Volunteers are vital to nonprofits, helping them keep up with the critical services they provide to their communities. According to the latest Volunteering and Civic Life in America report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 62.6 million people in the United States volunteered in 2015, collectively donating 7.8 billion hours of their time to their communities – an estimated $184 billion worth of service.
Volunteer recognition events are a wonderful way for nonprofits to not only thank their volunteers but also to share the incredible impact of the work they do. Lifting up these stories is also a powerful tool for inspiring others to give back, promoting service as a solution to the toughest challenges facing our communities. Additionally, recognition programs help raise overall awareness of the central role volunteers play in supporting a nonprofit’s mission – a helpful narrative for recruiting new volunteers. OneOC, a Points of Light affiliate, accomplishes all of the above with the Spirit of Volunteerism Awards.
“Here’s one thing we know – volunteers are at the heart of nonprofits” is the slogan for the annual recognition program, hosted by OneOC each year in April. The event celebrates the work of the individuals, organizations, families and businesses making a difference in Orange County, California.
“Recognizing volunteers for a job well done is really important to [volunteer] retention,” said Barbara Powers, chief development officer for OneOC. “The nonprofits really value this event as a way to honor and recognize their volunteers and help retain them.”
Nonprofits across Orange County are invited to nominate volunteers to be recognized; though there’s no official limit, organizations usually nominate 1 to 5 volunteers. All nominees attend the event, are recognized with a photo and bio in the program, and receive a special honoree packet.
But recognition does not end at the event. OneOC also publishes blog features on each volunteer, which are distributed and published in local newspapers. Additionally, the nonprofits that nominate volunteers receive a social media marketing toolkit to help them share news of the awards. Barbara added, “We really want the nonprofits to feel equipped in multiple ways to honor those volunteers.”
All individuals nominated are recognized at the luncheon, but there is one honor that is determined by a panel of judges – the Giving is Living Award, which celebrates an outstanding collaboration between a nonprofit and company they partner with.
The winning partnership in 2016, a collaboration between High School Inc. and Tom’s Truck Center, developed an Automotive, Transportation and Logistics Academy at Valley High School. The mission of High School Inc. is improving the educational environment for students at Valley High School, and increasing retention rates. Students participating in this partnership program take lessons from the Tom’s Truck Center employees, shadow them at their worksite, receive mentorship, and attend industry events. The program has been very successful – with graduation rates rising from 62 percent to 95 percent.
Now in its 41st year, OneOC is expecting a crowd of more than 1,100 people for the 2017 Spirit of Volunteerism Awards Luncheon, taking place on April 24. Nine months of preparation will pay off as more than 350 volunteers are recognized and thanked for their work – and a new set of changemakers’ stories are told, inspiring others to follow in their footsteps.
For Barbara, the volunteers’ reactions are one of the most inspiring parts of the event.
“In a room full of 1,100 people you think ‘how special are [the volunteers] actually feeling?’” she said. “And when you hear from them that, even in that sea of people, each one feels special – for me, that’s what this event is about.”