Ideas for no-cost volunteer recognition

The third and final article in a series about volunteer recognition, this article shares no-cost ways to recognize your volunteers and ensure that they feel appreciated.

Budgets for volunteer recognition vary depending on the organization and time of year. This article will explore several different no-cost ways to make a volunteer feel appreciated. Staff can send personal notes and cards to volunteers to say thanks and also to acknowledge particularly happy or sad events in the volunteer’s life. 

One easy thing to do is add in volunteers birthdays in the monthly newsletter or on a bulletin board. Sending a letter to a volunteer’s family or boss is a way to recognize someone by telling others about how much they contribute to the program.  Many volunteers are also job hunting and would appreciate a letter of recommendation that focuses on their skills.

If you have a program newsletter, you can allow volunteers to advertise their business for free. Saying thank you when a volunteer leaves the school, a meeting or an event, or during a phone conversation is essential. Talking to volunteers and getting to know them cannot be underestimated – people feel valued when someone gives them attention.  Follow-up with volunteers the next time you see them – if a volunteer was nervous about a test, for instance, check in to see how it went.  Involving volunteers in leadership roles can show a volunteer that they are valued.  Ask a volunteer to speak with a reporter about their experience with the program or to be the emcee at a program event. 

Many programs work with the youth to have them write notes or draw pictures to give to volunteers. Newsletters offer many opportunities for recognizing volunteers.  Volunteers are often most touched by the young people in our programs – having youth speak at recognition events and share their story is perhaps the most powerful way to honor a volunteer and provide a growth opportunity for the young person.  If you are not having a recognition event, consider printing the youth’s essays in a newsletter or ask all of the youth what makes the adult volunteer special and post the answers in a newsletter or online.

Create a suggestion box and seriously consider the suggestions. Asking volunteers for their opinion costs nothing but can offer significant awards.  You may even consider organizing a group of volunteers on a regular basis to get their opinions and ideas.  After you get to know your volunteers, check in with them regularly to see how things are going.  If you genuinely care, it shows and it will make a difference in how they perceive the experience.  Through the interview process, you may learn of a hobby or talent that a volunteer possesses.  You might engage the volunteer to share this talent by leading a group activity. 

Best practices indicate the need to regularly check-in with volunteers to provide support.  This practice provides volunteers with the opportunity to seek assistance without having to go beyond their comfort level – don’t make them contact you.

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