Volunteer Recognition

Volunteer Recognition Planning

Recognition Principles

Genuine, specific, personal informal recognition (heartfelt thanks, acknowledgement of volunteer’s specific contribution and impact, recognition of personal successes and life events, etc.) is the most meaningful and appreciated type of recognition (based on volunteer feedback). It should be given freely and frequently – in person, or via personal emails or handwritten notes. This plan is not about informal recognition.

Formal recognition events and activities should align with the main motivators for volunteering. In other words, recognition efforts should validate the volunteers’ reasons for volunteering (e.g. I volunteer because I want to gain new skills, therefore I feel recognized and valued when I am offered a professional development opportunity). Every volunteer comes to us with a different combination of motivations, including:
  • Affiliation: I believe in the cause.
  • Connection: I want to make or strengthen relationships.
  • Development: I want to build and share my skills.
  • Enjoyment: I want to have fun.
  • Accomplishment: I want to make something happen.
  • Influence: I want to lead.
  • Contribution: I want to make a difference.
There is a very tricky balance between directing too much and not enough effort on recognition. Many volunteers say they don’t want us to “waste” money on them; that money should be spent on client programs and services. However, if we don’t invest in our volunteers – if we don’t offer activities and initiatives that demonstrate their value to us – they won’t feel valued. The good news is, recognition does not have to be expensive to be effective.

There is no single recognition activity or initiative that will work for everyone. Because volunteers have different motivations, interests, availability and preferences, it’s important to offer a variety of formal recognition opportunities. It’s also important that recognition is ongoing – not just something we haul out of storage once a year.
Formal Recognition Planning
In addition to informal, ongoing, personalized recognition, implement at least one formal recognition opportunity per quarter. A variety of activities at different price points and appealing to different motivations are provided. From the menu, pick one for each quarter based on your specific budget and volunteer team’s motivations and preferences. Then plot your activities on the provided annual plan template, filling in details for your region.