The complete guide to creating a volunteer recognition program

by | May 3, 2022 | Articles, Blog

Volunteers matter immensely in our communities across the globe. Without them, the nonprofit sector would lose pace. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, a quarter of US adults volunteered in 2017, contributing about 8.8 billion hours. 

That’s an incredible contribution! 

Volunteers provide a number of help and services, which can include:

  • Implementing their specialised skill to help an organisation with a gap in that skillset 
  • Providing a varied range of ideas, experience and knowledge
  • Infusing passion and enthusiasm
  • Devoting undivided attention to the communities they’re serving
  • Reducing the organisation’s operating costs
  • Building relationships within the community

If you use regular volunteers, you know just how much value they can bring to your organisation or community. While it’s not likely these volunteers are in it for the glory, it can certainly be a nice gesture to provide recognition for their efforts.

How then can you regularly and creatively acknowledge these amazing folks who help you make a good impact in the world? 

What is a volunteer recognition program and why does it matter? 

A volunteer recognition program is a well-crafted plan laid out by an organisation to celebrate the accomplishments and impact of its volunteers. It’s a highly effective way to demonstrate gratitude and applaud the work of your tireless volunteers.

 Volunteer recognition is crucial because it:

  • Improves the mood of the volunteers, making them more productive
  • Creates emotional and mental satisfaction 
  • Boosts volunteer engagement
  • Improves your organisation’s reputation and image
  • Reduces volunteer turnover

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How to create a volunteer recognition program

Creating a plan for your recognition program can lend it credibility and give it staying power in your organisation. Here are some tested pointers to help you develop a successful volunteer recognition program. 

1. Understand volunteerism and prioritise recognition

Any plan to acknowledge volunteers should begin with a good understanding of volunteerism. As volitional as the act of committing time and labour in service to the community might seem, there’s usually an underlying motivating factor. 

So, to begin with, you might want to consider the various reasons people actively volunteer. Motivations could include:

Equally important is prioritising recognition in your organisation. It’s important to recognise both paid and unpaid work toward your mission and goals. 

Therefore, it behoves you to instil a culture of recognition. Educate your team on the importance of demonstrating gratitude. Also, implement practices in daily interaction to ensure your volunteers feel valued as they support your organisation.   

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2. Know your volunteers and their expectations

To create a solid volunteer recognition program, it’s helpful to know who your volunteers are. With concrete information on the traits of your volunteers, you’ll be better equipped to modify the recognition program to suit them.

Are they coming from your industry or community? Are they young or advanced in age? Do they have a lot or little experience? 

Understanding the motivations and background of your volunteers will show thoughtfulness and care and help your recognition program be more effective in the long run. After all, if you don’t make efforts to create a befitting and bespoke volunteer recognition program, have you truly demonstrated gratitude?

A tailored-fit program passes a strong message.        

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3. Define the goals of your volunteer recognition program

To create a good volunteer recognition program, you should categorise what you hope to accomplish. Just like in every aspect of life, creating a volunteer recognition program without clear goals and objectives increases the risk of steering off course.

Itemise the targets you hope to hit; it will save you from befuddling and wasting everyone’s time.

Creating a volunteer recognition program can help:

  • Expand your reach and attract more volunteers
  • Boost your organisation’s image and reputation
  • Acknowledge the volunteers who rallied to support your cause
  • Build a loyal volunteer base
  • Keep your team excited to appreciate the efforts of the valued volunteers

With well-defined goals, after implementing the recognition program, you won’t be confused as to how well it performed. You’d ascertain what worked as well as the areas that could use more tweaking.     

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4. Draw up your plan

The next port of call is to design a strategy for the volunteer recognition program. Just as treasure hunters need maps to get to their treasure, so do you need a well-thought strategy to help you and your team attain the goals you hope to achieve through your volunteer recognition program.

A plan for a volunteer recognition program is typically multi-faceted. Let’s consider the various facets. 


Decide on how much resources you hope to spend on volunteer recognition. Having a budget in place ensures proper management of funds and all-around effective planning. While having a budget isn’t compulsory, it can help you do more in your recognition efforts. And setting a budget can keep you on target.  


When drawing up your strategy, decide on how often you’d like to recognise your volunteers. Actually, recognition should be woven into your organisation’s daily culture. But this isn’t always possible and is usually not scalable. 

But it’s a good idea to create more pronounced forms of recognition. This could be a big yearly event or more frequent smaller ceremonies. Whichever it is, just make sure that it won’t become too common that it loses its spark or so rare that it doesn’t serve your purposes.     

Types of recognition:

How do you want to recognise your volunteers?

Will the recognition be a small yet significant display of appreciation? This type of recognition is typically termed informal recognition. Some informal volunteer recognition ideas include:

  • Words of appreciation – what you say to volunteers for recognition can be quite impactful. Whether it’s “thank you”, “you did a splendid job” or “that was awesome”, it’s important to say it when it’s due.
  • Spending time with your volunteers. It doesn’t hurt to have a moment or two with your supporters, whether it’s during a break at work, during the weekend (if they’d like that), or on the way home after work. Such personal moments are enough to pour out your heartfelt gratitude to them for their good work. 
  • Regular check-ins. They are a wonderful opportunity to know if your volunteers need any form of assistance.
  • Take pictures. As simple as they seem, pictures of you with your volunteers or of your volunteers in action are a good way of showcasing them to everyone and acknowledging their good deeds.
  • Give them shout-outs on your various social platforms.

On the other hand, you could opt for formal recognition. This type of volunteer recognition is periodic and naturally requires a bit of planning. Instances of formal volunteer recognition include:

  • Planning volunteer appreciation events. Setting time apart to organise an event solely dedicated to acknowledging the time and labour of volunteers is a remarkable way to prove how much you value them. You don’t have to stress about how to organise a volunteer appreciation event. A banquet or casual meet up will do.
  • Give volunteer appreciation awards, whether in the form of certificates, plaques or medals.
  • Work volunteer recognition into your organisation’s events. It’s another opportunity to showcase your volunteers to the world as you thank them for their help.      

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5. Leverage recognition software

A conversation about creating a volunteer recognition program is never complete without the mention of harnessing the right tools. Juggling a volunteer recognition program on top of your regular schedule can be a task. 

However, with the right recognition software, you can enjoy:

  • A streamlined process
  • Good brand reputation
  • Easy configuration and management tools and options
  • Quicker and better decisions   

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6. Evaluate the success of your volunteer recognition endeavours

The final lap in developing a volunteer recognition program is to assess your efforts and ascertain whether you hit the set targets. 

With the regular evaluation of your volunteer recognition program, you can ensure things are running smoothly. Additionally, you’ll be aware of the areas where you need to improve. 

To effectively track your progress, you can:

  • Observe volunteer engagement
  • Look out for changes in volunteerism in your organisation
  • Solicit feedback by sending out surveys to find out how satisfied your volunteers are with the recognition efforts

Keep in mind that the results of your volunteer recognition aspirations might not show immediately. Therefore, the evaluation process should continue for some time after starting your program.

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Volunteers who commit their time and labour totally deserve recognition. It’s often the addition of their efforts that help drive your organisation’s impact in the community. Providing recognition for them will help cement their devotion to your vision and goals. 

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