‘Thanks’ speaks volumes
Acknowledging volunteers works miracles for motivation
By Amy Bulger, Wapiti Wire Editor
A page in the Oregon Legacy Calendar spotlights the state's outstanding volunteers.
It’s a small army that shows up time and time again. They aren’t paid with cash, often arrive early and stay late, and use their days off to fuel their passion for helping elk and elk country. These 11,000-plus volunteers help keep RMEF chapters running smoothly around the country, and they run on thank yous.
“Saying thank you is so important,” says Chad Klinkenborg, regional director for northern Oregon. “It makes them feel good and gives them the warm fuzzies that help them realize why they signed up in the first place.”
Thanking RMEF volunteers for jobs well done isn’t something that should happen only when someone goes above and beyond to help out, it’s something state and chapter leaders could be doing all the time—and could be doing creatively.
RMEF has committee service pins available for volunteers who achieve 5, 10, and 15 years of service. But thanking volunteers also can be as simple as sending a personal thank you note or as complex as a special awards party. The important thing is to recognize volunteers in front of their peers. It lets them know they are appreciated and that their personal efforts help RMEF meet our mission. It also lets volunteers look back on their accomplishments with pride.
NEW YORK—A BIG BREAKFAST
Not far from where New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut collide, the smell of 10 pounds of slab bacon frying on a Sunday close to Christmas draws dozens of volunteers, donors and banquet vendors to RMEF Senior Regional Director Tim Foster’s kitchen for his annual holiday breakfast. It’s not stuffy, it’s not catered, but it is a way for Foster to say thank you to his RMEF clan.
About six years ago, Foster invited one couple for breakfast the morning after the banquet. His friendly gesture went viral. Now he, his wife, mother, step-father and even his mother-in-law don aprons to fix the breakfast that’s invite by word-of-mouth only. Over the years, the crowd in his living room has been more than 60, last year 32 came by—some sticking around to chat for a couple hours or more.
“It’s really a benefit for the relationships that are forged here in the living room,” Foster says. “It’s generated numerous life members and donors. Breakfast is one of those times people enjoy coming together; they can really interact and have fun with each other. But some of them can strap one heck of a feedbag on.”
Even through 10 pounds of smoked breakfast sausage, two vats of French toast casserole, pancakes and dozens of eggs made to order, Foster believes it’s the comradery of the morning that’s priceless.
“It’s the feeling you get that you want to be part of that family and you want to wear that RMEF pride, too,” he says. “These relationships have been built over the years, and many of them will go to four or five banquets a year to support the people they’ve met here. And we’re talking banquets that are six hours away.”
WYOMING—TEAMING UP THE COWBOY WAY
In the boom-and-bust oil driven economy of Wyoming, RMEF chapter membership can fluctuate wildly. When chapters are low on volunteers to help out, members from across the state will step in, some going to six or eight banquets a year just to help Team Wyoming.
“We really try to create a Team Wyoming concept,” says Senior Regional Director Jill Tonn.
Promoting that team includes recognizing individual volunteers in weekly email updates sent to committee members statewide. Tonn also makes it a point that Wyoming’s volunteers are nominated for national awards every year. She sees the recognition and team atmosphere pay off repeatedly.
The Wyoming Winter Workshop gives Tonn and the state leadership the chance to thank about 450 volunteers who work in 20 chapters around the state. The weekend event includes a social hour, lunch and a night event where volunteers get free tickets to win prizes playing the games they normally find themselves running. The weekend also includes chapter awards and individual awards.
“It takes every one of the volunteers giving what they can give to make Wyoming successful,” Tonn says. “You can’t have a committee without everybody.”
OREGON & WASHINGTON—CALENDARS AND HAMS
Oregon recognizes five to 10 people every year with Outstanding Volunteer awards and small gifts at the annual state Rendezvous. RMEF founders Bob Munson and Charlie Decker are always there to help present the awards, and volunteers love being singled out in front of the 160-plus attendees, Klinkenborg says.
But there’s something in Oregon volunteers seek out even more than Rendezvous recognition—a feature spot in the annual Oregon Legacy calendar.
In wall-hanger format, the calendar details the projects volunteers are working on across the state, shows what has been completed and where project money goes. It’s also a handy reminder of banquet and event dates for all the chapters around the state. Quite possibly the most coveted page in the calendar is one started two years ago, called the Conservation All-Star Spotlight. It’s a page that spotlights up to three state volunteers with their photos, stories of what they do for a living, how they got involved with RMEF and the ways they’ve gone the extra mile for the organization. The calendar is distributed to 15,000-plus RMEF members in Oregon.
“All of them aspire to be in that calendar each year, and that’s pretty neat,” Klinkenborg says.
Across the northern border, western Washington Regional Director Brian Anderson reaches his volunteers through their stomachs.
He used to give all the volunteers on the Washington state resources team Christmas presents that were “trinkets or doodads” with the RMEF logo on it. But a couple years ago, he started giving them a ham instead.
“It’s a different way to say thanks for doing more,” Anderson says. “They absolutely love it and really appreciate it.”
Before the holiday season, he sends out vouchers for ham orders, recipients can go so far as to specify when they’d like it delivered. Anderson then goes online to do his shopping, and his gifting list, which rounds out at about 25 hams, is complete in relatively short order.
“You could give them a little trinket, and that’s fine. But everybody could use a ham. A lot of people have it delivered to them and use it for their Christmas dinner.”