We have been privileged to work with great non-profit associations and I consistently find Volunteer Recognition is a point of focus but one that doesn’t reach “critical” business priority level one. It is really nice to have a Volunteer Recognition Program, but we are focused on activities like donor/partner retention, donor cultivation and acquisition, program quality, and reporting responsible use of our funds. If there is any time left in our day, we’ll consider Volunteers recognition products. From a logical standpoint, this makes a lot of sense, but we also know with 100% certainty, volunteers are critical to the success of your organization in many day to day activities, including the deliverables mentioned above.


So, how can we justify the expense of volunteer recognition?

When our clients talk about volunteers, they immediately describe the immense value a volunteer brings to the association. There is never a question of how important a volunteer is to the association. I’ve compiled some of the responses I hear when asking clients about our volunteers’ value:

  • They are our voice and our brand
  • They execute 95% of the critical activities our association needs to survive
  • They handle the delivery of our services to our audience
  • They introduce us to our major gift donors
  • They introduce us to other potential volunteers
  • They donate close to 50% more than non-volunteers
  • And the list goes on…

In the US, we have seen a steady decline in Volunteer Recognition; “The volunteer rate declined by 0.4% to 24.9% for the year ending in September 2015”. (This is the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics) If the thought of losing volunteers along with their knowledge, networks and the need to find and train more volunteers doesn’t create an urgent need; then maybe the numbers found in the following infographics will.


From (THE 2016 U.S. TRUST STUDY OF High Net Worth Philanthropy):


Figure 39: This figure displays that a majority (77.1%) of those volunteering are offering their time to 1 or 2 organizations.

Figure 40: This figure shows that 49.3% of these volunteers gave to all or most of their organizations that they offered their time to. Having 44.1% of these volunteers offering their time to only 1 you could speculate that 49.3% [34.2% (all) +15.1% (most)] of the 44.1% (volunteers in 1 organization) will donate or 21.7% of volunteers. If you combine this with the people who donate to 2 organizations then that is about 41.8% [34.2% (all) + 7.6% (most)] of this 33% (volunteers in 2 organizations) will donate or a combined total of 35.5%. Over one-third of your volunteers will donate to your organization and there are still 22.6% uncounted for!

Figure 41: In this figure, you will see that you can get 56% more funds from your volunteers than the non-volunteers so keeping them around will result in revenue.


How can you better recognize Volunteers? 

In order to answer this question, and provide you with ideas, we need to begin by addressing why volunteers give their time to your association.


According to Imagine Canada Volunteers sacrifice their time:

  • to make a contribution to the community – 93%
  • to use their skills and experiences – 78%
  • personally affected by the organization’s cause – 59%
  • to explore one’s own strengths – 48%
  • to network with or meet people – 46%
  • because their friends volunteer – 48%
  • to improve job opportunities – 22%
  • to fulfill religious obligations or beliefs – 21%


Very similarly Thomas McKee (President and owner of www.volunteerpower.com, a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism) teaches that volunteers sacrifice their time for 3 reasons:

  • Self- Serving
  • Relational
  • Belief

(From “Why People Volunteer”)


“What is Important to My Volunteers?”

It is critical you understand what is most important to your volunteers, and why they’ve chosen to volunteer with your association. This key data is vital to understanding what recognition strategies will best connect with them. For example, if they are younger and looking for resume building material, or refining their skill set, your organization can focus ideas on thanking them and providing testimonials on their LinkedIn page or that can be used on their resume. Additionally, when your organization is thinking of giving them something that effectively thanks them for their service, you can align your idea with what’s most important to them. In this case, you could offer personalized stationery, personalized awards, professional apparel recognizing their service, or business cards. Although the above statistics reflect common volunteer responses, it is better for your program to identify the top reasons your volunteers become involved with your association and generate ideas specific to those answers.

To see the volunteer recognition ideas we’ve put together for other non-profit partners click here to see our Pinterest boards. We constantly update our boards with new ideas so please check them regularly.

In it, we will share and discuss effective ways to genuinely thank your volunteers and position them for continued success. Along the way, your organization’s brand becomes more visible and increases in value in your community.