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    Chapter 8: Retention and Recognition

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    ​A. Volunteer Retention

    Volunteers who are utilized primarily during emergencies may lose interest during periods between emergency activations. This can cause a “revolving door” effect in which the Unit loses seasoned volunteers as fast as it recruits new volunteers. There are several ways to approach this challenge. For example, Unit Administrators can use trainings, exercises, and non-emergency public health events to keep volunteers engaged. While these strategies are beneficial to the Unit, they demand time and resources that may not always be available. Fortunately, there are also other ways of retaining volunteers that do not require the same investment of time and resources. 

    Creating a Positive Volunteer Experience from Start to Finish

    To ensure that volunteers have a positive experience, Unit Administrators should examine their Unit from the volunteer’s perspective and consider the aspects of the volunteer experience that might affect participation. To optimize the volunteer experience: 
    1. ​Ensure a good first impression by handling the registration process in a timely, efficient, and professional manner 
    2. Create a Unit specific course of required training that is helpful and relevant to the volunteer (see Chapter 6 for guidance)
    3. Offer optional training courses that enhances the volunteers’ experience and assists them with professional development 
    4. Demonstrate professional accountability regarding establishing and following policies that reduce the overall risk of harm for the volunteer and others
    5. Ensure that the volunteers feel well-utilized and that they are making a satisfying contribution; some volunteers may only wish to serve during an emergency; while others may wish to be involved in ongoing public health initiatives throughout the year (see Chapter 7 for guidance)
    6. Provide for the volunteers’ emotional needs during and after activation
    7. Give volunteers the opportunity to participate in after action activities; show the MDRMRC Unit’s commitment to caring for volunteers’ well-being by taking their feedback seriously (see Chapter 7​ for guidance)

    Understanding Volunteer Motivation ​

    In addition to having a positive experience, volunteers may have other, more personal motivations for volunteering. There are several reasons why people volunteer − these reasons can be loosely grouped into three categories:
    1. Achievement
    2. Recognition
    3. Power/Leadership
    Most volunteers have a combination of reasons why they volunteer. Ensuring that the volunteer experience is rewarding means ensuring there are opportunities where volunteers’ motivations can be fostered. 

    Retaining the Achievement-Motivated Volunteer: 

    Following any MDRMRC Unit activity (emergency response or public health activity), notify all volunteers of what was achieved and the impact their work had on the community. Maintain records of the volunteer activity and its impact, and remind your volunteers that they are the reason for the Unit’s successes. 

    ​Retaining the Recognition-Motivated Volunteer:

    Although annual awards dinners are a great way to thank volunteers, the real work of volunteer recognition occurs on a daily basis. There are various ways to recognize volunteers’ contributions, ranging from the simple, personal “thank you” letter, to more public forms of recognition such as newspaper articles, community awards, and notes to their families and/or employers. Not all volunteers want to be publicly recognized, but each volunteer needs to know that he or she is valued by the organization (see below for guidance on volunteer recognition). 

    Retaining the Power/Leadership-Motivated Volunteer: 

    There should be opportunities for volunteers to assume leadership roles within the Unit. When appropriate, delegate responsibilities to volunteers who have appropriate skills and have expressed interest in working on new projects − these leadership-motivated volunteers can be your greatest spokespeople if you provide them with the opportunity. Volunteer leadership roles may include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • ​Council Member
      • Serve on the MDRMRC Advisory Council to represent the volunteer base and help guide future development of the MDRMRC Network 
    • Volunteer Management Assistant
      • Assist with volunteer recruitment, registration, record keeping, and recognition efforts
    • Disaster Preparedness Presenter
      • Educate individuals and groups on disaster preparedness topics 
    • First-Aid Team Leader
      • Help organize and lead a Unit first aid and CPR team that is deployed to staff community events throughout the year
    • Interpretation Team
      • Volunteers who speak a second language can help organize and lead a Unit interpretation team that assists on deployments throughout the year
    • Grant Researching/Writing
      • Utilize qualified volunteers to assist the Unit Administrators as they research, write, and execute grants
    • Speakers
      • Provide recruitment presentations at local events or to prospective partners
    • Social Media
      • Be an online advocate for the MDRMRC Unit
    • Clerical/Staff Support
      • Assist the Unit Administrators with administrative tasks such as volunteer communications, newsletter articles, and planning events
      • Help with routine maintenance duties such as stocking deployment supplies and checking inventories
    • Special Events
      • Support recruitment efforts and community health events

