Volunteer appreciation and recognition

Volunteer RecongnitionVolunteer Appreciation & Recognition
Appreciation and recognition of your volunteers is a critical piece of any volunteer program. Never assume that volunteers know they are appreciated. Recognition of their contributions should be part of the formal and informal operations of the organisation. Volunteers who do not receive frequent feedback and recognition begin to wonder if they are doing a good job and if anyone cares about the work they do. This often creates an unmotivating climate, and can result in high volunteer attrition. Even if you do not currently have a budget line for volunteer appreciation, there is an investment made by the organisation that includes all the preparation, planning and ongoing support required to effectively manage the people who are your volunteer resources.

Methods of appreciation and recognition can vary widely. It can be formal or informal, public recognition or personal thanks, costly or absolutely free.

Appreciation needs to be tailored for the individual;
- What is the personality and taste of the volunteer you want to thank? You know one person will really enjoy public recognition at a dinner, for example, whereas someone else might find that embarrassing or downright wasteful.
- Get to know your volunteers, their motivations, likes and dislikes. This can provide you with insight into what they will really appreciate.
- Be willing to be open and creative! Try not to get stuck "inside the box". One person\'s ideal appreciation might even be an extra work assignment, or a special task that recognises and utilises their unique skills.

Matching Recognition to Types of Volunteers

Achievement-oriented volunteers
• Ideal result of recognition is additional training or more challenging tasks.
• Subject for recognition is best linked to a very specific accomplishment
• Phrasing of recognition through "Best," "Most" awards
• Recognition decision should include "Checkpoints" or "Records"
• Awardee should be selected by co-workers

Affiliation-oriented volunteers
• Recognition should be given at group event
• Recognition should be given in presence of peers, family, other bonded groupings

• Recognition item or award should have a "Personal Touch"

• Recognition should be organisational in nature, given by the organisation

• Recognition should be voted by peers
• If primary affiliative bonding is with client, not others in the organisation, then the client should take part in the recognition, through a personal note of thanks or as presenter of the award



Power-oriented volunteers

• Key aspect of recognition is "Promotion," conveying greater access to authority or information
• Recognition should be commendation from "Names"

• Recognition should be announced to community at large, put in newspaper
• Recognition decision should be made by the organisation’s leadership

By Style of Volunteering

Recognition might also vary between long-term and short-term volunteers:

Long-term volunteer
• Recognition with and by the group

• Recognition items make use of group symbols
• Recognition entails greater power, involvement, information about the organisation

• Presenter of recognition is a person in authority

Short-term volunteer
• Recognition is given in immediate work unit or social group

• Recognition is "portable;" something the volunteers can take with them when they leave - a present, photograph or other memorabilia of experience, training, etc.

• Recognition is provided via home or work - letter to employer, church, or family

• Presenter is either the immediate supervisor or the client
• Recognition is given in immediate work unit or social group
• Recognition is "portable;" something the volunteers can take with them when they leave—a present, photograph or other memorabilia of experience, training, etc.
• Recognition is provided via home or work - letter to employer, church, or family
• Presenter is either the immediate supervisor or the client

You should note that an "ideal" recognition system  requires a mixture of different procedures in order to have something for every type of volunteer. This is not unusual and is quite appropriate. Many organisations fail to do this, with interesting results. Consider, for example, an all-too-typical organisation that gives its volunteer awards only according to the amount of time donated, a "longevity" prize. If you’re a short-term volunteer how do you feel about this system? Or if your busy schedule limits the time you can offer? Could you possibly ever "win" under these rules? What would this type of award suggest to you about the value that the organisation places upon your own contribution of time?

Different types of appreciation and recognition include:

  • Saying "Thank you!" - in person and with cards or notes.
  • Remembering birthdays or other special occasions .
  • Special occasion surprises or gifts.
  • Annual events such as National Volunteer Week luncheon, Christmas parties summer barbeques or awards ceremonies.
  • Recognition in newsletters or local newspaper profile.
  • Years of service pins or plaques .
  • Name tag pins.
  • Taking the time - to provide orientation and ongoing support .
  • Providing training opportunities.
  • Offering job rotation opportunities for variety or advancement.
  • Asking for volunteer input when developing policies and procedures.
  • Offering letters of reference.

    Formal Recognition Systems
    Formal recognition systems are comprised of the awards, certificates, plaques, pins, and recognition dinners or receptions to honour volunteer achievement. Many organisations hold an annual ceremony in which individual volunteers are singled out for their achievement.
In determining whether to establish such a formal ceremony, consider the following:

    • Is this being done to honour the volunteer, or so that staff can feel involved and can feel that they have shown their appreciation for volunteers?
    • Is it real and not stale or mechanical?
    • Does it fit? Would the volunteers feel better if you spent the money on the needs of the clients rather than on an obligatory luncheon with dubious food?

    • Can you make it a sense of celebration and a builder of team identity?

    Formal recognition systems are helpful mainly in satisfying the needs of the volunteer who has a need for community approval but have little impact (and occasionally have a negative impact) on volunteers whose primary focus is helping the clientele. These volunteers may very well feel more motivated and honoured by a system which recognises the achievements of "their" clients, and also recognizes the contribution that the volunteer has made towards this achievement.


    Informal Recognition Practices

    The most effective volunteer recognition occurs in the day-to-day interchange between the volunteer and the organisation through the staff expressing sincere appreciation and thanks for the work being done by the volunteer.

This type of recognition is more powerful in part because it is much more frequent – a once-a year dinner does not carry the same impact as 365 days of good working relationships. Day-to-day recognition may include:


    • Saying "thank you"

    • Involving the volunteer in decisions that affect them
    • Asking about the volunteer’s family and showing an interest in their "outside" life
    • Making sure that volunteers receive equal treatment to that given staff

    • Sending a note of appreciation to the volunteer’s family
    • Allowing the volunteer to increase their skills by attending training
    • Recommending the volunteer for promotion to a more responsible job
    • Celebrating the volunteer’s anniversary with the organisation.

    The intention of day-to-day recognition is to convey a constant sense of appreciation and belonging to the volunteer. This sense can be better conveyed by the thousands of small interactions that compose daily life than it can be conveyed in an annual event. Recognition can begin quite early with a card of welcome sent to a new volunteer, or a small welcome party.

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