Volunteer Management: Volunteer recognition

Amy’s post on a day in the life of a volunteers coordinator took me back to my volunteer coordinator days. I could relate to so many practices she had mentioned like volunteer orientation, effective and prompt communication and constant support. Her emphasis on word of mouth publicity reminded me of something I had heard long time back –

A satisfied volunteer is your biggest advertisement and an unsatisfied volunteer, a walking dynamite

Satisfied volunteers give testimony to the credibility of your organisation and/or the volunteer program. They are likely to stay back, bring in potential volunteers and strengthen your volunteer program. One of the most likely culprit of volunteers not coming back to the organisation is loss of motivation.

So how do we keep volunteers motivated?

How do we keep them engaged in the organisation? One of the key practices followed by many successful volunteer management programs is Volunteer Recognition and Rewards.

Recognition practices need not be very elaborate. A genuine thank you at the right moment, a card on volunteer’s birthday or special anniversary or a social gathering for the entire volunteer team, are rewarding enough for most volunteers. More formal recognition methods could include certificates of appreciation, award ceremonies and/ or nomination for national level awards.

formal methods of volunteer recognition, volunteer motivation
formal means of volunteer recognition could include certificates of appreciation, nomination for volunteer awards etc

How to find the best way to recognize volunteers?

-recognition should match volunteer motivation

One way of doing this to find what motivates your volunteer and find meaningful ways to appropriately recognize those motivations. If a volunteers’ motivation is to contribute to the cause; an apt recognition could be to show (share stories; feature in newsletter etc) how his/ her involvement is making a difference. If his motivation is to explore new areas then it is important to recognize that motivation and give him a new role which may even need some training.

For example: I am an engineer and when I started contacting organisations for volunteering opportunities, everyone suggested that I help them with their IT – with maintaining excel and doc sheets; streamline processes etc. That is indeed important work and I would love it if my motivation for volunteering was to “utilize my existing skills”. But when I started, volunteering for me was to venture out into a different space and not sit in front of a computer which I anyway do in my job! So I finally volunteered with an organisation where they recognized my motivation and offered me the role of teaching children. And I stayed with them for 5 years until I moved from the city!

Below is a table showing some examples of how volunteer motivation can be supported and recognized in different situations:


matching volunteer recognition with volunteer motivation
matching volunteer recognition with volunteer motivation Source: Volunteer Alberta

-recognition should be in line with organisations core principles.

While rewards and recognition should be in line with the volunteer’s motivation, they should also be in line with the organisation’s core principles. For example, I volunteer a lot with an organisation called Friends Society. Friends Society is a largely volunteer run organisation and the basic idea is that this volunteer does not have a face or name but it’s a collective. When one leaves another comes to take his/ her place and work keeps happening. So rewards are those that are shared by all the volunteers like social gatherings, skills training workshops specifically for volunteers etc and not individual recognition.

volunteer recognition methods, informal ways of volunteer recognition, volunteer motivation
Informal ways of volunteer recognition are more spontaneous like a timely thank you or an occasional social gathering

Isn’t recognition like an incentive and thus against the spirit of selfless serving?

Volunteers do not necessarily want anything tangible (some may at most look for reimbursement on expenses or accommodation if they are moving to a new place) in return for their contribution but they need to feel that the organisation and the community they are working in, values their work. One may debate that volunteering in itself is rewarding and hence self-motivating. While organisations need to make sure that the volunteers have a meaningful experience and a chance of personal growth; a little effort towards making volunteers feel appreciated on an ongoing basis will make them feel more connected to and belong to the organisation.

What do you feel about volunteer recognition and rewards? How does your organisation recognize volunteers? Share your ideas and practices to help all of us learn newer and/ or different ways of effective volunteer management.

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