A mandatory half-day outing to the Shedd Aquarium. On Ash Wednesday. “This employee felt anything but appreciated,” said a friend about the recent “Employee Appreciation Day” event hosted by her company. Beyond not feeling appreciated, she was mad. “Here I was, standing alone in the aquarium, and all I could think of was how much work I had to do, and when and how I was going to get to church.” Noted as well was how much her company had paid for her to feel so angry and resentful.
I won’t lie—that’s sort of what I expected when I cleared my schedule to attend a “Volunteer Appreciation” type event for the Illinois Diversity Council. I am on the Editorial Board and contribute to the National Diversity Council Newsletter. But, I recognized how much effort that Cherie Price Coleman, the volunteer leader for the Illinois Diversity Council does. She said it was an annual event, so I cleared my schedule and made the six “non-billable hours” commitment—4.5 hour event plus 1.5 hours driving downtown and back (2.5 if I took the train), plus parking.
3 Tips for True Volunteer Appreciation
Of course if expectations are low, you have a better chance of being delighted. But I was more than delighted. I left with new knowledge, connections and a desire to go deeper. So what did Cherie do that so many others have failed to do? Here are some tips.
Give Context: Recognize, Quantify and Elevate the value of Contributions.
As Cherie noted, a lot of the volunteer work that is done for the ILDC is done virtually. For the newsletter, all of it is virtual. She quantified how many volunteers are engaged locally and connected that to the bigger national picture. She made you feel important as part of a broader effort. And she also put in context how much was being accomplished in Illinois compared to other states, including her own volunteer time, which is being done by paid Executive Directors elsewhere. And she shared how much she loved what she was doing (outside of her full-time executive job!) “And I love it!” she shared.
Build in Opportunity to Network and Connect to Others.
Small table breakouts and full group sharing gave plenty of opportunity to meet others in the room and understand how everyone was involved. Introductions included sharing your favorite word, and in a second round your favorite go to song for inspiration.
Provide quality education/knowledge with expert speakers.
In this case it was Tanjia Coleman who talked about personal professional growth. It was geared to people connecting with mentors and sponsors within a larger corporation, while also highlighting personal branding. The second speaker, Scott Hoesman of InQuest Consulting did a session on Microagressions, presented in a way that fostered small group sharing and discussion, where everyone could share and learn. It was clear from the presentations that each had been well-prepped on who the audience was and what to deliver with their sessions.
And, of course, there was a nice lunch with delicious, healthy choices. If you are keeping people in a single space for a few hours, you do want to make sure they are comfortable.
DEI Lens is a Good Place to Start
It does make perfect sense that an organization committed to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion would both share intent, as Cherie shared of herself, and would consider the perspective of others. Clearly my friend’s event did not do that—my son is in college and I still took umbrage that her HR department thought it would be fun to send employees alone to the Shedd. At a bare minimum if that’s your choice, let them bring their families. And I can’t believe they chose to do the event on Ash Wednesday (and I’m Jewish and I don’t get it!) Her company event felt like a self-centered-check-the-list-we’ve-thanked-our-employees-we’re-done kind of thing, that builds more resentment than good will. “They could have just taken that money and given each of us a bonus.”
This was a long-winded way to say thank you for a great event for the ILDC volunteers last week. I walked away feeling valued for my contribution, proud to be a part of this network of people and inspired to do more. Ultimately, that is the question to start with-how do we create an event that will make our constituents, be they volunteers or employees, feel that way?
The intercultural lens is a good place to start.