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How Do You Recognize Your Volunteers?

Lori Halley 11 April 2011 3 comments

National Volunteer Week is Here!

Did you know that this is National Volunteer Week? NVW is being celebrated from April 10-16 in both Canada and the US. And this year’s celebrations are especially important, since 2011 marks the tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers  - with the United Nations calling for IYV +10 anniversary celebrations around the world!

For information on what National Volunteer Week is all about, check out last week’s post, Are You Ready For National Volunteer Week.

Volunteers in North America are a Force to be Reckoned With and Recognized

In honor of National Volunteer Week, our posts this week will focus on volunteers. After all, they are certainly a force to be reckoned with and recognized. It’s hard to believe that there are 12.5 million volunteers in Canada (source: Volunteer Canada) and another 63.4 million volunteers in the United States (source: VolunteeringInAmerica, 2009). This force of almost 76 million people across North America volunteer their time and energy to support community health care, sports and recreation, heritage and arts, environmental protection & advocacy, disaster relief, international development,  volunteer firefighting and much more.

Best Practices in Volunteer Recognition

Volunteers play many roles at non-profits and membership organizations. They may get involved by staffing events, helping with fundraising initiatives, running community or overseas projects, providing administrative support or even running the organization. How do you acknowledge this work? Do you have a formal procedure in place for recognizing your volunteers? 

On its National Volunteer Week website, Volunteer Canada offers the following Best Practices in Volunteer Recognition:”

  1. Make it a priority.
    Recognizing the work of volunteers is crucial for any organization that wants to retain and attract others. Designate someone in your organization to be responsible for ensuring that ongoing recognition of volunteers takes place.
  2. Do it often.
    Recognition of volunteers should happen on a year-round, frequent and informal basis – begin with saying “Thank you” often!
  3. Do it in different ways.
    Vary your recognition efforts from the informal thank you and spontaneous treats, to more formal events.
  4. Be sincere.
    Make each occasion to recognize volunteers meaningful and an opportunity to truly reflect on the value that volunteers bring to your organization.
  5. Recognize the person, not the work.
    It’s best to phrase recognition to emphasize the contribution of the individual and not the end result. “You did a great job!” as opposed to “This is a great job!”
  6. Make it appropriate to the achievement.
    For example, a paper certificate accompanied by a private thank you may be appropriate for a few months of service but a public dinner and engraved plaque may better suit 10 years of volunteerism.
  7. Be consistent.
    Make sure whatever standards of recognition you establish can be consistently maintained by your organization in years to come. Holding a volunteer recognition dinner one year sets up expectation for future volunteers.
  8. Be timely.
    Try to arrange recognition soon after achievement has been reached – delaying until weeks or months later diminishes the value of your gratitude.
  9. Make it unique.
    Getting to know each of your volunteers and their interests will help you learn how best to recognize each individual and make them feel special.

Recognition Can Be a Powerful Tool

As noted above, you shouldn’t limit yourself to celebrating volunteerism solely during National Volunteer Week. In her monthly Energize Inc. Hot Topic, "Celebrate Collective Accomplishments Not Volunteered Time,” Susan Ellis suggests that “volunteer recognition is a powerful tool for leaders of volunteers that remains largely underutilized.” She suggests that organizations approach volunteer recognition strategically throughout the year, setting some real goals both for the individual events as well as for year-round efforts. But Ellis notes that you should also take advantage of National Volunteer Week, and suggests the following:

  • Promote the national or international celebration in-house by posting notices, using the logos and slogans most often available online to anyone, free of charge.
  • Put an article about the special dates into the organization’s newsletter.
  • If there is a public event in your community to commemorate National Volunteer Week, be sure to send official representatives from your organization and publicize their attendance
  • Collaborate with other volunteer-involving organizations and do something visible to the public. For example, hang banners along a main street where a number of you have offices, proclaiming: “It’s National Volunteer Week and we thank the many volunteers who serve right here!

Energize Inc.’s Volunteer Recognition  article also offers 11 National Volunteer Week celebration ideas submitted by colleagues in organizations across North America.

Read more:

We know that this week many organizations are thanking volunteers and others are using the opportunity to inspire and encourage others in your community to volunteer. We’d love to hear what you have planned - so share your ideas for “Celebrating People In Action” for National Volunteer Week in our comments below. 

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Monday, 11 April 2011 at 9:30 AM


  • Jill Friedman Fixler said:

    Tuesday, 12 April 2011 at 6:35 AM

    I would add that we are seeing a number of organizations now offering flexible recognition plans. Think about the flexible benefit plans at your organizations and how much you appreciate choice. Now think about how you can tweak that for volunteer recognition. Why not offer three choices of thank you's to your volunteers and change them every year. So you could have a Starbucks card, movie tickets, and a T Shirt one year and a cap, Amazon card, and a restaurant card another year. Someone in their 20's will love the Starbucks and older volunteers will enjoy the movies. Get creative!

  • Christine said:

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011 at 8:00 AM

    Evergreen is celebrating National Volunteer Week through posters and blogs with an opportunity for the community to leave messages:


  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011 at 9:18 AM

    Jill: thanks for the info on flexible recognition plans.

    Christine: Thanks for sharing Evergreen's volunteer recognition and engagement efforts.

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