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Principles for Retaining Volunteers Part 1: Daily doses of Vitamin A-3

By Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, Special Districts Association of Oregon

Vitamin A-3. It is effective. It is simple to use. It is easy to administer. There are no adverse side effects. It is inexpensive. It is truly a wonder.

These may seem like outrageous claims. But it’s all true. Vitamin A-3 is comprised of Acknowledgement, Acceptance and Appreciation.


Acknowledgement can be as simple as a nod of the head, a smile or a simple “hello”.  It is even better with a name or title such as “good morning, Mrs. Brown” or “hello, Doctor Jones”.

You walk into a restaurant; you expect to be acknowledged. If you are not, you will probably feel slighted and may take your business elsewhere.        

A friend of mine was visiting the Midwest. He was riding with a County Sheriff in a rural area. While they were driving along, he noticed the Sheriff waved to everyone he passed on the road. My friend told him he must know everyone in the County. The Sheriff say, “No, I do not know most of them… but they’re in my county and they’re important to me… so I wave to ‘em.”  Oh, did I mention that the Sheriff had not lost an election in twenty years?

How do you feel when someone acknowledges you?

As a leader, acknowledge others as you meet them.


Acceptance is being received as suitable for a group.

When I was young, my parents taught me to shake hands, hold the door open for others and other acts of courtesy. It was respectful and the right thing to do. However, I never understood the positive impact it could have.

At a grade school reunion a few years back, I had to the chance to talk with Richard, one of my classmates. Richard’s family had moved from another area, and he was new, to not only the school, but the community. For a young boy, it was quite a change. When I first met Richard, I walked up to him, extended my hand, told him my name. We shook hands.

Years later, at the reunion, Richard told me how important that simple act was to him. He remembered it after all those years. It was more than acknowledgement. It was being received into the group of elementary school students. It meant a great deal to Richard, as a young boy, and he remembered it years later.

We can accept individuals by offering them a seat at the table, both figuratively and literally. We can accept a person by introducing them to others.

How do you feel when you are accepted as a member of the group?

As a leader, accept others into your organization…not only the new members but also the members that have been with you for a while but have faded into the background.


How often do you recognize the positive qualities of others… and tell them so?

When I was presenting officer development programs at regional fire schools around the country, I would usually receive an invitation, from a local Fire Chief, to visit their department. Usually, the tour of a fire station would take 15-20-minutes and focus on the new building and fire apparatus that was recently purchased. On one visit, however, it was different.

The Fire Chief greeted me and started the tour of their new station… a nice station, indeed. However, this was a different Fire Chief and a different tour… which lasted for more than an hour. As we went through the fire station, he would stop and introduce me to each personnel, both career and volunteer, we met.

The Chief would then go ahead to tell me in specific terms about the individual, what they had done for the department and why this individual was an asset. Often, the Chief would make mention of a family member, a spouse who had done something special, or a child that had achieved an academic or athletic honor. And before we moved on, the Fire Chief let them how special they were and how much they were appreciated.

It was a most interesting tour… and for me, a great lesson.

So, when was the last time you let one of personnel, career or volunteer, know what they meant to your organization?  And did you do it in the presence of others? Did you let them know how much they are appreciated… and were able to cite specific things they had done that you appreciated?

How do you feel when someone appreciates your work or effort?

As a leader, let your people know that you sincerely appreciate them and what they do for the organization… and be specific.


As a leader of volunteers, to what are you paying attention? More importantly, to who are paying attention?

As a leader of volunteers, how often have you provided your personnel with a daily dose of Vitamin A-3?

Vitamin A-3 should be administered not only by the leader but by all members of the organization. As a leader, set the example for others to follow.

Are you trying to recruit Board Members for your agency?

SDAO has a great resource: “The Board Member Recruitment Toolkit”

Check it out at