The dictionary defines “volunteer” as “a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.” Yet, there is a great value in finding small rewards that can help bring in and retain disaster volunteers. I know that from my own experience with CERT, but I also heard a similar message at a Business Roundtable-Partnership For Disaster Response panel I moderated at the American Red Cross’s headquarters in Washington.
One of the takeaways from the corporate execs involved in disaster volunteer programs gathered there was that recognition for employee participation can be very helpful in creating and sustaining these programs. The recognition might be a special certificate, mention in a company meeting or newsletter, or some kind of an award.
I give New York’s Office of Emergency Management Commissioner Joe Bruno credit for putting an emphasis on these small rewards. Bruno makes sure he gets to every CERT graduation, because he understands the symbolic importance for the volunteers. (In the photo below, Bruno is the man in the suit at my graduation. The other two men are the New York Fire Department lieutenants that ran our training.)
I am holding the ‘graduation certificate’ which I quickly framed.
OEM gave me another certificate for completing a training at the City’s Emergency Operations Center in downtown Brooklyn, which also quickly went into a frame and on my office wall.
I know I’m not the only one who puts these photos and certificates up on their walls (or on their Facebook pages). That’s important in engendering a team feeling and pride among the volunteers. It’s particularly vital for a program like CERT since it is made up of citizens from all over the community who only meet once a month. Integrating these types of incentives into disaster volunteer programs is easy and inexpensive, but offers a great return.