With the holiday season rapidly approaching those of you responsible for managing your agency's volunteers, along with Chiefs and Sheriffs for their full time staff, may still be thinking How can we best thank our volunteers and staff for their efforts throughout the year? Further, with the current economic crunch affecting many agencies, How can we do it with little or no funds? If you find yourself in this position, I'd like to offer you a few simple no-to-low cost ways that are sure to warm the hearts of your volunteers, officers, deputies and staff members alike.
Gifts from the heart are the most memorable
A great example that offers a true heartfelt thank you to an agency's volunteer force came from Ms. Chris Wolf, then Volunteer Coordinator at the Chino (California) Police Department. It's simple, free and to the point. Ms. Wolf sent an e-mail prior to the 2004 holiday season to all the command staff, officers, and civilian employees of the agency soliciting their thoughts regarding the agency's Community Support Team volunteer members. With many thoughtful responses in hand, Ms. Wolf developed a neat and simple 6 x 5 inch spiral bound book, each page containing one of the many quotes she received from the employees while adding some nice holiday icons to each pages. One example of a quote included from a patrol officer said "Thank you for your dedication and positive attitudes. Your smiles, at times, can be just what a police officer needs at the end of a long shift. Merry Christmas, and my God Bless you and yours!"
A copy of the Book of Thoughts was handed out to each volunteer member of the Community Support Team during their end of the year holiday party. According to Ms. Wolf, "You could hear tear drops hit the floor as they fell off the faces of some CST volunteers reading page after page of heartfelt thoughts shared by the officers, command staff, and civilian employees of the Chino Police". To view an example of this Book of Thoughts, please visit the Quick Tips page at the PSVI web site link listed below. For agencies that would also like to use this idea to thank their officers, consider going through your files of thank you and complementary letters sent by the citizens of your community over the years and putting those into a small spiral book. Don't have any letters on hand? Consider asking a trusted member of your department to call on citizens who you know were thankful for your departments efforts during the past year and asking them for a quote you can use. I'm sure any parent whose lost child your agency found would be more than happy to share with you how much they appreciate the efforts of your officers and staff.
Another simple, no cost and effective method of showing your agency's expression of appreciation for its volunteers during the holidays comes from the Orange County (Florida) Sheriff's office. During the holiday season, a large Christmas tree sits in the lobby of the Sheriff's headquarters. Hanging on the tree are stars cut out from green poster board, each one with a different picture of the agency's volunteers glued to them for all to see. In addition to being a wonderful way to thank the volunteers, it also acts as a recruiting tool. As members of the community entering the lobby ask who the people are on the stars, the agency members are provided an opportunity to explain that they are volunteers and to discuss their volunteer program. Many members of the community may not be aware of this program and it is a chance to potentially gain their interest and participation. Again, for agencies who do not have volunteers or do along with a smaller staff of officers, it would be just as easy to place a photo of your officers on the tree as well. To make matters even easier, ask the spouse and children of your officers to make their Christmas tree hanging star with a photo of their officer husband, wife, mother or father on it and come down to the station to hang it themselves.
Big bang for a few bucks.
Enter the home of any one of the hundreds of Virginia Beach (Virginia) Police Department volunteers during the holiday season and you're likely to see Christmas tree decoration balls with the agency's logo and current year printed on them. The idea came from the agency's long time volunteer coordinator Ms. Sherry Kingsbury. Each year, the agency's volunteers now look forward to receiving a new ball for that year to hang on their tree and add to their growing collection from past years. While not free to produce, as the above two examples, the cost is under $10.00 each and can last for a life time as each ball is brought out year after year to help decorate the volunteers' own Christmas trees. To help offset the cost, the Christmas tree balls can be purchased by others within the police department at the agency's "Cop Shop" where other agency logo items are sold. Smart thinking on the part of Ms. Kingsbury to help provide a truly memorable way to recognize her volunteers while offsetting the cost of the item by allowing paid staff to purchase them.
Any effort is a worthy effort.
In a perfect world, law enforcement agencies who utilize volunteers of any form - civilian, auxiliary, and/or sworn reserve officers - would have a dedicated full time coordinator assigned to this task who in turn would have all year to plan effective ways to recognize and reward their volunteers. The truth of the matter is less than 20% of law enforcement agencies who utilize volunteers have a person dedicated to this position. In most cases, the position is an additional function assigned to a patrol officer, Sergeant, etc., often finding themselves multitasking with limited resources and budgets for their volunteers. For the majority of you who are in this position I'd like to offer the following: anything you can do to express the appreciation of your agency towards your volunteers will be appreciated.
While the above three examples I've shared with you are unique, well received, and memorable, in the end, doing nothing at all may stand out equally but on the negative side. If all you can do this holiday season is send an e-mail or simple Christmas card to your volunteers expressing the heartfelt thanks of your agency for all their efforts throughout the year, then you've done the best you can. In most cases, your dedicated volunteers will appreciate the effort as they know your time and resources are limited. And for those of you with access to your Chief or Sheriff, adding a quote from them to a group e-mail or their signature to a Christmas card along with yours is all the better. Remember the old saying, It's the thought that counts.