Learning patterns/Appreciation of volunteer work IV: towards a culture of appreciation
What problem does this solve?
Volunteers are the heart of the Wikimedia movement, contributing to Wikipedia, Commons and other Wikimedia projects worldwide every day in many different ways. While not everybody might have the same reasons for doing so, we all have in common that we are driven by some sort of motivation. Without it, people would simply stop volunteering. This is why staying motivated is crucial. First and foremost, motivation comes from within oneself. There are also external factors affecting a person’s motivation - one important factor contributing to motivation is knowing that your work is appreciated and valued. And here’s where we can step in as volunteer supporters from Wikimedia organizations.
In the three previous Learning Patterns on Appreciation, we shared some ideas on how to show your appreciation of volunteers and their work by material, symbolic and interactional means. Singular acts or gestures will often succeed in momentarily making volunteers feel appreciated. What we really should be aiming for though is a lasting culture of appreciation. But how can we achieve this?
What is the solution?
If you work for a Wikimedia organization, also try to sensitize others in your chapter or group to the importance of volunteer appreciation – make them aware that it is something everyone can contribute to. Together, show volunteers that you not only value their work, but also their ideas and input:
- Offer volunteers possibilities to take part in decision-making processes concerning your programs or policies.
- Ask for feedback concerning your own work as a volunteer supporter – no one knows better than the volunteers which aspects of your support could still be improved.
- Keep in mind that real appreciation is more than just listening: try to always respond to feedback from volunteers and act accordingly. If you cannot implement something, let volunteers know and explain why something cannot be realized at a certain point.
Studies have shown that recognition is most effective when coming from peers. This means that working towards a culture of appreciation in the Wikimedia communities is really everybody's business. To contribute to that, you could encourage volunteers / other community members to:
- actively use the “thank you“ function and show their appreciation in communication with others
- post “welcome“ or “thank you“ messages on talk pages or award barnstars
- organize online contests (writing, photography, maintenance); prizes for these could also be things like „writing / expanding a band article of the winner's choice“
- have meetups and get to know others in person
Things to consider
There are also some very general but important points when it comes to appreciation, no matter whether you are giving someone a small „thank-you-present“ or sending seasonal greetings to volunteers:
- Be sincere: mean it when you say thank you (even if this might go without saying)
- Be timely: arrange recognition soon after a project (example: people will appreciate receiving a prize a lot more directly after a competition than three months later)
- Be consistent: only do things you will be able to follow through with or do on a regular basis (example: sending seasonal greetings one year will most likely raise expectations for the following year as well)
- Be there for all volunteers: try to find ways to appreciate everybody's work the same (instead of only focusing on top contributors for example)
When to use
- always ;-)
- Appreciation of volunteer work I: give individual feedback
- Appreciation of volunteer work II: make it tangible
- Appreciation of volunteer work III: let others know
- Wikimedia Polska's approach to countering volunteer burnout through volunteer tracking, recognition, mindfulness, fun and cultivating a community culture of care, as shared during Wikimania 2021