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Volunteering blog

Recognition of Volunteering - How to Do It Right  


We’ve been speaking about the value of volunteering and volunteers, acknowledging that their actions have a significant positive impact within our society, developing communities and the civil society, as well as bringing an important economic contribution. But how do we actually recognise the value of volunteering  – and what tools can we use to express this recognition?

Why recognise volunteering

When we speak about recognition of volunteers, we refer to providing some kind of reward or motivation for those volunteers who have made a selfless contribution. During the European Year of Volunteering 2011, the Policy Agenda for Volunteering in Europe (PAVE) Working Group concluded that recognition of volunteering is key in helping volunteers themselves understand the responsibility their volunteer action carries – and that a culture of recognition of volunteers should be encouraged and developed within volunteer-involving organisations, volunteers themselves and the wider society which benefits from the volunteers’ service and engagement.


While people choose to volunteer for a myriad of reasons and motivations, having their volunteering impact recognised at individual level is not the sole reason they volunteer. The findings of the PAVE Working Group on Recognition did show that recognising not only the individual’s volunteering actions but also those of the wider volunteering group they might be a part of, certainly links to the decision of volunteers to continue their volunteering service. It is thus an important part of the volunteering programme, serving as a motivating factor.


When and how to recognise volunteers’ contribution

Choosing the right tools to recognise volunteering is  first a matter of understanding the volunteers’ recognition needs. When analysing these, PAVE Working Group started from Maslow’s pyramid of needs. The agreement was that receiving recognition for their volunteering service meets volunteers’ need of esteem (the 4th layer of needs in the pyramid). As such, depending on their individual motivation and personality, volunteers might feel appreciated by different expressions of recognition of their service – from receiving a more challenging task or higher level training after successfully completing certain volunteering tasks, to being awarded a gift or certificate either in front of a wider group of people or by a figure of authority.

Experts working on PAVE back in 2011 also advised these tools should be not only linked to the general motivation of the volunteer, but also to their stage in their volunteer life cycle. The 3 stages of motivation in the volunteer life cycle author Paula Beugen spoke back in 1985 are still valid today:

Stage 1 – Exploring volunteering. Stage 2 – Developing as a volunteer. Stage 3 – Sharing volunteering experiences.

The author advises that the Stage 1 is for trying out volunteering and deciding whether or not to make a commitment to it. Stage 2 is the time when they are getting ever more committed and actually starting to develop new skills – this is deemed the most important one for recognising their achievements as volunteers. Stage 3 is when volunteers really mature in their role and are ready to lead others and share their experience volunteering. This is the time to recognise the skills they have developed, to motivate them so share these further with fellow volunteers or to use them in a new volunteer or non-volunteer role.

Volunteer-involving organisations should thus take the time to really get to know their volunteers, understand what motivates them and what stage of the volunteer life cycle they are in to be able to recognise their contribution in the most significant way – this ensures the continued impact of volunteering is felt by the beneficiaries of volunteering, the volunteers themselves and the wider society. Volunteers’ role in society is immense. They should feel that fact is acknowledged and recognised as such. Recognition is a key part of the value chain of volunteering in society.


What tools can be used for recognising volunteers

  • Just say ‘Thank you’

If all else proves too complicated for the volunteering involving organisations dealing with limitations in their resources (human and financial), a simple ‘Thank You’ is often very powerful in itself. These words, expressed verbally or through a card, during a volunteer meal or an e-note, needs to acknowledge the person (rather than the activities), needs to be honest and if possible and should be linked to the beneficiary of the volunteering, or to the leader of the cause the volunteers are contributing towards.

  • A system to measure their skills and competences

Many volunteers might not have thought about the skills and competences they have developed during their volunteering experience, so having a framework to help assess these would enhance the value the volunteers feel their actions bring to themselves and others. While some countries have developed such frameworks in the last few years, at European level it would be very beneficial to create such a framework which can be used across borders, especially considering the mobility of people across Europe – this can help them translate their experience into values which can be acknowledged outside their place of volunteering.

  • An EU-recognised volunteering certificate

Would that be something we can look at creating in the future? The learnings from PAVE and the experience of different volunteering involving organisations creating their own recognition certificates can serve as solid ground for lobbying for an EU-stamp of approval and recognition of volunteering through a certificate emitted by the EU and EU partners. The volunteering involving organisations can apply to use this EU volunteering certificate for the contribution of their volunteers and they can be granted the right to release such certificates.

While the process for obtaining that certificate might take some time, volunteering involving organisations can continue to develop the e-certificates which can be shared by volunteers online on the relevant social media channels, such as LinkedIn and also as part of their Europass e-portfolio.


  • Testimonials and stories of impact

Using the power of images and words, volunteering involving organisations can create powerful audio-video or written materials to express their gratitude towards the volunteers. By gathering key data about their volunteering activity (such as who they have been supporting, for how long, in what ways and with what impact), volunteers’ contribution can be recognised by sharing their testimonial or story of impact with the wider community. This is not only rewarding and motivating for themselves, but also inspiring for other people who are considering starting to volunteer.


Recognising volunteering is as easy as it is necessary. To do it properly, volunteering involving organisations do need to put in the effort to understand their volunteers’ needs for recognition – and to learn how to do that, they can always rely on the knowledge, tools and experience of fellow organisations working to support volunteers, through networks such as CEV. The recent CEV conference ‘Revealing European Values in Volunteer Events’ (REVIVE) looked at how recognition events for volunteers such as awards, weeks, festivals and fairs could also be harnessed for the wider objective of promoting European values. The need for recognition is also highlighted in the new “Blueprint for European Volunteering 2030”. The knowledge and advice for putting in practice the recognition tools is out there, available for all to use. Recognising volunteers and keeping them motivated for more impactful contributions has never been easier. Why not start now on International Volunteer Day 2021* on December 5th, in this, the 10 anniversary year of EYV2011?



*UNV has just announced the theme for International Volunteer Day 2021 (IVD2021), “Volunteer Now for Our Common Future”. 

You can find out more about the UNV campaign on their website. You can also follow and engage with the campaign using the hashtags #volunteernow and #IVD2021. 

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