“Thank You! We Could Not Have Done This Without You”


Volunteer appreciation can be a bit tricky…

What works for some, does not work for others.

One size does not fit all.

Once you understand and accept this fact, the real work for a volunteer manager begins!

Understanding what motivates someone to volunteer and meeting their expectations is key to retention.  Higher volunteer retention means less turnover and a reduction in the resources dedicated to recruiting new volunteers.  According to Sharlene Cunningham of Propellus, the 80/20 rule applies to the recruitment/retention of volunteers.  Unfortunately, many organizations spend 80% of their time on recruiting & intake and only 20% of their time on retention.

It all starts with the application or intake form.  Make sure to include questions that collect information on both motivation and recognition/appreciation preferences of the volunteer so that it can be stored, retrieved and used as and when necessary.

What motivates a volunteer?  Here are just a few of the most common reasons:

  1. Desire to give back to the community/self-fulfillment
  2. Meet new people for social or career purposes
  3. To have fun & stay active physically and/or mentally
  4. Gain experience & develop new skills for resume
  5. Utilize & maintain current skills
  6. Fulfill a school, church, youth group or legal requirement
  7. “To get out of the house” (i.e. new moms looking for a break)
  8. Personal interest in a special cause (i.e. ending homelessness)
  9. Gain recognition, self-esteem, power & influence
  10. As a form of therapy to get back to a normal life

What forms of recognition & appreciation are available?  The following list provides a good start:

  1. “Gifts & Goodies” – small tokens of appreciation
  2. “Meet & Mingle” – small informal social gatherings
  3. “Heartfelt Hooray” – personal, verbal & sincere thank you
  4. “Did I Make a Difference?” – communication of impact
  5. “Tangible Evidence” – letters of reference, certificates
  6. “Formal Applause” – public recognition, awards, banquets
  7. “Power & Influence” – title, rank, special privileges & opportunities.

Another approach is to use the Volunteer Recognition Tool developed by Volunteer Canada and Investors Group.  This online questionnaire was based on the research published as the 2013 Volunteer Recognition Study.  The key findings of this study are very interesting!

Top two ways volunteers want to be recognized:

• 80% stated that they would like to be recognized or thanked by the organization they volunteer for by hearing about how their work has made a difference.

• Close to 70% stated they would like to be recognized by being thanked in person on an ongoing, informal basis.

Least preferred ways volunteers want to be recognized:

• Volunteers indicated that their least preferred forms of recognition include banquets, formal gatherings, and public acknowledgment in newspapers, radio or television. Interestingly, these methods are common methods for many organizations, with 60% citing banquets and formal gatherings, and 50% using public acknowledgement as their recognition strategies.

Thanks Everyone Great Job Sticky NoteVolunteer_Star_Award

The challenge for organizations is to change their mindsets about having a single, costly volunteer appreciation event, which very few volunteers want, but is simpler in some ways for the organization than a personalized approach.

Thanks for being so souper

Another volunteer recognition tool for organizations to consider is the PREB program.  PREB is a volunteer recognition program based on Employment and Social Development Canada’s National Occupational Classification. Through PREB, volunteer experience and skills gained during volunteer positions are recognized as work experience by professional organizations and companies.  Organizations can be certified by PREB to be a recognized Trainer or Certified User of the PREB system.  Volunteer Airdrie recently spoke to a PREB representative who indicated that training for the PREB program was planned for the fall of 2016 and would likely be redesigned to a combination of online learning and a live or pre-recorded webinar.  Once certified as a Trainer, the organization can then offer its services to other non-profit groups in the community to train & certify them as users.  Certified Users can then implement the system to reward volunteers for their efforts with a PREB certificate.

While not for everyone, a discussion on volunteer recognition would not be complete without addressing the subject of awards.  Some people feel that high profile awards are counter-productive to the promotion of volunteerism.  Their philosophy is that by celebrating the “elite” volunteers, the awards approach undermines or ignores the contributions made by the rest of the volunteer community. The old saying from the 1500’s comes to mind: “To each his own”.

Not withstanding this point of view, formal awards and ceremonies do raise the profile of the voluntary sector in the public eye.  Increased awareness of the value of volunteerism is a good thing!


There are numerous volunteer awards programs in Canada at the national, provincial and local levels. These awards recognize the impressive impact volunteers have on our communities.

1. Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award

Created in 1995, the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award recognized living Canadians and permanent residents who have made a significant, sustained, unpaid contribution to their community, in Canada or abroad. Often working behind the scenes, these individuals volunteered their time and efforts to help their fellow citizens. The award also brought to light the example set by volunteers, whose compassion and engagement are a part of our Canadian character. This award was replaced in 2016 by the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers.

2. Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

During a visit to Calgary in March 2013, the Governor General teamed up with Habitat for Humanity Southern Alberta to help construct a duplex in Evanston.
The Governor General presented the recognized Faduma Wais (Orléans, Ontario) during the National We Day event, on April 9, 2014, in Ottawa. On December 19, 2014, Christmas Exchange Program volunteers helped pack food hampers for Ottawa families in need.

The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers recognizes the exceptional volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields.

As an official Canadian honour, the Medal for Volunteers incorporates and replaces the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award. The Medal builds on the legacy and spirit of the Caring Canadian Award by honouring the dedication and commitment of volunteers.

3. Canada’s Volunteer Awards Program

The Canada’s Volunteer Awards (CVA) recognize the outstanding contributions of individual volunteers, not-for-profit organizations and businesses across the country in their communities.

For program details, visit the Employment and Social Development Canada website.

4. 3M Health Leadership Awards

This national award celebrates leaders who have a positive impact on the health and well-being of their communities. Those recognized by the award understand that health starts where we live, learn, work and play.

For details, visit the 3M Health Leadership Award website.

5. Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards

The Stars of Alberta Volunteer Awards recognize extraordinary Albertans whose volunteer efforts have contributed to the well-being of the community. Six awards are presented annually—two in each category of youth, adult and senior.

6. City of Airdrie Volunteer of the Year Awards

Finally, closest to home, the City of Airdrie Volunteer of the Year Awards acknowledge the outstanding contributions of Airdrie’s volunteers. Awards are made in four categories including individual adult, individual youth, business and not-for-profit community organization.

In conclusion, understanding the importance of volunteer recognition & appreciation, as well as the fact that every volunteer will have a different motivation and preferred type of recognition are the two keys to successful management and retention of volunteers.  Figuring out how to efficiently collect and utilize this information on an ongoing basis is the challenge!





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