I was a volunteer board member in charge of membership for the Mary and Joseph League in the early twenty teens. Our number of volunteers was stagnate. They were a good group, a hearty band of willing workers. There was very little interaction between the various stratifications of volunteers: The Retreat Center's Board of Directors were all volunteers, the group that came into assist with the several thousand piece mailings, the group that served on the League's Board, the group that assisted the Volunteer Coordinator with the calling and wrangling of all the vaious groups, the staff volunteered quite a bit beyond their regular hours, the quilters that sewed their little fingers off to create a much sought after gorgeous quilt to raffle off as the "big" fund raiser along with a large silent auction on a summer evening. The diversity of the groups did not lend themselves to recognize what the rest were doing. It just all seemed to happen. I saw what all the groups did because I spent a lot of time on the grounds and at the events and in the day to day operations of the Retreat Center. When the Director hosted an event for the holidays and themed it Volunteer Appreciation, the reaction was always "why?" "No need - I get a lot out of what I do" "And my favorite "Please don't spend the money - how many of us could there be? Just invite everyone over to my house and we'll have dinner." (That was from the President of the Volunteer League - she had absolutely how many volunteers there were or what their numerous contributions were.)
And then I had an idea.
What if we were able to keep track of the number of hours that the volunteers donated to the Retreat Center. What if we kept track of the number of volunteers who contributed those hours. It was not meant to be personal recognition of an individual - it was meant to give meaning and assign a value to the volunteers as a whole. I started keeping track of the number of volunteers and the number of hours contributed to the Retreat Center.
But how to quantify the contribution and present it back in a meaningful way. Presentation and illustration were key. I was able to convince the League President to go along with me and enter into my project. She was very interested in the results and the presentation. I spent one calendar year keeping track of hours and volunteers. But what would demonstrate in something viewable and manageable on the evening of the presentation?
Everybody likes candy. Lifesavers in red, green, and white in individually wrapped packages seemed appropriate. One piece of candy for every hour. One bowl of candy for each group to represent their total number of hours. The smaller bowls to be combined into a larger bowl for the presentation. After we were done, the candy was a takeaway in a small white bag branded with the League logo and a "Thank You". It was a relatively simple concept.
The number of hours were just under 1000. The number of groups were divided into 6. We had trouble finding the right size bowls. The final bowl - the one that represented the total - was so large and heavy we had to put it on a cart because we couldn't carry it. We had managed to keep the totals a secret and it was a surprise for everyone. The whole presentation was over in about 10 minutes but it was awesome. And everyone was impressed. They proudly walked out with their little bags full of as much candy as they wanted. They were volunteers and the Retreat Center has greatly benefitted from their contributions. They were appreciated in a very tangible way and they counted - in more ways than one!