apple Volunteer Recognition

“I became a literacy volunteer because I wanted to give to others the gift that had been given to me – the lifelong pleasure of reading.” (A literacy volunteer)


Recognition can be described as the formal or informal acknowledgement of achievements, abilities and contributions. It is about noticing people’s efforts and letting them know about it.

There are no limits to the number of ways in which you can acknowledge the contributions made to your organization by your volunteers. To do this effectively, however, the recognition should be meaningful to the volunteer. As discussed earlier, people have a variety of motivations for volunteering. You will probably understand what is motivating your volunteers through the application or interview process and through your ongoing supervision and support efforts.

Linking recognition to individual motivation will ensure that your volunteers are recognized in ways that are meaningful to them. For example, for people who volunteered for your organization primarily because of their deep concern for literacy, having students write them a note of thanks would be very meaningful. For those who volunteered primarily to gain employment experience, a letter of recommendation from the board chair or executive director might be exactly the recognition they are looking for!

Volunteer recognition can come in a variety of formal and informal ways. In addition to, or instead of, a large annual event try spreading your recognition efforts out over the year. A simple thank you card or a potted plant or a packet of seeds can say more to the volunteer about your appreciation than an annual dinner. A little can go a long way!

The Community Services Council of Newfoundland and Labrador has some wonderful recognition tips on their The Council also has information on innovative ways to say “thank you”

Literacy practitioners know that recognizing volunteers is important, in fact, according to CLO’s 2005 volunteer survey, 100% of literacy agencies informally or formally recognize their volunteers. Here are some of the ways that volunteer contributions are recognized by Ontario’s literacy agencies:

  • 83% recognize their commitment in informal ways (notes, phone calls)
  • 75% of agencies host events to recognize volunteer contribution (lunches, teas, dinners, special events)
  • 62% offer occasional rewards or incentives to volunteers (plaques, pins, certificates, movie tickets, vouchers from local merchants)
  • 47% promote volunteer achievements to the local community (newspaper articles, posters, banners)

Community Literacy of Ontario’s survey also revealed that most literacy volunteers (94%) feel that they are amply recognized for their services. Overwhelmingly, most literacy volunteers preferred informal recognition to formal. When literacy volunteers were asked how they would like to be recognized, here is what they told us:

  • 58% of volunteers like informal recognition
  • 24% like formal recognition events
  • 22% like occasional rewards or incentives
  • 7% like public recognition (community events, newspaper articles, etc.)

Informal Recognition

Since informal recognition is so meaningful to volunteers, here are some ideas you may want to try:

  • Send thank-you notes to volunteers
  • Send a copy to their family
  • For young people, send a note to their parents
  • Give tokens of appreciation (pins, mugs, etc.)
  • Have a display board in the office highlighting volunteer accomplishments
  • Have photos of volunteers displayed
  • Send birthday cards
  • Offer social opportunities (pot luck dinners, etc.)
  • Hold a fun workshop for volunteers (True Colours, crafts, etc.)
  • Donate a book to the public library with the volunteer’s name inscribed in it
  • Send a tea bag and permission to NOT attend a formal event but to instead put their feet up and relax at home!

If you are looking for a cheap and fun way to informally recognize your volunteers, Literacy Plus (Renfrew County Community Upgrading Program) may provide some inspiration! Literacy Plus developed a “Literacy Volunteer Thank You Kit”. The kit contains a thank-you card with a verse about the various items contained in the kit:

  • An agency pen: “Our volunteers have made their mark”
  • Chocolate eggs: “Your support is eggzactly what our learners need to reach their goals”
  • Note cards: “Your contribution is noteworthy”
  • Ruler: “Your value is beyond measure”
  • Elastic: “We appreciate your flexibility”
  • Lifesavers: “You are truly a lifesaver!”

Or, you may have seen similar ‘kits’ that other organizations have developed. Let them inspire you as well!

Formal Recognition

Formal recognition is important to some volunteers and can include such activities as:

  • Holding a recognition banquet
  • Holding a tea or other special event for volunteers
  • Holding a summer picnic for volunteers
  • Honouring volunteers at the Annual General Meeting
  • Giving recognition in the annual report
  • Giving certificates of accomplishment
  • Formally recognizing length of service
  • Holding a special event or activity during National Volunteer Week

National Volunteer Week provides a wonderful occasion for volunteer recognition. This week (held in April of each year) has been especially set aside to honour Canada’s volunteers. Volunteer Canada has extensive resources and information relating to National Volunteer Week on its website:

Another opportunity for volunteer recognition is through the Ontario Volunteer Service Awards. These awards are a way for the government to recognize volunteers for their contributions. Youth volunteers are recognized for two or more years of service, while adults are recognized for five or more years of service. It is completely free and the only selection criterion is that the board chair signs off on the years of service contributed by each volunteer. Please visit the website of the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration for more

Check local retailers such as trophy and awards shops as many of them carry volunteer appreciation items. If you prefer to order online, you can also find some great volunteer recognition gifts at

Questions and Activities for Reflection

  1. How could you best meet the formal and informal recognition needs of your volunteers?
  2. Have you ever asked your volunteers how they would like to be recognized?
  3. Are there any barriers to effective recognition of volunteers? If so, what are they?
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