COVID-19 Resources

Shine a Light on Volunteers with These Recognition Ideas

By Daniella Norris • April 22, 2020

Volunteers are an integral part of association success. In light of National Volunteer Week, it’s fitting that we properly recognize these individuals. How can your association fully convey a sense of gratitude and pride in the way members and contributors give back? Does a pat on the back suffice? Is a full-fledged gala needed? What steps can you take to make sure volunteers are recognized in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis when events can’t take place? Before you employ any congratulatory methods, consider the tips below:

Types of Volunteer Recognition

Consider which type of volunteer recognition fits your association’s character and budget. Volunteer recognition – broadly defined – can be formal, informal, or a combination of the two.

Formal Volunteer Recognition

These awards are typically structured in a way that those vying for them know what requirements must be fulfilled. Driven by management, formal awards should reflect your association’s values and other relevant association goals. Typically, formal awards match a corporate and formal business style and are centered on material or financial incentives. Additionally, formal awards kindle an elite aura around the individual recipient. They’re usually given out through a public platform viewed by many, which should also motivate volunteers. Examples include:

  • Tiered awards
  • Hall of Fame designation/curation
  • Awards banquet

Informal Volunteer Recognition

Appealing to volunteers in a more personal way, informal awards are best for laid-back or casual association business styles. These incentives are socially-oriented in the way they are carried out, but can still be driven by volunteers’ desire to achieve a certain professional/social status. Volunteer recognition of this nature is more spontaneous but could occur on a regular basis.

Examples include:

  • Peer-to-peer (saying “thank you” or encouraging team members to be supportive of one another)
  • Taking your volunteer team out to lunch or dinner
  • Treating volunteers to show or event tickets
  • Treats (cookies, donuts, etc.) or gift cards

Allocate Funds

Set a budget for volunteer events based on how many award events your association wants to hold, how frequently you wish to show recognition, and the quality of any tangible awards, as well as the costs of informal recognition methods. Acknowledgements on your website and social media, along with other types of written recognition like “thank you” notes, will not cost much money, though you’ll want to invest enough time to make them custom and meaningful. However, award banquets, social events, plaques, and gift incentives may require a more thoughtful approach to your budget.

Selecting for Volunteer Recognition

The spontaneity of informal recognition means that you may not need to plan as far ahead or give as much thought to costs associated. However, formal awards programs and recognition events will require more discussion. Some things to consider: whether travel costs to/from awards banquets are covered for recipients, the nomination process, marketing and promotion, and the type of award that will be given. Even with a virtual awards ceremony, there are costs and logistics to plan for.

Depending on how many volunteers participate in your association, you could have overall, departmental or group/team recognition practices. Defining some kind of structural system for giving formal recognition will help your association to remember to cover all departments, and it will ensure that outstanding and hardworking individuals are not overlooked. Your volunteers will feel more motivated knowing there is a sound system in place.

Volunteer Motivation

Why do people feel the need to be recognized? The internal solace volunteerism gives its participants may not be enough. People want to:

  • Feel appreciated
  • Gain a sense of pride
  • Grow professionally
  • Contribute in a meaningful way

Keep these things in mind when deciding who to recognize and how to recognize them. Effectively touching on these perceived needs can lead to increased productivity and could encourage your association’s volunteers to continue to be creative and dedicate their time to your association.

Keep in mind that your association should recognize the person, not the work. Great work is not created in a vacuum. It requires a thoughtful and innovative human presence. Knowing how to give your volunteers adequate praise is important. Choose your words with care when recognizing volunteers verbally and in writing.

For additional information, check out this article about employee recognition messages.

Consider the Times We Live in Now

There are situations in our lives we are not fully prepared for, such as the current one with COVID-19. Going forward, it may be wise to plan alternate events or make sure you have ways of recognizing volunteers when in-person gatherings aren’t possible. In these instances, make sure to consider the following:

  • Recognize innovative ideas: There are those members of your association that have gone above and beyond to help others cope with being at home, losing loved ones, and finding a “new normal.” Make sure they are receiving proper recognition, and that their ideas and good works are being shared.
  • Utilize digital communication channels: For important announcements, members are easier to reach than ever at home and online. Amp up recognition on your existing digital channels or test out new ones, such as podcasts, video, e-newsletters and social media, where you can easily highlight your members’ contributions in a fun, visual and immediate way.
  • Remain socially conscious: Find ways to recognize volunteers without dwarfing the gravity of the situation. It is important to maintain some semblance of a normal routine, so it is not necessary to edit the message itself. Instead, bolster your acknowledgements of volunteer excellence with continued information regarding COVID-19. In this way, you remain sensitive and committed to your association members’ achievements.
  • Take the celebration online: Still feeling like you want to gather your members together, but unsure how to proceed in a way that’s above all safe? Consider hosting a virtual awards ceremony.

Ultimately, the strategies you implement for volunteer recognition should fit the needs of your organization. While these may vary, one thing that remains constant is your appreciation for volunteers. Ensuring you are effectively showing your appreciation is something that should be at the forefront of your mind year-round, but especially during National Volunteer Week.

About The Author

Daniella Norris is a corporate marketing intern with Naylor Association Solutions.