Does your organisation value your volunteers? How much are your volunteers worth? Are your volunteers considered worthy of recognition? Are they treated like one of the paid staff?
Volunteers need to be respected and recognised in organisations in order for a volunteer program to function effectively. Thanking volunteers doesn't have to cost a lot of money; it can be a simple smile and acknowledgement that they're doing a great job or a birthday card in the mail.
For large organisations with a lot of volunteers, knowing the financial benefit of the work volunteers do will help justify the costs of volunteer celebrations and rewarding volunteers.
Volunteers don't necessarily want a lot of hoo-hah to thank them for their contributions. A smile in the hallway, referring to them by their name and inviting them to your organisation's events will go a long way.
Simple, cost effective ways to celebrate volunteers include:
- Celebrating birthdays by sending a card in the mail or presenting them with a cake
- Celebrating length of service or milestones in a project with a volunteer recognition certificate
- List volunteers in external and internal communications, for example, newsletters, annual reports, website and newspapers
- Thank volunteers in speeches
- Invite volunteers to your organisation's events and use the opportunity to present them with a certificate
- Hold a special volunteer recognition event during National Volunteer Week
- Send appreciation letters
Daily opportunities to say thank you
Recognising the important contribution of your volunteers doesn't just have to be part of a specific recognition program, event or gesture. Make volunteer appreciation a central part of your volunteer program and roles.
Here's some ideas:
- Make fun a part of the volunteer's work environment, such as providing nice magazines, quality tea bags and home-made treats for volunteers to share
- Learn about how different things motivate different volunteers and build these motivators into volunteer roles and programs to show you sincerely appreciate their efforts
- Offer to write a personal reference – this is especially appreciated by young people looking to further their careers
- Include a list of volunteers and their achievements on photo and bulletin boards
- Provide volunteer name badges
- Organise group photos
National and State volunteer awards
Both the Victorian and Commonwealth governments recognise the importance of volunteers in community cohesion, contribution to the economy and disaster recovery and relief.
There are several national programs that volunteers can be nominated for:
At the state level, there are many award programs to consider:
- Volunteering Victoria State Awards (celebrating volunteer managers and volunteer-involving programs)
- Victorian Premier’s Volunteer Champions Awards
- Minister for Health Volunteer Awards
- Victorian Senior of the Year Awards
- Community Sport & Recreation Awards
Most local governments also hold volunteer award ceremonies on Australia Day. Visit your local council website to find out more about volunteer recognition and awards.
National and international events
These celebratory events provide a great springboard for volunteer recognition activities:
National Volunteer Week is held in May each year and is a perfect opportunity to hold your annual volunteer thank you event; or National Student Volunteer Week is held in August.
International Volunteer Managers Day is held on November 5 and celebrates the vital role of volunteer coordinators and program managers in enabling the spirit of volunteerism.
If you miss National Volunteer Week or your organisation has an international focus, International Volunteer Day is held on December 5 each year.
Be genuine and personable
If a volunteer can't make it to an event, try not to just send their certificate in the mail. Consider arranging for the volunteer to attend another event or meet them for lunch or coffee.
The sincerest form of recognising volunteers is taking notice of their work and putting their ideas into practice. Volunteers can quickly lose motivation if they feel they are not being listened to or their work is not valued.