    Specific Activities for Keeping Volunteers Engaged 

    Community Preparedness

    Engaging volunteers in community preparedness activities is a great strategy to keep them involved. Preparing the community for emergencies can mitigate an emergency’s effect on the community's health. Rather than creating new activities from scratch, seek existing community preparedness initiatives with which to partner. Look for activities to: 
    • ​Help meet crucial community needs
    • Improve community preparedness for emergencies
    • Help demonstrate responsiveness to community needs, resulting in an enhanced public perception of the MDRMRC Unit

    Example community preparedness activities include, but are not limited to, the following: 
    • Safety and preparedness expositions or exhibits at health fairs and other events 
    • Informational sessions with emergency management professionals 
    • Press briefings and other public information efforts to disseminate preparedness information 
    • Dispensing exercises
    • Family emergency planning 
    • Personal preparedness education

    September is National Preparedness Month and is an ideal time to involve your MDRMRC Unit in community preparedness activities. Visit http://www.ready.gov for more information on community and family preparedness and National Preparedness Month activities. 

    Public Health Priorities

    Because local MDRMRC Units are administered by LHDs, they can promote various public health priorities set forth by the state and local government. By supporting these priorities, the MDRMRC will strengthen the state’s health one community at a time. Unit Administrators can perform a formal or informal survey of their health department offices to see if volunteers can be utilized for public health activities that can support the LHD as a whole. Such priorities can be promoted through various public health activities including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Health education 
    • Immunization clinics 
    • Health screening campaigns 
    • Participation in community emergency planning efforts 

    B. Volunteer Recognition

    Volunteering can be its own reward as it gives volunteers the opportunity to give back to their communities and to make a difference. However, many volunteers find motivation in the recognition they receive. Volunteer recognition can range from informal contact with volunteers (one-on-one or in groups) to formal recognition events that feature awards and public statements. Below is a list of suggested recognition strategies: 
    • ​Provide volunteers with regular updates on the impact of their efforts (e.g., via newsletter article or an email update)
    • Following an emergency response activity, send volunteers who were deployed a “thank you” letter, email, and/or certificate of appreciation that describes what was accomplished by the deployment and the impact it had on the community 
      • ​For an example, see “Thank You for Responding to Activation Request − Example” (Appendix II​)
    • Following a MDRMRC public health activity, send participating volunteers a “thank you” letter, email, and/or certificate of appreciation; describe what was accomplished by the activity and the impact it had on the community
    • For MDRMRC Units that are registered with the national MRC Program:
      • Update your Unit’s online profile with recent activities. 
      • These activities are reported to the national MRC Program and shared with national MRC leadership and MRC Units throughout the country, giving volunteers the opportunity for national recognition
    • Coordinate sending a letter or certificate of appreciation signed by a local public official (i.e. local Health Officer)
    • Coordinate an appreciation reception, luncheon, or dinner for volunteers
    • Give a plaque to volunteers who volunteer a pre-determined number of hours or pre-determined number of deployments
    • Send a seasonal card or e-card to volunteers thanking them for their commitment
    • Highlight individual volunteers or your Unit as a whole by submitting an article to the MDRMRC Newsletter
    • Reach out to local media about MDRMRC activities to showcase volunteer contributions to public health 
    • Contact established volunteer recognition programs that provide an opportunity for volunteers to receive local, state, and/or national recognition, such as: