6 Occasions to Recognize Volunteers

Amid the daily task list of scheduling volunteers and running an organization, the importance of recognizing volunteers can get lost. But it's foundational to the health of any organization to recognize volunteers whenever possible. However, doing so without pre-determined reasons can lead to confusion or — worse yet — discouragement for those who go unnoticed. What's more, as leadership changes, it's easy to let volunteer recognition habits ebb and flow with the personality of leadership. But it doesn't have to be this way. With clear policies for when and how to recognize volunteers, your organization's volunteer recognition practices will become consistent, and with those practices, the feeling of appreciation among your volunteers.

1. Length of service

When volunteers commit to give of their time and energy, it should be a priority to recognize them. Take a look at your volunteer program to determine the best time intervals to recognize volunteers. For example, if your volunteers serve at events, perhaps you could recognize how many events they've served at. You can also recognize volunteers by the number of years they've served. If volunteer time varies with the seasons, perhaps you could track and recognize volunteers for the number of hours they served per season, as Theatrikos Theatre Company does for their volunteers each February.

2. Above and beyond

If you have clearly defined job descriptions for your volunteer roles, it should be easy to recognize when someone goes above and beyond. If a volunteer steps out of their predefined role to improve the organization in areas beyond their scope, this may warrant recognition. Additionally, if a volunteer is known to frequently accept sub requests or to fill in for another volunteer when they're out due to health or personal reasons, this may also be a great reason to recognize them for doing more than was required. Take a look at the scope of your program to determine if there are clear ways to identify when a volunteer has gone above and beyond. If you have trouble identifying possibilities, talk to your volunteers. They may provide insight into their roles, the expectations, and what it means to do more as a volunteer at your organization.

3. Onboarding

Although it may seem obvious to welcome those who are onboarding as volunteers, amid the hustle and bustle of all the work being done at your organization, this task can often get buried. Don't let it! This is a key time to recognize the courage and dedication it took for the volunteer to sign up with your organization. Be sure their name and face are familiar to the team by introducing them via email, in a meeting, or by posting an introduction to a bulletin board. Include their name, photo (if it's not an in-person introduction), role, title, and how they learned about the opportunity.

4. Change in role

On the surface, it might seem like a volunteer changing from one role to another doesn't create reason to recognize them, but this assumption is wrong. Often, when a volunteer changes roles, they're taking on more responsibility, and it's important to ensure that their hard work is recognized in more ways than just a new job description. Likewise, if a volunteer has served in a role with a lot of responsibilities and they choose to move to a less-demanding role, it's important to recognize them for all that they did during their previous tenure. Moreover, when volunteers transition roles, they are taking experience with them across the organization, strengthening the organization as they go. Why not highlight these healthy and exciting changes in your organization?

5. Transitioning out

Whenever a volunteer transitions out of their role altogether, it's important to share their contributions with others and to thank them for their service. Don't let your volunteers leave feeling as though the valuable time and energy they spent at your organization was unseen. Regardless of whether or not the recognition goes out as an email or an in-person thank you in a meeting, be sure to highlight how long they served, how they contributed (i.e., a summary of their role), and how they're involvement impacted the organization for the better.

6. National recognition days

Did you know that April 20 is Volunteer Recognition Day? It's a good idea to ensure that you recognize all your volunteers on this day. You may even choose to give out recognition certificates that highlight volunteers' unique contributions (e.g., "Most likely to volunteer with a smile" or "Most likely to recruit another volunteer"). Take a look at Globoforce's list of effective words to use for inspiration. Another approach could be to honor the day by sending an email or cards to thank volunteers for all they do to keep your organization thriving.

In conclusion

Taking a moment to reflect and plan how your organization will recognize volunteers is central to ensuring you're creating a healthy volunteer environment. Don't let those doing so much good for your organization feel unseen. It only takes a little forethought to ensure that each contribution to your organization receives the recognition and thank you that it deserves.

Want more inspiration? Take a look at the following resources to learn more about volunteer recognition.

Canva's recognition certificates
Energize's list of volunteer recognition resources
Wild Apricot's Volunteer Appreciation Guide

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