Appreciation and recognition of volunteers

In order to achieve the strategic goals of our institution, we need the support of our staff and volunteers. For them, confirmation is important. If they do not feel that their superiors or colleagues appreciate their work, if they do not notice their efforts to achieve the best performance and are merely seen as a means to achieve our goals, they will lose much of their motivation over time.

Dignity is not only a courtesy but a vital human need, both socially and personally. [1] It is important that acknowledgments are built into the organisational culture; tradition, rite. This is not a one-time opportunity, but an ongoing, genuine confirmation that can function in a formal context and as a spontaneous manifestation. If the recognition system evolves solely through the volunteer programme, the volunteer coordinator will soon be placed in an ambivalent emotional position: they want to support the volunteers emotionally while losing their sense of support.

Strengthening as a motivation method is also very important in workplace organisations. While in the case of staff the primary means of motivation is cash benefits, and the right work environment, opportunity to progress and safety play an important role, whereas for volunteers the importance of quality time and opportunity for advancement can come to the fore.

Positive reinforcement is something everyone needs, and there are many forms of this. Volunteers feel that they are members of the organisation if we are constantly informed about events, news and successes in the life of the organisation. It is important that they feel involved and accepted.

The form of recognition may vary by person. We only feel a message truly encouraging if it comes to us in our language of recognition. Chapman has developed the five recognition languages [2], using the MER test to help institutions determine how to best acknowledge their volunteers.

A word of appreciation

One way of expressing reinforcement is to praise achievements and performance verbally, while also assessing the positive qualities of the volunteers. Highlighting positive features also reinforces personality. A word of appreciation can be given in person, in a peer-to-peer discussion, or in writing, in the form of a diploma, but public praise and recognition given to the community has the strongest impact (e.g., Volunteer of the Year Award).

Further suggestions include: public recognition with acknowledgement by name in the organisation’s newsletter; a registered diploma, also mentioning the programme in which the volunteer worked; verbal acknowledgments, recognition at organisation meetings; a handwritten thank-you note from the manager following a volunteer’s outstanding performance.

Quality time

During the quality time, we pay full attention to the other person. Mentoring talks are the most common, but they include shared experiences (e.g., hiking, camping, free or discounted training), joint celebration, small group chat.


Help to volunteers can be a powerful means of recognition. Sometimes a volunteer needs help or support from an organisation or personally from a volunteer coordinator to improve or change their life situation. For example, they may need a reference letter, a certificate that we don’t normally give to everyone, but it can be of enormous importance to them, for example, if they are supported in getting their dream job. Or if we go out for lunch, we can also volunteer if you want.


With a little thoughtfulness, a gift (a mug with the organisation’s logo, pen, folder, T-shirt, gifting books on stock, buying small souvenirs), surprise (the opportunity to participate in a trip abroad) can effectively express our thanks and appreciation, which is not (only) worth but it indicates that we thought of the other.

Tip:   A good example is the I Am a Volunteer badge of Circle Foundation – Volunteer Centre of Veszprém. The organisation, which employs 8-10 volunteers a year, has recognised that there is often a shift in roles when it comes to organising events: it does not matter who is involved and who is competent. Therefore, partly with the aim of clarifying the role of the contributors to the event – and, secondly, to give the attendees a name and thus a framework and position – they have created the I am a volunteer badge. The assistants will wear it at the event, then hold it and wear it again at the next event they attend. Keeping the badge will give them a little feedback that they belong to the organisation. This can be a small part of the appreciation feedback and also increases their motivation. The distinction between volunteers is important and can be done in many other ways, e.g.. cloak, T-shirt, name badge may also be suitable. It also has a prestige value for volunteers. On 5 December each year, the National Institute of Culture thanked the dedicated volunteers for their work at an award ceremony on the occasion of the International Volunteer Day[3]. The most successful helpers received a memorial plaque and a diploma.

A touch of appreciation

Although physical contact has no place in the workplace, there may be situations where touch is perfectly appropriate, for example, a firm handshake, a pat on the shoulder of a friend after a successful event.

In addition to praise and reward, especially in recognising new types of volunteering, the Volunteer Portfolio, developed and recommended by the Volunteering Hungary – Centre of Social Innovation, can be a specific tool. It is a booklet-like document that gathers and visualises volunteering activities and competences acquired to validate the experience. The purpose of the portfolio is to enable volunteers to recognise and validate their experiences in the labour market or at university credit points[4].

[1] Nagy Á.: A méltó elismerés. Kultúra és közösség, 2013, Szeged, Belvedere Meridionale Alapítvány. (utoljára megtekintve: 2018.08.08.)
[2] KChapman, G. – White, P.: A munkahelyi elismerés 5 nyelve. 2004, Budapest, Harmat Kiadó
[3] Szakmai nap az Önkéntesek Világnapján 2015. és Az önkéntesség ünnepe 2016.
[4] Arapovics M.: Közösségi művelődés és önkéntes menedzsment országos múzeumokban. Civil Szemle, 12. évf. 4. sz, 25-46. 2015, Budapest, Civil Szemle Alapítvány. (utoljára megtekintve: 2018.08.08)


This article based on the following document:

Practical Guide for the Establishment and Operation of Volunteer Programmes at Institutions : abridged English version