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Volunteers Can Be the Lifeblood of an Organization

Photo of Dan Davis, DANA Engagement Manager

by Dan Davis, Engagement Manager

Many of our nonprofit organizations have “big” missions, and visions for the future of the community that cannot be achieved by paid staff alone. There is just too much that needs to be done!  That is why volunteers are the backbone of many nonprofit organizations.  Many nonprofit professionals have a story about a volunteer who regularly puts in more hours of service than the paid staff: volunteers that make it all possible and hold the organization together.  

So why do they do it? What motivates a volunteer to put in countless hours of effort, and to be the first person who steps up when the organization needs help?  In truth, volunteers are motivated by a mixture of factors: empathy and the desire to make a difference, the opportunity to socialize, or the opportunity to practice or learn a new skill.  On the other hand, recognition is a huge motivator for many volunteers.  Learning when and how to recognize volunteers will make them feel appreciated and increase their loyalty and commitment to your organization.  Naturally, volunteers whose contributions are recognized are more likely to continue volunteering!  

It doesn’t have to be costly or time-consuming to make a volunteer feel appreciated.  Here are a few approaches to volunteer recognition that your organization can begin using today:  

  1. Never underestimate the power of a handwritten thank-you note.  It goes beyond the words on the page; volunteers will appreciate that you took the time personally recognize them.  
  1. Recognize volunteers in front of their peers… throw a party!  Many volunteer-based organizations hold regular volunteer recognition events where they can present hard-working volunteers with an award or certificate in front of their peers.   
  1. Similarly, it can be very meaningful for a volunteer to receive a “shout-out” during a meeting or presentation.  This has the additional benefit of showing other volunteers the importance of stepping up.  
  1. When giving gifts to volunteers, consider making it personalized.  It shows volunteers that you’ve taken the time to get to know them, and that your relationship means more than just the work they do for your organization.  
  1. Finally, just like with paid employees, seek out opportunities to provide volunteers with training and developmental opportunities.  Volunteers often return from training refreshed, feeling that your organization has just made an investment in them and that they are a valued part of the team.  

As you get to know your volunteers, you will learn that different volunteers prefer to be recognized in different ways.  Some volunteers would love to receive a handwritten note but do not want to be recognized publicly.  A volunteer fundraiser might enjoy attending a weekend training to sharpen their skills but consider a personal gift to be a waste of money.  Take the time to truly get to know your volunteers and what makes them tick.  It will deepen their connection with your organization and motivate them to continue their involvement for years to come!  

National Volunteer Week is celebrated annually during the third week of April –
this year it will be observed from April 16 to 22.