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Volunteer Recognition and Appreciation

By Tom Linley, Florida Association For Volunteer Resource Management

Every week or two we get paid for doing our job. It’s one of the benefits of work, in fact that’s why most everyone gets a job. But not for volunteers, we pay them differently from employees…but we need to pay them none-the-less. There are plenty of low-cost or free ways to show volunteers how much we appreciate them.

This can be as simple as sending the volunteer a birthday card at home…how novel is that?  Getting handwritten card sent in the mail will thrill your volunteers!  Create certificates of recognition for success with a project or accomplishment. The certificate can be posted at their workspace so all staff (employees + volunteers = staff) can share in the recognition.

Many volunteers love the social aspects of their work. Have regular opportunities where food is involved. If your budget allows then have lunch brought in.  If you’re on a tight budget, and most of us are, try a potluck or brown bag lunch.  Invite a seasoned volunteer to do a presentation about their work or something of interest to the group.

Every volunteer is different and needs varying levels of supervision and care. Get to know your volunteers so you can “feed” them as individuals.  If the volunteer work takes place in the back of warehouse and they are isolated, then check on them often so they feel part of the team.  Checking in helps identify tired or bored volunteers that may need encouragement and help to understand the importance of their task.

Sometimes recognizing long-serving volunteers get overshadowed.  Typically, hours served recognition is 50, 100, 250, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000 hours.  The frequency of recognition between the last two milestones is 5,000 hours.  Find a way to show appreciation to the long-serving volunteers…make them team leaders, trainers or give them special assignments commensurate with their experience.

Welcome letters from your organization’s leadership (CEO, President, Executive Director) or letters recognizing hour served milestones and mailed to the volunteer is low cost.  Use personalized templates to make this more efficient.  A letter from leadership goes a long way to helping volunteers understand how their service impacts the organization’s mission.  Consider recognizing volunteers with significant service milestones at Board meetings or other private or public events.  This can garner local media attention which helps both the organization and the volunteer. Include recognition of volunteer contributions in your organization’s social media posts and email blasts to your supporters and customers. 

Statewide recognition includes nomination for the Volunteer Florida - Champion of Service Award.  If selected the winner usually receives the award from the Governor at a Cabinet Meeting.  And national recognition includes The President's Volunteer Service Award.  This is the premier volunteer awards program, encouraging citizens to live a life of service through presidential gratitude and national recognition.  You’ll have to become a certifying organization which is easy and there’s a small cost but it’s well worth it.

There are plenty of ways to recognize and show volunteer appreciation.  Make a commitment to spend 10 minutes a day or 30 minutes a week or whatever works for you to put some of these ideas into action.  If you have a large volunteer program, perhaps recruit a volunteer (or two) to help you with this…after all you have the choice of the best volunteers coming through your doors. Please take the time to recognize and appreciate your volunteers.  It’s an investment that will pay off big!

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