It's free to say thank you: recognising and rewarding our volunteers

02 AUGUST 2017


Emma Thompson, Director

A thank you costs nothing.  Well, almost nothing: the British Dietetic Association’s investment in ‘thank you’ cards for its 1000 volunteers during 2017 Volunteer Week in June has been worth every penny.  We spoke with Milly Durrant, Head of Membership, who told us about the success of this particular member engagement activity.​

Milly Durrant, BDA
Milly Durrant, Head of Membership, BDA

The British Dietetic Association (BDA) is a professional body with around 9,000 members, 98% of whom are UK-based.  Around four years ago, a full-time post of Group and Branches Officer was set up to manage and support the 300 members volunteering as committee members for the BDA’s 13 regional branches and 17 specialist interest groups. 

The Group and Branch Officer’s role includes development of resources specifically for these volunteers and, for the last three years, running a highly popular Volunteer Support Day.  These more formal roles linked with central and regional governance of the Association are not the only ways in which members are giving back to their professional body.

Eighteen months ago, Milly decided that a consistent approach to recognising and rewarding all types of volunteer contribution was required.

Milly looked across the whole Association and counted up the volunteering roles. “We were really surprised and pleased to find that we had over 1000 volunteer roles, with some members involved in more than one.  It was really good to share that high figure with others at member association conferences, and I wanted make sure we could keep it going.” 

Milly’s member engagement strategy was to ensure that the BDA first recognised all of the volunteers in the huge variety of roles, and then to consistently reward them.  The BDA used its existing member database to identify the role of each volunteer from Trade Union Representative or media spokesperson to ambassador or being on BDA Council. 

Milly then looked for different ways to profile these members with two aims: to reward them for their contribution and to bring to life some of the roles, to encourage other members to get involved.

Milly described a key element of raising awareness of both the individuals and the types of volunteer activities through magazine and online profiles. “Over last year we have featured 12 two-page ‘Meet our Volunteers’ articles in our member magazine to show-case different volunteers, from a dietetic student member helping us man the BDA stand at external events to someone who has volunteered on various BDA committees and Boards throughout their professional life and is now our Honorary Chairman.” 

The BDA have also published Q&A with their 18 Board members on the website, and include volunteer profiles in the monthly e-zine.  As an extension to the work of the Group and Branches Officer, Milly worked with her colleague to further develop the Volunteer Hub on the BDA website: a place for resources, information, volunteer profiles and volunteering vacancies.

The campaign that had the most unexpected result was sending thank-you cards to around 1000 volunteers during Volunteer Week, 1-7 June.  The financial investment was less than one pound per person: the BDA utilised internal design skills, so the main costs were in production and mailing. “We were delighted. We had no call to action in the cards; we didn’t want anything in return, we just wanted to say thank you. We had  a large number of our members posting pictures, saying ‘I feel honoured to be a volunteer’, saying ‘thank you so much for the card, it means a lot’. So that was really, really positive.

So far, the impact of this increase in volunteer recognition and reward has been promising: the hits to the volunteer vacancy webpage rose steadily over the year, and went up by around 20% after the thank-you cards were sent. Members attending events and meetings have expressed verbal interest in getting involved and are spreading the word, encouraging colleagues and friends to volunteer.

Thinking ahead, Milly will continue to profile members in the magazine, e-zine and website – and send personal thank-you cards.  The Volunteer Hub will continue to act as both a resource for both existing volunteers and to attract other members into roles. “We would like to do a lot more during Volunteer Week next year. It is the week before our annual awareness-raising Dieticians Week, and next year is the 70th year of the NHS, so there are lots of things going on.  We already have a Volunteer Support Day, and I’d love that day to grow - maybe two days with an overnight dinner -  where we can invite all of the volunteers to come along to celebrate and recognise their achievements.

Milly’s top tip for those looking at new ways to recognise volunteers? Consider resource, but also consider the fact that by investing a small amount of resource, you can get huge rewards.  “We had no idea our members would love the thank you cards so much; we did wonder if they would think it a bit silly, but no. Even if it costs us double we would still do it! And it’s free to say thank you: every meeting we have with volunteers I always start the presentation by saying thank you from the BDA, we can’t do all that we do without you.

Milly Durrant is Head of Membership at the British Dietetic Association. Milly is a membership expert with over 10 years’ experience working in strategic membership and marketing roles across the sport, leisure and healthcare sectors.  Working in both b2b trade associations and b2c member organisations, she has developed and implemented successful marketing and membership communication strategies and campaigns to grow recruitment and retention, drive brand awareness, and deliver effective member engagement and revenue targets.  In her current role as part of the senior management team at the British Dietetic Association, she is responsible for having engaged the organisation in becoming more member-oriented, and in doing so has significantly grown annual member recruitment and retention, developed new successful income generating member communications, delivered a successful CRM/CMS integration project, and established high levels of member satisfaction and engagement (MemCom Member Engagement Award Winners 2015.)