Valuing Volunteers

In this article we take a short look at why volunteers do what they do and provide a list of ways you can thank them for doing it.

Volunteers have been described as ‘ordinary people who do extraordinary things’, which makes us think about this inspiring quotation from Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

In this article we take a short look at why volunteers do what they do and provide a list of ways you can thank them for doing it.

Volunteering has got to be a ‘win-win for all’ scenario. Volunteers ultimately enable us to deliver many services and complete vital tasks and without them we cannot function. According to Benefact Group’s recent value of giving report the estimated value of voluntary work in the UK in 2022 was £18.7 billion. And what do volunteers get in return? Well, that rather depends on you.

Let’s look at some data first and then explore the implications for how those who work with volunteers can best make them feel valued and appreciated.

In the government’s Community Life Survey 2021, volunteers were asked for the reasons they give their time. Here are the top 5:

  • I thought it would give me a chance to use my existing skills 24%
  • I felt there was a need in my community 25%
  • I had spare time to do it 27%
  • The cause was important to me 33%
  • I wanted to improve things / help people 50%

According to the NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac, 9 in 10 volunteers say one of the benefits of volunteering is meeting new people, and, while the 25 to 34 age group is the least likely to volunteer, 76% of them are most likely to say volunteering helped them feel less isolated. In the same report, 77% of volunteers reported that volunteering improved their mental health and well-being.

The data suggests that when we are working with volunteers, they are more likely to feel valued if we can help them to:

  • feel like they have made a difference
  • meet new people
  • feel less isolated
  • support positive mental health and well-being

There are of course many other reasons volunteers offer their time and a range of benefits they seek to receive from doing so. Therefore, a good starting point when considering how to value our volunteers should be to first understand their motivations and see where we can match our rewards to that.

In the DSC publication, The Complete Volunteer Management Handbook, author Rick Lynch says:

“Volunteers do not work for money, but they do receive a ‘motivational pay cheque’. They are rewarded by the satisfaction of their motivational needs.”

What are the ‘motivational pay cheques’ your organisation provides for your volunteers? If we want the ‘win-win for all’ scenario – what do your volunteers get from working with you?

Appreciation can be conveyed through both formal and informal recognition systems. Formal systems are helpful mainly in satisfying the needs of volunteers who seek recognition or approval, whether from a public body, the local community, or other volunteers. They can also ensure volunteer recognition does not fall through gaps in your organisation’s performance management systems. Informal recognition practices are more about the day-to-day stuff – expressing thanks, clear communications and helping volunteers to feel a part of the organisation.

Below is a list of suggestions of what we might offer volunteers to help them feel valued and supported by our organisation. This is not exhaustive, and you may have ideas of your own.

Which can you incorporate into your volunteer programme? Tick those that are possible and define one action you can take to make this a reality.

  • a welcome card when volunteers join your organisation
  • saying thank you for specific actions or contributions
  • public thank you’s (with permission) on notice boards, in newsletters, on websites and through social media
  • mention their work in your annual reports
  • sharing their stories on your website
  • letting them know exactly how their actions positively impact beneficiaries
  • celebrating / acknowledging birthdays
  • being aware of their own cultural and social contexts
  • all staff knowing their names
  • involving them in decisions that may affect them
  • keeping them up to date with changes in the organisation
  • making sure they are treated as equals
  • be flexible where you can with working days and hours
  • showing an interest in their lives outside your organisation
  • recommending them for advancement to more responsible roles
  • celebrating milestones and anniversaries within your organisation – with gifts or otherwise
  • passing on thanks and success stories from beneficiaries
  • listen and respond to their feedback
  • inviting them to relevant meetings and social get togethers
  • consider an annual recognition / appreciation event
  • giving regular and honest feedback
  • providing learning and development opportunities
  • making sure they know about recruitment opportunities
  • providing references
  • nominating for local or national awards or recognition
  • discounts on your own ‘paid for’ services

Sometimes simply asking your volunteers how best you can recognise their contribution is the most effective way to take on board their preferences and suggestions. Remember to review these regularly to ensure new volunteers and new ideas are incorporated into your plans.

Remember, volunteers are an integral part of the team and of the organisation, not an add-on. They are central to achieving your organisation’s Vision, Mission, and Values. Build volunteer recognition into your plans, policies, and procedures.

If you would like to find out more about Valuing Volunteers, please watch our most recent webinar, including contributions from Jamie Wilcox, Head of Volunteering Services at Great Ormond Street, Chloe Keen, Head of Involvement & Experiences at The National Trust and Mike Phillips, Directory of Social Change Associate and Independent Consultant, here.


Cathy Shimmin head and shoulders shot

Author – Cathy Shimmin

Senior Training Consultant at Directory of Social Change.

Cathy is the Senior Training Consultant at Directory of Social Change. She is also a qualified Performance Coach who has worked with many fundraisers over many years.