As an organization, it takes a lot of volunteers to fulfill Cleveland Kids’ Book Bank’s mission of fostering improved literacy and a love of reading by providing free books to children in need. In fact, 6,000 people have volunteered with the Kids’ Book Bank (KBB) in just over three years. These volunteers played a crucial role as KBB partnered with more than 900 organizations who helped distribute two million books to children in low-income families throughout Northeast Ohio. KBB recognizes the key role volunteers played in reaching this multi-million-dollar milestone and has developed a network of appreciation to recognize the volunteer spirit.
According to Judy Payne, co-founder and executive director of Kids’ Book Bank, she always tries to leave their volunteers with a story—or, at least, some kind of picture of the impact they are making just by being there It helps the volunteers feel really connected to the organization as a whole.
“I [feel] such sincere gratitude towards our volunteers, I cannot begin to tell you,” says Judy, “We could not do what we do [without our volunteers]—could not help a single child without them!”
Volunteerism at KBB takes many different forms. Because of this, showing appreciation requires a multifaceted approach. This keeps Volunteer Coordinator Colleen Watt on her toes.
“If you’re a younger kid—younger than thirteen—and you’re stocking Little Free Libraries, we made a document like a discussion guide for parents to help engage [their kids], Colleen shares. “[The guide] is about how filling Little Free Libraries in these communities is helping their peers and helping kids in their greater Cleveland community.”
For teenagers and young adults, KBB takes a slightly different approach. Colleen explains, “We tell our story about how we got started, pointing out that it wasn’t just one person who started the Book Bank. [We try] to connect with [this age group] to make sure [they know] that, if they have dreams, visions, or goals, they can accomplish those goals by asking for help. [We want them to understand] that all you need really is an idea and then you can get other people to help you achieve that goal. It’s a really good message for teenagers to hear.”
For adults, yet another approach is needed. According to Colleen, “if we have [adult] or corporate…volunteers, then we like to give them…[an] overall message of appreciation and encourage them to come back and volunteer more.”
KBB also understands it is crucial to let its partner organizations know they are appreciated.
“My goal is to visit all major partners every year and thank them for volunteering to support our mission by distributing books. They are critical to the process and need to understand how valued they are,” says Judy, “We are trying to create a culture of gratitude and our partners have been really responsive. Some say that is it helpful for their staff to hear from someone other than their manager just how critical a role they each play.”
Adds Colleen, “Right now, one of our volunteers is making hand-made envelopes out of recycled book covers, and we are giving them as appreciation gifts to our partner organizations. It’s really sweet. And there’s a thank-you note inside that thanks them for being our book-buddy.”
In the end, the staff at KBB try to create a fun, inviting atmosphere with meaningful connections.
“First and foremost, we want volunteers to have an enjoyable experience,” says Colleen, “We want them to feel like the work they are doing matters. Anybody who has volunteered somewhere where their help hasn’t been appreciated can tell pretty quickly….We don’t want anyone to feel that way because, of course, they’re not wasting their time: we need their help. it’s important to make clear to the people why they are here, that what they are doing is actually making a difference….[We] make sure that they know that while they’re here and reinforce it after they leave by sending a follow up thank you. Hopefully they come back and continue to support us and give their time.”
However, there are definite challenges KBB faces in relying mostly on volunteers for processing and distributing books. Colleen acknowledges, “Summer is a challenging time for us to recruit volunteers. People are busy. So we want to let folks know that we are here and we need their help.”
Judy and Colleen agreed that they could not emphasize enough their appreciation of KBB volunteers’ time and commitment to the organization. Colleen stresses, “We couldn’t do anything without our volunteers. They are really so critical!”