they gossip about a peer – resource gossip that is. Resource gossiping is simply saying some positive things about people when they are not present. Some of the time it gets back to them. We all resource gossip – men and women, young and people at the end of their career, millennials to Boomers. Why? Because, when we gossip, it’s social glue. So, make sure you are speaking positively about peers’ resourcefulness and strengths when they are not present. That costs nothing and it has a huge impact.

Final Thoughts

The important thing to remember, not-for-profit colleagues, is that recognition is something you can do at any moment. If you see somebody doing something that you would like to see repeated, that’s your moment to acknowledge them. And it’s not just to say, good job. Specifically, what did you notice that you want to see more of? I’m raising teenagers, and I know I have to say this every single day. “Wow, you went and loaded the dishwasher without me having to ask you” or “It’s so great how positively you just spoke about your teacher.”  When they have that acknowledgement they’re way more likely to do it again. It takes virtually no time or energy to express appreciation, so what have you got to lose?

How can you be practicing recognition at home, in your family, in your community? How is recognition done in easy, authentic ways? Every moment of the day, every time you see something that’s worth acknowledging, I encourage you to leverage that opportunity. And hopefully, your clients, community partners, funders and others who work with you, your staff and volunteers will do the same.

If you would like even more free resources to recognize, jump onto my website at anytime. Download all kinds of free tools and resources that you can use to boost recognition, reduce compassion fatigue, and fuel healthy cultures with virtually no effort or cost.

Do you have strategies and tips on what works for your not-for-profit that you can share in the comment section? We’d love to learn from you! In fact, why not share this video with other not-for-profit colleagues while you’re at it? Let’s retain a whole army of important volunteers and staff in our communities!

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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