We all know that volunteers don’t come forward for financial reward, but most people want to be recognised in other ways. The best volunteer managers and co-ordinators use a variety of approaches, tailoring them to the preferences of volunteers and the realities of the budget!

In our training, we ask people to think about these under three headings, starting with perhaps the most obvious and also the most important – THANK YOU.


Research shows that volunteers value being thanked and appreciated for the work they do, more than anything else. This can include informal thanks on a day to day basis. One way to improve the impact of your thanks, which is simply to take note of anything that a volunteer did particularly well and thank them for that. We all like to be seen and appreciated in a personal way, whereas constant effusive but very general thanks may not always appear genuine.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

Thanks can also be offered more formally or publicly of course. You can recognise the contributions of volunteers through articles in a newsletter, photographs and features in the local press and long service awards.

Development Opportunities

Many volunteers hope to gain personal and professional development opportunities. This motivation is increasingly important, for example Voluntary Service Managers in the NHS report a growing interest in volunteering from people looking to gain experience to help with access to work or training.

It is of course important that all volunteers receive a full induction and any essential training for their voluntary role.

Keep looking out for additional opportunities for volunteers to develop their knowledge and skills, ensuring that training opportunities can clearly be linked to their current or future voluntary role within the organisation.

Can volunteers attend relevant courses put on for paid staff? Are there any work shadowing opportunities? Can you delegate some of your tasks in way that will build volunteers’ skills?

Volunteers should be offered a reference if they have volunteered for a reasonable length of time.

Some experienced volunteers will not want to “be developed” and will be more motivated by the opportunity to share their skills with others, e.g. as a mentor.

Consultation and Involvement

Being part of a wider whole is motivational for many people, as is clear from the experiences of Olympics volunteers.

You may not be running one of the most high profile sports events across the globe, but you can still look for as many ways as possible to make volunteers feel involved and part of the wider organisation. There are many methods including: a suggestion box, volunteer surveys, inclusion of volunteer representatives on boards, formal or informal meetings where feedback is invited, consultation on policy development, regular newsletters and updates.

Paid staff should also be involved as much as possible, to break down unnecessary barriers between the two groups, and to build trust. You may find that an aspect of your role as volunteer manager is to influence staff into accepting the value of volunteer involvement. Volunteers will feel valued if their contribution is recognised by all colleagues.

How you do recognise your volunteers?

2 Responses to Three approaches to recognising your volunteers
  1. Hi, Felicity. This is very valuable advice and links well with some aspects of the volunteer management policy that was devloped after I left my last employment.
    There have been concerns, of course, about the misuse of volunteers in replacing formally established posts and I’m now aware of a “hybrid” development. In a public service I know well, volunteers have taken over completely what are now non-statutory service points alongside statutory ones, where volunteers are used in the usual supportive role to which you refer.
    There is currently professional and financial support to these non-statutory service points with a deadline after which the volunteers will be on their own.
    I imagine you will share my concerns about such “hybrid” developments, especially as it could undermine some of the recognition needs of the traditional volunteer you outline so helpfully.

    Best wishes,

    John Hughes

    • Hi John, thanks for your comments.

      I would share your concerns about volunteers working without adequate support. Of course volunteers can successfully manage other volunteers (and we have worked with a number of outstanding voluntary managers of volunteers). But these voluntary volunteer managers also need support and recognition in their roles.

      Is there is also some concern here about volunteers eventually replacing paid staff? Even if job substitution is not yet widespread in reality, there may be fears within the staff team that paid jobs will be lost, which risks damaging staff/volunteer relations.



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