Rewarding Volunteers

More and more companies are encouraging conversations in company forums, on blogs, through Twitter, and on similar sites. The idea is that the companies can power some of their service with their  customer communities. Assuming you have such a community in place at your company, how do you reward the volunteers who donate their time and expertise to help your customers and provide feedback to your company?

Chances are, most of these volunteers aren’t interested in being paid for their work. (You should offer some of your best volunteers jobs, though. They might take you up on it.) Otherwise, they wouldn’t volunteer. As a result, you have to find other ways to thank them and show that you appreciate their hard work and dedication.

  • Schwag. If your company has schwag you can send to your volunteers (t-shirts, stickers, pens, notepads, flash drives, whatever), offer to send it their way. If you already have their address, it might be interesting to just send it along with a handwritten thank you note.
  • Gift cards. Your volunteers might appreciate gift cards either for your services or for other services/products (i. e. a nice gift card to a national restaurant chain). It shows that you care about what they’re doing and you’d like to show your gratitude. 
  • Offer tours. A lot of customers like seeing the people they work with and checking out the company’s offices or facilities. Offer your volunteers tours of your offices. Make it a day and take the volunteer(s) out for lunch, introduce them to some of the people they’ve worked with, and so on. If you wanted to get really involved, you could offer to fly the volunteers to wherever your office is and put them up in a local hotel for a night or two as well. If you think that sounds like a total waste of money, just think about how much it would cost to pay them for all the time they invest. (If a volunteer has invested 100 hours total (a low estimate I’m sure) and you pay your average customer service employee $10 an hour, you’re probably coming out ahead if you buy a plane ticket and a night or two in a hotel for that volunteer.)
  • Write them thank you letters. Even though it may not seem like a big deal, sending some of your volunteers handwritten thank you letters can make a difference. Alternatively, a quick (personal) phone call from someone high up at the company can make a lasting impression as well.

What do you do to reward your volunteers? What seems to go over really well? (And not so well?)