Celebrating volunteer achievements

When volunteers come into a non-profit organisation, they should be appreciated for their good work. But you can do more than just an annual appreciation event.

Volunteers should not be taken for granted, particularly when they contribute significant services. Saying thank you is important, but  there are many other things non-profits can do beyond praise. Celebrating volunteers’ achievements connects the dots between recruitment, training and evaluation. Create a “culture of recognition” for both volunteers and employees together, shares volunteer expert, Susan J Ellis, president of Energize, Inc.

Below are some other ideas by Susan:

Don’t wait for an annual event to shine a light on accomplishments:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words, especially if it shows diverse volunteers being active. So take photographs all the time and share them on your websites and social media, and in paper and electronic newsletters. Also print them out and post them on agency bulletin boards.
  • Applaud milestones reached and not just the final product of volunteer work. Some goals take a long time to achieve, so it’s motivating to feel recognised for solid effort and even small progress. 
  • Develop a “Volunteer Victory” alert form (on paper or via e-mail) and share successes as they happen. Include the names of supportive paid staff, too.
  • Keep  a continuous testimonial and comment log. Remember Susan’s maxim: “Two people talking is a conversation. Several people talking is gossip. But recording the comments of many people talking is data!”
  • Ask for special notes on excellent volunteer management to be placed into employees’ personnel records.
  • Initiate a “sudden praise squad” that descends upon a person who just achieved something with attention-getting fun. Leave a consistent reward behind (special paperweight, framed medal, etc).


Then, make the most of your annual recognition event:

  • Create award categories that celebrate accomplishments, not hours or longevity.
  • Acknowledge and somehow involve volunteers who can’t be present.
  • Show the “year in review” in slides.
  • Issue an annual report and include “Did you know?” facts such as volunteers’ professions, education, etc.
  • Focus on letting volunteers, employees and clients speak (you don’t need outside entertainment!) about the impact of the services contributed.