Volunteer Appreciation in The Netherlands: The Enschede Volunteer Award

Volunteer appreciation is key in retaining volunteers. The Enschede Volunteer Award is a beautiful example of how it's done right!

Volunteer Appreciation in The Netherlands: The Enschede Volunteer Award

“Volunteering is the cement of our society and volunteers are the bricklayers who keep the society together”. This great analogy was said by Sonja Mückenheim, Volunteer Project Lead at M-Pact in the Dutch city Enschede, in a short conversation with Deedmob’s CEO Levi Witbaard. Enschede, a city where volunteering is flourishing, hosts a special initiative to recognise and celebrate the local volunteers and their contributions: The Enschede Volunteer Award.

Video is Dutch only, but the article highlights the most important insights of the article.

The Enschede Volunteer Award

Every year, the Municipality of Enschede and M-Pact award three prizes to nominated voluntary organisations that have committed themselves in a special way in the past year. This way, they get the appreciation they deserve for all the good they do for society.

The main purpose of the Volunteer Award is not only to show appreciation, but also to put voluntary work and the social importance of the organisations involved within Enschede in the spotlight. This also allows other residents to see what these organisations contribute to the city.

The Volunteer Award was presented for the first time in 2019, but back then it was relatively unknown and only five organisations were nominated. Since then, the event has grown, with 15 organisations nominated this year, ranging from neighbourhood buses to healthcare institutions, clearly highlighting the diversity of volunteering and showing that volunteering is really growing in the city.

Unlike most appreciation events, it takes place in the summer, on 7 June. Previously, it took place annually on the more common date of 7 December, National Volunteer Day in The Netherlands. However, this date fell between national holidays, so it received less attention than it deserved. To better highlight volunteers, it was decided to continue the initiative for six months, in the summer!

The award targets organisations over individual volunteers, to avoid volunteers feeling passed over. The nomination criteria include the social importance of the organisation, the design of the volunteer policy and the inspiring nature of volunteering. With the Volunteer Award, more attention is given to the importance and diversity of volunteering in Enschede.

Organising the event

The M-Pact team starts preparing for the event immediately after the previous edition. A small core group threw itself fully into the organisation and took stock of what residents and volunteers thought was most important on such a day. Cosy get-togethers, meetings, sharing experiences and feeling appreciated were the most important elements. The day is all about relaxation, snacks, drinks and above all: socialising and appreciating all the good work done for the city.

Nominations for the Volunteer Award will start on 7 December, the National Volunteer Day. In January/February, the nominees are chosen through various rounds of voting and then it's on: flyers, posters and social media are used to promote the event and voting throughout the city, creating a lot of energy and making the event really come alive in Enschede.

Future plans and involvement

Although the Volunteer Award has so far been mainly organised by M-Pact, the plan in the future is to involve more organisations, external professionals, cultural and/or sports organisations. This will make the event radiate even more diversity and inclusiveness, and involve the city even more actively.

Importance of volunteering

The importance of volunteering is growing by the day, especially as the number of volunteers is decreasing and organisations are finding it harder to find people willing to give selflessly. It is therefore essential to appreciate volunteers and organisations for their efforts and show that volunteering is not something to be taken for granted.

Volunteering itself is also changing, there is more competition and more to choose from as volunteers. It is therefore important, for example, to show that organisations give volunteers space to choose how they want to spend their time.  As an organisation, you need to stand out!

Involving a diverse set of people

To create a truly grounded team that reflects diverse society, it is important to involve different age groups, ethnicities, neighbourhoods and professions. For example, the core team includes young people and seniors who provide insights into how best to reach their target audience. In this way, you make the initiative more accessible to everyone and give it room to grow.

Tips for organising a similar initiative

For those considering setting up a similar initiative, here are some important tips.

  1. Taking stock of the needs and wishes of volunteers is essential. Engage in conversation, send out surveys, and involve different target groups. Know what is going on and what people care about, and build your day around that.
  2. Criticism should be used constructively, but remember: you will always be criticised. Know what you can use to improve, and leave out what contributes nothing. That way, you make it better every time!
  3. Very practical, but if you give out presents, make sure they are uniform. That way you avoid disappointment when organisations deserve the same appreciation. To illustrate: choose the same flowers, bouquets and colours. When there is a difference, recipients can sometimes like a different present much more than their own. So pay attention to that!
  4. However, the most important thing is to just start and organise something. We can keep talking a lot, but sometimes we just need to roll up our sleeves. Volunteers deserve their appreciation, so get to work for them!

The Volunteer Award in Enschede is an inspiring example of how volunteering can be put in the spotlight and how the efforts of volunteers can be appreciated. As a society, we should continue to celebrate and support volunteering because it is the backbone of our economy and an indispensable pillar of our society.

Some highlights of 5 years at Deedmob

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Gerbrand Holland

Growth Manager

Gerbrand Holland is Growth Manager at Deedmob