Volunteer recognition by generation

Generational differences influence how people seek recognition.

Points of Light’s National Volunteer Week is April 12-18, 2015, and is a great reminder about the importance of recognizing volunteers, which is an important part of a successful 4-H experience. Volunteers need to be recognized for their contributions to a program because it meets a human need of feeling appreciated, which in turn motivates them to continue their involvement. Volunteers seek recognition for a variety of reasons, and it is important to understand the reasons behind how different generations of volunteers like to be recognized.

The Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration has created a simple document for recognizing volunteers based on their generation. They are grouped into the following categories:

  • The Silent Generation (1925-1945)
  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Generation X (1965-1980)
  • Millennials (1981-present)

Volunteers who fall in the silent generation are motivated by public and formal recognition events. Honoring years of service, pins, certificates and useful items are ideas on how to recognize people who fall into this generation.

Baby boomers seek recognition that will recognize their leadership, expertise, hard work or commitment to a program. If your 4-H council members are baby boomers, consider ordering name tags with their name and position on your council. They also like to be highlighted in newsletters, notes of thanks for sharing their time, and don’t like meaningless trinkets.

Generation X volunteers look to be recognized for their creativity or contributions. For this group, consider notes of appreciation through a card or e-mail, but avoid public recognition events. Find ways to include their family if they have children, and take the time to connect with them in one-on-one settings.

Lastly, millennial volunteers seek recognition that will recognize their collaborative efforts. This generation does not like traditional recognition events, but does like to recognized and rewarded. Providing feedback, a verbal thank you, reference letters and ensuring appreciation is shown in close proximity to what someone is being recognized for are some ways to distinguish this group.

As volunteer managers, we also need to remember just because a person falls into a certain generation does not necessarily categorize how they like to be recognized. It is important to use varied approaches for recognizing volunteers. Take the time to learn what your volunteers like. Have some type of recognition that is meaningful to them.

For more information about volunteering, visit the Michigan State University Extension Volunteering and Mentoring page.

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