How will you recognize your volunteers?

Volunteers have different preferences for recognition. Get to know them and their motivational styles when choosing how to recognize their efforts.

Just as the motivation for doing things is different for everyone, the desire for recognition is also different for everyone. Recognition is an important part of volunteer programs, but one that is often given little thought or is simply an afterthought. However, in today’s fast-paced world where volunteers can easily share their time with a variety of organizations, many are now paying attention. As a volunteer, you may be paying attention because you are more carefully watching how the funds you contribute are being allocated. This can be a difficult balance for organizations that may be working with up to four generations of volunteers, all having different preferences for recognition.

We need to take into account the motivations that brought those volunteers to the organization. Did they join us to make a difference in their community, meet personal goals, get acquainted with people in the community, or influence others? You can find out more about the three major types of motivation for volunteers in the following Michigan State University Extension articles: “What motivates you? Affiliation,” “What motivates you? Achievement” and “What motivates you? Influence.”

For those motivated by achievement and many from the silent generation, plaques, certificates, pins and tangible awards may have great appeal. They may enjoy the annual volunteer banquet, a recognition program at a site where they volunteer or being recognized for achieving certain results.

The volunteer who enjoys being part of the group and being socially active may enjoy wearing the logo the day of the event and expect nothing else in return for the efforts. Those motivated by affiliation and many millennials may enjoy the social media posts, group pictures and the energy of being together during the service event. Being connected to others and the organization is recognition in its own realm.

Being seated with the president of the university, having a photo with the guest of honor, being named volunteer of the year or having the chance to hand out all of the awards at the annual banquet can be perfect recognition for the volunteer who is motivated by influence.

It is important to remember that recognition can be tangible and intangible. Sometimes it is the little things that matter most to our volunteers and that is true for all generations: the handshakes, kind words, smiles, thank-you notes, gift cards, photos, small tokens, snacks at meetings and asking about their families. Consider what matters to you, what would make you feel appreciated? Do you remember the last time you saw a volunteer smile. What triggered that smile? Consider if it was a thank-you from a child, a thank-you note they received, a chocolate mug, an invitation to lunch or a high five. This can provide you with some insight.

When talking to volunteers, don’t be afraid to ask them how they would like to be recognized. Years ago, the volunteer banquet was popular and well-attended, but this may not be the case today. What is realistic for your organization and for you as a manager? Eating lunch with a volunteer can be a form of recognition that allows you to enjoy time with a volunteer and shows your appreciation.

Never be afraid to say thank you, offer a hand written note or post a note to a social media account of appreciation to all that made your event a success. You could also post a photo on Instagram and tag the individuals who volunteered.

Remember, volunteers should not be pigeon-holed into a slot based on their motivational style or their generation, but instead get to know them as an individuals. Motivations and preferences change over time, so reevaluate where volunteers are periodically. Volunteers make our organizations great and help us reach our goals.

Plan now for National Volunteer Week, April 23-29, 2017, and use one of many opportunities to recognize those who make your organization great!

MSU Extension utilizes volunteers is many ways across the great state of Michigan and each county recognizes them in numerous ways. If you would like to find out more about volunteering in your county, contact your local MSU Extension office.


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