Tips for Recognizing Your Volunteers

By Donna Lockhart
February 17, 2007

Think about volunteer recognition in the same way that you think about planning your events throughout the year. The most important ingredient is designing the "recognition to fit the volunteer."

"Informal thanks" is considered to be the "Heart of Recognition."

If your volunteers are working directly with your residents, help the resident to understand the importance of a personal thank you. Talk to the volunteer about changes you have seen in the resident as a way of acknowledging the difference they are making to their lives. Help other staff to understand the importance of smiling and taking an interest in the volunteers - they are the "unpaid" staff of your organization.

Consider a Recognition Cycle such as:

  • When they sign up: This may be as simple as a welcome letter/note. Or a thank you from the Executive Director when you take them on their facility tour.
  • On a daily or weekly basis: Take time to talk, smile and say we missed you.
  • Each Month: Highlight a volunteer of the month, articles in your newsletter. Post a picture of a new volunteer on a central bulletin board.
  • On an Annual Basis: Special events, pot luck suppers, certificates if appropriate. Have residents build a 'thank you card' as a banner for the event.
  • Upon completion of a special assignment: Fill a wine glass with candy and attach a card with the message "A toast to a job well done".
  • Special Occasions: Remember to give/send a card for birthdays, on the anniversary of being a new recruit or a special date in the volunteer's life. Recognition does not have to cost a lot - with the great computer card making programs out there, even residents could make and print personalized cards!
  • When they leave: Something meaningful as a personal reminder and invitation to return; an exit interview.

Volunteers want to feel accepted and know that their contribution is valued. Someone in the organization should be designated as responsible for ensuring that ongoing recognition takes place. The key to effective recognition is gaining an understanding of the kind of recognition will be most meaningful and therefore most appreciated. You get to know this when you get to know each volunteer. Then you can target your recognition to them!

Donna Lockhart is a trainer and consultant with The RETHINK Group. Her focus is on "developing volunteer capacity." Donna designed the CharityVillage Building a Great Volunteer Program campus course. She facilitates a wide range of workshops and training sessions in volunteer engagement. For more information visit:

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