As 2017 starts afresh, many of us are in the position of tallying, tabulating, and filling out end of year reports for 2016. In particular, I’m working on making sure every single one of our volunteer’s hours were tracked and recorded. As I do so I’m also thinking about how we’re going to show our gratitude for all these individuals spending so much time supporting our museum. Since many of you may find yourself in a similar position, I thought I’d share with you what we did last April in the form of Volunteer Appreciation.
We told our volunteers we were going to have a nice reception with nibbles and cheese at the Historical Park. At the reception we’d pass out our usual volunteer awards, watch our traditional slide show of the year’s activities and then all troop on over to City Hall together to be recognized by the City Council and Mayor. We did do all of that, and it was lovely. But what we didn’t tell the volunteers was that the week before their appreciation event we were going to visit their homes and leave a sign in their front yard which advertised to all of their friends, family, and neighbors what a great job they did at the Historical Park. We called it “guerrilla appreciation” and it was a huge hit.
There were eight different varieties of sign, each a riff on the phrase “An AMAZING Historical Park Volunteer Lives Here!” Some signs said STUPENDOUS, and some said MARVELOUS, but all were well-received. Before we’d even put out half the signs we were inundated with emails and messages from the volunteers. They took photos with the signs, posted them on Facebook, and even moved them so they’d be displayed more prominently in their yards. It also built excitement for the evening of awards and appetizers and turned what could have been a slightly boring awards event into an exciting celebration as volunteers retold their stories of how they’d discovered the sign, and what their loved ones had said about it.
The whole process was also a good team building event for our staff. We broke up into teams of two to go and deliver signs, each team taking a section of the city. It’s particularly fun to spend a whole day with your coworkers covertly placing signs in people’s yards.
An added bonus was that I was able to really understand how far some of our volunteers travel every day to volunteer with us. One of our most reliable volunteers (and one who is consistently in the upper percentile of volunteer hours donated) lives almost 45 minutes away and comes as many as 3 days a week through Dallas workweek traffic to spend a morning with us. Amazing! Some of our volunteers still have those signs displayed in their yards, even 8 months later. Hopefully, they remind the neighbors how great our friends are, but also that our Museum is still around and treats its volunteers well…
If you are considering your own form of guerrilla appreciation, I should warn you that there was some expense and time involved. Covertly verifying the addresses of the volunteers, mapping them, and organizing a team to go deliver the signs took a little while. The signs themselves were also an expense, although by ordering 80 we were able to get a discount through a friendly print shop.
All told, it was one of the most successful volunteer appreciation stunts our Park has ever pulled. And now I’m pulling out my hair trying to think of something just as good to do this year. Ideas, anyone?
-Danielle R. Brissette, ALHFAM member and Museum Educator at Farmers Branch Historical Park, Farmers Branch, Texas