Volunteer Recognition

Give them a reason to be proud of their accomplishments

hidden for layout purposes

Recruitment, retention and recognition are intimately intertwined. Your recruit volunteers with retainment in mind, and recognition plays into both from the beginning.


Ideally, you will have some sort of a strategy in mind, and even if it’s “just” a paragraph or two, or a one-page plan. Before you even ask people to donate their time, you should think about what that entails, how you plan on keeping them, and what you plan to do to make them feel appreciated.

Making them feel appreciated is what this section is about. We could have also titled this part, “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” That is the core element of whatever you do with and for people who choose to spend their time with and for you. It’s pretty much that simple.

Or that is what you’d think, because more often than not, this is what volunteers end up with:

failed volunteer recognition

Don’t be that person or group. Give them a little more love than just a t-shirt. Don’t get us wrong: t-shirts are great, but they don’t replace a true, heartfelt “thank you”. That “thank you” can take many forms, and it’s what your volunteers return for. We’re highlighting a few of them here.

Make it a Surprise

Make it a point to drop in on your volunteers, and be sure to let them know how much you love them.

Ask for the Mayor’s Involvement

Get your city’s mayor to make some special proclamation for your top volunteer (or volunteers). Even though they didn’t ask for it, they will still appreciate it.

Capture the Moment

Have a photo booth at your volunteer appreciation event, or be sure that your event photographer captures your volunteers “in the act”. Then, use those great pictures to highlight the people without whom your event would not have been possible.

Send a Letter of Thanks and Recognition to the Volunteer’s Employer

Especially if their employer has volunteered them, this is an excellent way to say thanks to the working volunteer, especially when some of the donated time has been during regular business hours, courtesy of the employer. It also speaks to the volunteer’s integrity and work ethic.

Do Something Sweet for the Volunteer’s Family

This doesn’t mean that you have to give them tickets for a cruise. Extra t-shirts or memorabilia will suffice, if that is all you have. After all, when one member of the family volunteers for you, they can’t be with their family.  So the family is making a contribution as well.

Put Appreciation Event Photos on Your Website and Post Them on Your Social Media

When people sign up to volunteer for you, be sure to include a photo release. Use those photos not just to showcase your organization or event, but more importantly, use them to highlight the people who make it all possible.

Share a Gift of Love

Ask those served by your nonprofit, such as kids or students, to send personal thank-you notes, if possible. Other items like artwork, photos, poems, and so forth tend to make people happy.

Send Handwritten Notes of Appreciation

We live in an age of e-mail and instant messages. Conversely, handwritten notes, sent through the mail, have become rare. So when it happens, it’s noticed and appreciated.

Volunteer Hall of Fame

This ties into “Capture the Moment”. at the annual holiday party or whatever you choose to celebrate, introduce each volunteer and give them a souvenir.

Host an Event for the Families of Your Volunteers

Even if it’s just an “after party” following a big event, this will foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie.

Host a Milestone Event

Design a special recognition event for a retiring volunteer, somebody having or adopting a child, or whatever you feel like. Invite fellow volunteers, the volunteer’s family, friends, and associates as well as your staff. Stage brief skits that re-enact milestone events from the volunteer’s life.

Create a Scrapbook

This ties into “Capture the Moment”. Have staff and clients write comments and quotes about the difference volunteers make and have these printed in a booklet and mailed out, or at least post this on your website. Or share them at a recognition event. Include photos and brief descriptions of past volunteer projects.

Whatever you do, always keep in mind what makes volunteers happy. A meaningful task, and appreciation for doing it well are all it takes in the end.