3 Simple Ways to Recognize Volunteers Without Spending a Dime

by Christy Monroe

My hectic morning raced into early afternoon and I sat at my desk looking at the piles of work that lay before me. The post-lunch-energy-drain was settling in when a colleague of mine called to say, “Thanks for all of your hard work on this project. We couldn’t have done it without your help.” It wasn’t just the words, but the inflection behind them that made me feel appreciated. That little bit of recognition went a long way- my energy levels began to rise, my brain cleared a bit, and my motivation for tackling the rest of the afternoon reemerged.

There’s no denying that recognition is a key component in motivating people, but volunteers often live for it. In fact, apart from the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping their community it may be their only payment for services.

Here are 3 simple ways to recognize volunteers without spending a dime:

1. Say “thank you” and mean it. A simple, tried and true method that somehow is overlooked all too often. There’s a reason why these two little words are taught to adorable little tots by their loving parents. Not only is it good manners to say “thank you,” but conveying appreciation tends to work magic the next time that you need someone’s help.

2. Show respect and trust in their ability. This falls under the same category as “don’t micromanage” and tends to give people confidence in their capabilities. Confidence is a good feeling and a significant motivator in getting a job done efficiently and effectively. Give volunteers positive feedback on a job well done, remember their name, and give them meaningful tasks. More importantly, show them that you have faith in them by giving them projects with decision making power, utilizing their skills, and letting them spread their wings over time.

3. Connect the dots-show the value of their work. Make it a regular practice to remind your volunteers how their work fits into the overall mission of your organization. Paint the whole picture of how their efforts are propelling that mission forward. Answer the unspoken questions, “Is this worth my time? Am I really making a difference?”

There are thousands of ways to recognize volunteers every day. What are your favorite ways to show your appreciation to volunteers? Leave a comment and let us know.

Here are more resources on volunteer motivation and recognition.

Christy Monroe is the Training VISTA at the Maine Commission for Community Service.

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9 Responses to 3 Simple Ways to Recognize Volunteers Without Spending a Dime

  1. Carla Ganiel says:

    I love to send good, old-fashioned, hand-written thank you notes. It seems like people hardly ever do this anymore, but it’s such a great feeling to get a little note in the mail telling you that you made someone’s day.

  2. Very nice, I love this stuff!

  3. I was wanting to write more but hit submit early…
    It is so true that a simple thank you can go a very long way. When there is so much work to be done and already so much that has been done, it often feels uplifting to hear “thank you” or “this really helps this project in this way”. When there is no thank you or gratitude then the volunteer loses steam and most likely starts to feel a little hopeless. Hope for accomplishing a goal keeps us all going.

  4. Great job, Christy!

    One of the new ways our organization is beginning to recognize volunteers is by moving toward an informal recognition. What I mean by this is, in addition to the usual nominations for community service awards, our own recognition events, all handled through the Volunteer Manager (me), we are empowering the staff who supervise these volunteers on a daily basis to do informal, off the cuff things, like bringing in coffee and donuts on occassion, or ordering pizzas after a really tough week.

    This serves two purposes…the volunteers have a more regular show of appreciation from their supervisors, and the staff is really getting into the idea of being in control of some of these things. They have improved attitudes about working alongside volunteers, and an icreased awareness and appreciation of how the volunteer management piece affects them.

  5. Penny Kern says:

    I tried an idea I got from another volunteer manager. Since I was a one person office and on the road 6 out of 7 days, people got my answering machine a lot. I would leave congrats or thank yous to volunteers as part of my voicemail message. I could even recognize whole troops if it was appropriate. The only caution I have for doing such a public thank you is to make sure the volunteer or group would want it. I’ve worked with volunteers who absolutely hated public recognition so I’d check first.

  6. Steve Hoad says:

    Well now: What else to say but “Thank You, Christie?” And to add a bit more: The thanks we receive are so often the best reward if delivered in person (that can be a hand written note, personal Email, phone call, etc.) It is probably more fulfilling than an large “awards dinner” simply because it is a personal reflection on the individual’s service and an opportunity to give a bit of feedback and build energy toward the next volunteer task. Thanks also to MCCS for the blog!

  7. This is so basic but so important. It’s one of those things we all “know” but it’s so easy to forget to do. Thanks for the reminder. I have volunteers who thank ME for “letting them come in” – amazing! Sometimes even a post-it note is all it takes. And a smile – it speaks volumes.

  8. Christy Monroe says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I’ve really enjoyed reading them. It seems to me that a theme has emerged -it’s the little, old fashioned, tried and true methods of recognizing volunteers that count the most.

    Of course I’d never turn down an awards ceremony in my honor, but I wouldn’t trade it for the smile when I walk through the door everyday and the personally delivered “thank you.” Like Trudy says, empowering people daily, informally, and off the cuff gets great results.

  9. Dorothy Grannell says:

    Today is Valentine’s Day. Have you sent your e-card to your volunteers to say how much you appreciate them and their work? It is usually free from most card sites, sometimes you can personalize it with a photo of the volunteers at work, and you can never say thank you too many times in too many ways! If you miss Valentine’s Day there is always, St. Patrick’s Day.

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