Nobody Needs Another Frickin Keychain!

Post Last Updated: 2 years ago

April is home to National Volunteer Week April 23rd - 29th.  It is a time when our attention focuses on volunteers.  It is a time to recognize and celebrate volunteers for their generous and impactful service performed throughout the year.  So what makes for a great recognition for volunteers?

Every volunteer is a unique individual who volunteers in a unique way for their own unique reason.  Do you see a trend?  Volunteers are unique.  They may serve in the same position with the same tasks and responsibilities, but each volunteer will bring their own special qualities to their service.  Their service may be like other volunteers, but each volunteer will make it their own.  Honoring their unique contribution makes for the most rewarding and impactful recognition for volunteers.

If volunteers serve in a unique way, why is so much recognition based on doing the same generic thing for each volunteer?  Yes, we want to be fair and equitable, but volunteers contribute in different ways and to different degrees.  Is it fair and equitable to provide the same recognition to the volunteer who contributed 1000 hours of service last year as the volunteer who contributed only 100 hours?  Is it fair and equitable to provide the same recognition to the volunteer who raised $100 for the race event as the volunteer who chaired the race planning committee; spent 6 months planning the event, recruited and oversaw 100 volunteers at the event, interacted with the local media, promoted in social media, raised $2000, and secured 4 event sponsors?  I think you see my point.

For volunteer recognition to be meaningful, it must be personalized.  It doesn’t mean you need to do something unique for each and every volunteer, although that would be the most impactful.  It does mean that volunteer recognition needs to be about the volunteer; who they are and the impact of their service.  Match the recognition for a volunteer to their service; the degree and impact.  This can be accomplished in many ways that can accommodate any size or type of volunteer program.  Here are a few suggestions, but feel free to be creative and customize it to your volunteer program.

Degree of Service

  1. Create a tier of volunteer recognition based on the number of hours served last year, years served or combination of both metrics. For example:
    1. If you host a recognition event, set a minimum number of hours to attend, another level to be able to bring a guest and the highest level for the volunteer and guest to sit with VIPs in a prime location.
    2. If you give a token gift, establish levels of service to correspond with least expensive to most expensive gift.
    3. Give awards based on a range service hours rather than specific hours so that other volunteers are motivated reflects to achieve a higher level.
    4. If you do a slide show during a recognition event or a printed program, add a descriptive characteristic about the volunteer or even better share a paragraph that reflects upon the individual.  More hours or years, add more paragraphs.

Impact of Service

  1. Honor your volunteer by telling the story of how they made a difference and the impact of their service.
    1. Highlight impact stories in your organization’s publications, your department’s newsletter, on the bulletin board in your office, in the program at a recognition event, in your organization’s social media and your donor solicitations.
    2. At your recognition event, give awards based on areas of impact rather than hours or years.  Awards for things like Taught Critical Skills, Shared Joy, Provided vital service, Saved Staff Time, Implemented Cost-saving strategies, etc.
    3. Arrange a presentation to the Board of Directors by a volunteer on a volunteer’s impact or a panel of volunteers sharing impact stories.
    4. Arrange coffee or lunch with the Executive Director, CEO, management staff or the Volunteer Manager, whichever would be most meaningful to the volunteer.
    5. Write a personal note of thanks and appreciation to a volunteer citing their impact and why it was so important.  This is always a winner!  Volunteers want and need to know that their contribution makes a difference and why.

These are only a few ideas to provide a more personalized recognition to each volunteer.  There are many factors that will determine what works best for your program; number of volunteers, planning time available, budget, and most importantly, what will matter to the volunteer.

Recognizing volunteers in a personalized and meaningful way results in your volunteer being satisfied, more likely to continue volunteering and continue in a more engaged meaningful way that provides more service, more donations, and more impact for your organization. Real recognition is the recognition that volunteers prefer and has the best return on your investment in recognition. 

Make your recognition real this National Volunteer Week!

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