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Recognition

Formally recognizing the hard work of your organization’s volunteers is an essential part of making them feel appreciated and accomplished. Think of it as a form of compensation for their efforts. There are many ways to recognize volunteers: from having a volunteer appreciation event, handing out awards, mentioning them in newsletters, to simply making a point of saying "thank you." There are options for all budgets, so be creative!

In an excerpt from her book, Leading Volunteers for Results: Building Communities Today, author Jeanne H. Bradner outlines many simple, but often overlooked best practices for recognizing volunteers: Recognizing Volunteers

Another strategy comes for volunteer management guru Susan Ellis. She suggests that instead of simply awarding volunteers for the time they’ve given, celebrate their collective accomplishments. Would you rather receive an award recognizing your “nine hours of service” or an award for “helping to feed over 100 families in the community”? Read more here: Celebrate Collective Accomplishments

For an over-view on planning an implementing volunteer recognition, go to this webinar.

Thanking volunteers

Volunteers expect to be seen and treated as individuals, not as a group. Avoid seeing a volunteer as just one of many. In as many ways as possible, treat each volunteer as a unique person. Here are some considerations for thanking volunteers.

Volunteer as one of many

Volunteer as unique

Impersonal: Gatherings or communications that thank people as a group

Personal: Thanking an individual volunteer.

Indirect: General statements expressing appreciation to the group

Direct. Communicates appreciation directly to the person.

Nonspecific: Few specifics about the impact of the volunteer’s contribution

Communicates specific information about the impact of the volunteer’s actions.

Formulaic: Standard statements applicable to or used with many people.

Authentic: unrehearsed and sincere statements

Supervision and dismissal

Much like paid staff, volunteers benefit from working with or under the supervision of someone who knows exactly what needs to be done and understands the bigger picture of the work. Placing someone in charge to supervise volunteers’ work can increase the value of their contributions by making sure that tasks are completed correctly, questions are answered, and that your organization is properly represented through volunteers' work and attitude (this is especially important when volunteers are working with an organization's clients in the community).

This may seem like a no-brainer, but volunteers who are consistently completing tasks incorrectly or not completing their assigned work at all, create a problem for an organization and must be dismissed. Ineffective volunteers can cause all kinds of problems, from tension with staff members to displeased clients. While the majority of issues like these can be avoided with screening, proper training, and supervision, the time may come when an organization simply must “fire” a volunteer.

Like any other disciplinary action, firing a volunteer is delicate task and must be handled with the same care you would use when deciding to let go of a staff member. It can be especially strange to discipline or fire someone who has offered his or her time and service for free. The same is true for volunteer board members.

CASA for Children shares How to Fire a Volunteer and Live to Tell About It.

University of Texas faculty member Sarah Jane Rehnborg, Ph.D offers additional advice in her article, aptly titled: A Few Pointers on the Unpleasant Topic of Firing Volunteers.

Volunteer feedback

Volunteers’ time can be an extremely valuable asset to your organization; a volunteer’s time is also very valuable to the volunteer. So it’s important to regularly assess how the volunteer feels about their position. Is the work meaningful? Is the work fun or worthwhile? What could be improved? What’s working well?

By asking these questions you’re not only acknowledging the volunteer by asking for their opinion, but also uncovering flaws and problems as well as strengths in your program. It’s a good idea to create a standardized survey for your volunteers to fill out after they have completed their service. If they’re in ongoing positions, conduct an annual survey to collect feedback. By taking the time to assess and evaluate your programs, you make them more sustainable by limiting repeated mistakes, fixing errors, and maintaining the quality of elements that are already working.

Here’s an example of a short survey for volunteers used by the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center volunteer program: Volunteer Feed Back Form

501 Commons does an annual 501 Commons Volunteer Survey to gain feedback and insight from volunteers about our programs.

Along with conducting a program evaluation with the volunteer, consider conducting individual performance reviews for volunteers. This can help maintain high standards for your program. 

Return to Topics in Volunteer Management Guide.