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3 Things To Think About When Recognizing Your Volunteers

Posted By Sammy Feilchenfeld, Training Coordinator, November 17, 2015
Updated: November 16, 2015
 

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes 

 

As Volunteer Toronto’s Training Coordinator, one of the questions I hear more than any other is “how do I recognize my volunteers?” With the United Nations International Volunteer Day fast approaching on December 5th, this is the perfect time to think about meaningful ways to thank your volunteers! We have a lot of resources and online courses on this topic, but volunteer needs and wants change all the time - the person best suited to know what kind of recognition your volunteers want is…you!

Let me break down what the research says first. In a recent survey from Volunteer Canada, we found that volunteers prefer, more than anything, to be told about the impact of their work. After that, they want to be thanked in-person, informally and prefer informal events over letters and formal events.

When organizations were asked what kind of recognition they like to give volunteers, they put thanking them informally at the top too, but follow that with letters and formal events. Based on this research, it looks like organizations and volunteers aren’t on the same page when it comes to recognition!

We know recognizing volunteers helps them feel appreciated, valued and like integral members of your team, but the wrong recognition may send the wrong message. If you have lots of volunteers, you don’t want to relegate your recognition to impersonal form letters.

 
 Graph taken from Volunteer Canada's Volunteer Recognition Study

 


So how do you recognize your volunteers in a meaningful way?

 

1. Get to know their motivations
People volunteer for many different reasons. Get to know why they’re there and what keeps them returning. Maybe your volunteers are looking for more social interactions or to gain skills for their careers. Can you think of some recognition methods that could serve those motivations? For example, if they're looking for work, a reference letter would be a great form of recognition that matches their motivations!

2. Get to know their work
Even though you may have many volunteer roles that do a lot of different things, get an idea of what your volunteers are actually doing, and how that serves your mission, to make your recognition relevant. Don’t just thank them for their work, thank them for the specific thing they did that day that made an impact!

3. Get to know their preferences
As the Volunteer Canada survey noted, it’s important to recognize your volunteers in the way they prefer. Ask your volunteers what kind of recognition they’d appreciate, and do your best to cater to that. Maybe your annual banquet can be skipped in favour of a more meaningful means of recognition.

 

It’s easy to informally recognize your volunteers every day in a meaningful way. Treat volunteers as team members and ask for their input. Ask your volunteers if they are satisfied, allow room for them to grow and make them aware of other volunteer contributions (and their impact). Most importantly – and probably most easily too – take the time to say thank you, especially on December 5, International Volunteer Day!

Check out Volunteer Toronto's online learning centre to get more recognition tips!  

 

As Volunteer Toronto's Training Coordinator, Sammy develops and delivers in-person, online and on-demand training in order to support managers and coordinators of volunteers in Toronto’s non-profit and charitable organizations. 

Tags:  how to thank your volunteers  Thanking your volunteers  Volunteer appreciation  Volunteer recognition  volunteer retention  what kind of recognition do volunteers want? 

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