How to Recognize and Celebrate Volunteers

Let's face it, volunteers like to be recognized and celebrated in some way - big or small. Some really love it! As leaders, we might not be the best at recognizing and celebrating our volunteers. What can we learn about recognition and what are tangible ideas to recognize team members?

The LSU AG Center says there are seven principles guiding recognition:

  1. Emphasize success rather than failure.
  2. Deliver recognition and reward in an open, public way.
  3. Deliver recognition in a personal and honest manner. Avoid providing recognition that is "too" slick and overproduced.
  4. Tailor your recognition and reward to the unique needs of the people involved. 
  5. Timing is crucial. Reward contribution close to the time an achievement is realized. Time delays weaken the impact of most rewards. 
  6. Strive for a clear, unambiguous and well communicated connection between accomplishments and rewards. Be sure people understand why they receive rewards and the criteria used to make the decision.
  7. Recognize recognition. That is, recognize people who recognize others for doing what's best for the organization.

How do you get the Team Leaders to recognize and celebrate team members?

  • Model it
  • Do it with them
  • Watch them do it
  • Recognize and celebrate them for modeling it

What are ways to recognize volunteers, whether there is a big budget, small budget, or no budget at all?

Inexpensive or free ways to recognize and celebrate a volunteer:

  • In your team meeting, tell everyone what someone (call their name/point them out) did and the impact it had to the event and/or the organization.
  • Write them a personal thank you note. Be specific.
  • Send them a text message. Be specific.
  • Give them a hug, handshake, fist bump, etc.
  • Give away a bag of Starburst and tell them they are a star (cheesy, I know).
  • Walk slowly through the crowd. When you see them doing something positive, immediately acknowledge it in front of other team members.
  • Ask them to recruit a team member just like them. 
  • Share their story with everyone.
  • Send a note to the team member's spouse (if applicable) to let them know you recognize how awesome they are on the team.
  • Give them an applicable book, IF they love to read.
  • Mentions and thanks on social media.
  • Give a mirror and say that you are looking at the best volunteer (cheesy, I know).

Medium ways to recognize and celebrate a volunteer:

  • Send them a $5 gift card with a personal note. Be specific.
  • Create a monthly newsletter where you recognize someone for doing something specific.
  • Give them additional responsibility.
  • Create a "I Like What You Did" box where team members can nominate another team member. Select one winner per month and give them a "I Like" foam thumb.
  • Take them to have coffee or a meal.
  • Ask them if they are interested in serving in a leadership role.
  • Invite them to help you lead orientations/training for new team members.

Big ways to recognize and celebrate a volunteer:

  • Throw and an all-star dinner and awards show. 
  • Provide them with team branded items (jacket, shirt, computer case, etc). 
  • Take them for a fun outing (Top Golf, movie, manicure & pedicure, etc).
A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead