Volunteer recognition: How are people motivated?

Article two on volunteer recognition: Different motivational orientations of volunteers including achievement, affiliation and power.

Volunteer recognition should be tailored to the individual’s preferences. How do you know what kind of recognition your volunteer would like? There are three main categories of motivation for volunteers:  achievement, affiliation and power.

The Michigan 4-H Recognition Handbook notes that achievers like tangible rewards that specifically mark accomplishments. This might be a plaque or certificate highlighting the number of hours or years served or funds raised for the program. Affiliators like recognition that emphasizes the relationships they have created.  They like to have family and friends there to celebrate their accomplishments and often enjoy letters of appreciation. Power-motivated volunteers like to be recognized in a way that might influence others to join the cause and may like to be highlighted in media pieces about the program. 

Many of the traditional ways that we show our thanks to volunteers are geared towards the needs of achievement oriented volunteers. These volunteers want to accomplish goals and appreciate acknowledgement when they have completed a task. They will likely appreciate the plaque or certificate that honors their efforts. They value public recognition and are likely to show up at an awards ceremony or similar affair. School or site based programs may consider honoring these volunteers with a display at the school or site. These volunteers may be interested in letters of reference that highlight their unique skills or letters sent to a boss or family members acknowledging the time and talent that the volunteer brings to the program.

Volunteers who are motivated by affiliation want to feel like part of the team. These volunteers appreciate frequent and sincere thanks given through conversation, personal notes and small gifts. They may not be as comfortable with the public recognition, but would love a chance to socialize with other volunteers, program staff, families and youth and may feel more connected if given a name badge, t-shirt or other items that link them with the program. Motivated volunteers like to work as a team and appreciate words like “we” and “us.” Consider including a public listing of volunteers in a newsletter or on the web page- preferably with a group picture.

Power motivated volunteers are usually appreciative of public praise and enjoy the opportunity to take on leadership roles and like to have a title for these roles. You may consider inviting them to chair a committee, join an advisory board or lead a group activity. They take great pride in telling others about the organization and the importance of the work that is done, thus they can be great recruiters and feel honored to be asked to do so. Power motivated volunteers appreciate a chance to be photographed with VIPs, whether that is the executive director, principal or perhaps a keynote speaker. They are more likely to be moved by a merit based award such as “Volunteer of the Year” and feel included when they have the ability to provide input and feel that they are listened to and part of the decision making process to some extent.

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