She Said, He Said—Article #1 on Why Volunteer Recognition Is Still Stuck in the 20th Century “So, What’s This Blog Series All About, Anyway?”

Post Last Updated: 2 years ago

Linda Llewellyn of Celebrate Volunteers ( and Barry Altland of Head, Heart and Hands Engagement Collective ( team together to address one of the biggest “misses” in the Volunteer Engagement profession today—Recognition.  Through a series of blog articles, Linda and Barry will tackle the what, why and how that has led the profession to this leadership shortfall, and what we can collectively do about it to get this Recognition train back on the tracks.  Read the series to support your own professional development as a Leader of Volunteer Engagement (LoVE)!  


“So, What’s This Blog Series All About, Anyway?”   


Hey, Linda and Barry, why bother to tackle this topic in this blog article series?  What’s the big deal, anyway?  Things in Recognition-Land are fine as they are, right?  Wrong.  They have been a mess.  For a long time.  And, likely, you, volunteer coordinator/administrator/manager/title du jour, may be a big part of the problem.  Read on. 


That’s What She Said . . .

Leading volunteers is a rewarding profession . . . an opportunity to work with talented, compassionate people who make a positive impact in the lives of others, and in your community.  Working in this profession is the chance to truly make a difference with lasting impact.

As a Leader of Volunteer Engagement (LoVE), one of the first things you learn about your work are the three R’s--recruitment, retention and recognition.  Each “R” is required in a volunteer program; Recruitment to attract new volunteers, Retention to keep your best volunteers, and Recognition to thank and appreciate volunteers. The three R’s are the foundation of a successful volunteer program. 

It seems so simple.  So clear cut.  Hah!  This approach is anything but simple and clear cut.  It’s a veritable recipe for a volunteer program, but a recipe must have the right amount of each ingredient, mixed together in just the right way, or you’ll have an inedible cake that is as hard as a rock.  A volunteer program with the wrong mix of Recruitment, Retention and Recognition will also be ineffective.  Unsuccessful.  Not impactful.

Many LoVEs struggle to get the mix of the R’s just right, especially when they are trying to prepare a perfect, tasty cake.  The biggest mistake made by LoVEs is when they invest a disproportionate amount of time and resources on Recruitment; trying to fill a position, plug a hole, when they should be investing more in Retention and Recognition.

Retention and Recognition practices must, hand-in-hand, receive greater emphasis to achieve the best result.  They are the ingredients that not only hold the cake together, but add sweetness for that delicious flavor.  Your organization will never have an effective volunteer program unless you are investing the majority your time and resources in diverse, strategic and innovative Retention and Recognition practices.

So, let’s address those “strategic,” “innovative” Recognition practices.  If you’ve been giving a token gift of appreciation, a tchotchke, and think that choosing a different gift for your volunteers this year is change, you are baking a rock.  If you’ve been hosting a recognition event, where the only thing that shifts annually is the theme and the type of chicken served, your cake has fallen flat. If you believe that you only need to do recognition during National Volunteer Week, don’t bother turning on the oven. 

Recognition is a critical component of your Retention practices.  Innovation in Recognition is the key to engaging volunteers to create impact for your mission.  The Recognition recipe must be orchestrated with culinary expertise to create a delectable dessert delight!    

Over the coming weeks, Barry and I will be exploring the biggest issues with the recipe for Recognition that keep you from entering Cake Wars.  Our writing will offer fresh ideas that will turn you into a Master Baker with a cake recipe that will have others standing in line, fork in hand!  In other words, you, the LoVE, will be ready to make an indelible impact on your volunteers in the 21st century!

That’s What He Said . . .

That Linda.  Linda, Linda, Linda.  She is being nice.  “Sweet,” even (obligatory, gratuitous cake reference).

Here is the deal, people.  Leaders of all types have been screwing the pooch on this Recognition thing for decades.  In my twenty-five years of corporate life, I saw countless Recognition programs, each with its merits and its downfalls.  Not one of them ever got this Recognition deal-io right.  And here is why. 

Because Recognition is not a damn program.  Recognition is also not an item.  Recognition is not an event.  It’s not a plaque.  Or a certificate.  Recognition is not a day.  Or a week.  And it sure isn’t a superlative (as in “. . . of the Month,” “. . . of the Year,” etc.)

Well then, Mr. Smarty Pants, Leadership Guru, Author, Learning Facilitator, Non-Profit Executive, Consultant Dude . . . what is Recognition? 

Glad you asked.  Recognition is an organizational philosophy.  It is a cultural tenet.  It is a leadership practice.  It is something you offer from the heart, so that it touches another’s heart.  Recognition is the words you choose.  Strategic, intentional, purposeful, artfully crafted words that express genuine value for the gifts shared by a volunteer.  And, Recognition is something in which an effective leader engages, every day. 

Yes.  That is what this blog series is all about.  Linda and I are about to poke a big ol’ hole in your beliefs regarding Recognition, some of which you cling to as though your life depended upon it.  Well, let it go.  Let it go.  Let it go.  (See, now you are singing it, too).        

Do you dare go along for this wild and bumpy ride that may challenge the very core of your notions on how to honor the work of your volunteers?  You have nothing to fear . . . but fear itself.  And Linda will address those fears in the next article in the blog series.  Who knows?  You may learn a lil’ sumpin’ that just may help you touch the souls of more volunteers who choose to serve with you and your organization.  Because, they do choose.  Every day, they choose to be present.  Never forget that. 

Oh, and one more thing.  Did anybody else notice that Linda said “Master Baker?”  No?  Just me?  Never mind then.     


About the Writers . . .

Celebrate Volunteers, founded by Linda Llewellyn, provides a showcase for non-profits, schools, civic and religious organizations and corporate employee groups to thank, appreciate and recognize their volunteers by sharing the story of who they are and the impact of their service. We provide a spotlight of honor where volunteers shine.  To learn more, visit


Head, Heart and Hands Engagement Collective was inspired by a simple notion:  Leaders of Volunteer Engagement need help.  They benefit from guidance.  They deserve support.  They require resources.  They must be provided professional development to be prepared to create meaningful, fulfilling experiences for volunteers who serve alongside their organization.  And, Barry Altland applies his nearly thirty years of leadership development expertise to offer that, and more, to LoVEs.  See it all at     

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