Recognition Ideas

Volunteer recognition can take many forms. Consider the following levels of recognition for ways to honor and celebrate your volunteers' service:

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Everyday Recognition

Here are some easy ways to build recognition into each day:

  • Use e-mail to send a thank-you message.
  • Send a postcard or thank-you note after a volunteer attends a project.
  • Send a birthday card.
  • Submit a picture of the volunteer to be in your organization’s newsletter.
  • Post a picture of the volunteer on a bulletin board at your organization.
  • Offer an organizational goody, such as a hat, shirt, pin, magnet, or water bottle.
  • Invite the volunteer to join you for coffee or lunch.

Intermediate Level Recognition

Following are some more involved, intermediate recognition ideas:

  • Nominate a volunteer as Star of the Month; with a certificate, letter, or small gift.
  • Sponsor a "happy hour" or other social event. Encourage volunteers to meet each other.
  • Recognize a volunteer on a local radio or television station. Invite the volunteer to serve as a project leader or committee member.
  • Give a gift certificate for a museum, the movies, a restaurant, etc. Solicit your community for donations!
  • Nominate a volunteer for a local or national award, such as the President's Volunteer Service Award.
  • Write an article about the volunteer in a newsletter or the newspaper.
  • Write a letter to the volunteer's employer highlighting his or her accomplishments. Be sure to find out if the volunteer would appreciate this before sending the letter!
  • Celebrate a major accomplishment or an anniversary with your organization.
  • Have the volunteer attend a training, workshop, or seminar at the expense of your organization.
  • Give the volunteer additional responsibilities.
  • Create a photo collage or slide show of the volunteer's activities

Advanced Recognition

Some large-scale means of recognition include the following:

  • Hold an annual recognition event: a dinner, a breakfast, an awards ceremony/celebration, a picnic/potluck, theme party, etc.
  • Recognize long-term volunteers with service awards: a plaque, trophy, certificate, etc.
  • Give the volunteer additional responsibilities and a new title.
  • ut up a banner celebrating major accomplishments.
  • Enlist volunteers in training staff and other volunteers.
  • Involve them in the annual planning process.
  • Make a donation to the organization of the volunteer's choice in his or her name.
  • Organize an outing at a zoo, amusement park, sporting event, etc., where volunteers have free admission.

Rules of Recognition

When planning any kind of recognition, keep the following rules in mind:

  • Give it frequently – Recognition has a short shelf life. Its effects start to wear off after a few days, and after several weeks of not hearing anything positive, volunteers start to wonder if they are appreciated. Giving recognition once a year at a recognition banquet is not enough.
  • Give it using a variety of methods – One of the implications of the previous rule is that you need a variety of methods to show ongoing appreciation to volunteers.
  • Give it honestly – Don’t give praise unless you mean it. If you praise substandard performance, the praise you give to others for good work will not be valued. If a volunteer is performing poorly, you might be able to give him honest recognition for his effort or for some personality trait.
  • Give it to the person, not the work – This is a subtle but important distinction. If volunteers organize a fundraising event, for example, and you praise the event without mentioning who organized it, the volunteer may feel some resentment. Make sure you connect the volunteer’s name to his work.
  • Give it appropriately to the achievement – Small accomplishments should be praised with low-effort methods, while large accomplishments should get something more.
  • Give it consistently – If two volunteers are responsible for similar achievements, they ought to get similar recognition. If one gets her picture in the lobby and another gets an approving nod, the latter may feel resentment. This does not mean that the recognition has to be exactly the same, just that it should be the result of similar effort on your part.
  • Give it on a timely basis – Praise for work should come as soon as possible after the achievement. Don’t save up your recognition for the annual banquet. If a volunteer has to wait months before hearing any word of praise, she may develop resentment for lack of praise in the meantime.
  • Give it on an individualized basis – Different people like different things. One might respond favorably to football tickets, while another might find them useless. Some like public recognition, others find it embarrassing. In order to provide effective recognition, you need to get to know your volunteers and what they will respond to positively.
  • Give it for what you want more of – Too often your staff pays most attention to volunteers who are having difficulty. Unfortunately, this may result in ignoring good performers. We are not suggesting that you ignore sub-par volunteers, just that you make sure that you praise the efforts of those who are doing a good job.

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