The Number One Thing to Remember When Recognizing Volunteer Leaders

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Volunteers are the lifeline of nonprofit organizations. Because we want to maximize our budgets for initiatives that will improve the experience of our members, most of our manpower is driven by the people who willingly donate their time and energy to make sure the organization succeeds. It’s important for volunteers to feel like the effort they make is recognized and appreciated––that’s a given. Otherwise, it would be much easier for volunteer leaders to feel like they don’t really matter and should invest their time elsewhere. For some organizations, that can spell catastrophe.

On the other side, though, it’s sometimes easy to slip into a space where all of the gifts and recognition overshadow the intrinsic motivations volunteers have for wanting to give their time in the first place. The line between making sure they feel appreciated and making sure they are volunteering for the right reasons is sometimes blurry and hard to find.

Reconfiguring Recognition

For one of our clients at Innovatis Group, our Communities team works hard to make sure volunteer leaders are recognized for the time and energy they donate to helping the organization grow and flourish. Between tangible and intangible tokens of appreciation, our team is constantly developing creative new ways to celebrate volunteers for the outstanding work they do—in effect creating an atmosphere of reverence and prestige around the volunteer leader role.

However, instead of incentivizing volunteers on the front end (i.e. stating that volunteers will receive X benefit for completing Y task), it’s a good idea to reframe the approach to rewarding volunteers from a high level. Hollis Clinkinbeard, Membership & Communities Senior Associate for Innovatis Group, recognizes this importance: “We see a dramatic shift in volunteer engagement and enthusiasm when their altruistic nature is the focus of their activities instead of any reward we might provide. When volunteers volunteer because they want to improve their community above all else, it’s a lot easier to celebrate their achievements.”

At times, this means the volunteer recruitment process takes on new meaning as well. Rather than using any means necessary to bring people on board (read: dangling the proverbial carrot to entice people to volunteer instead of relying on their own inherent motivations), it’s important to be judicious about the language used when asking someone to volunteer their time.

Think about it this way: would it seem more sustainable if someone said you would receive a custom embroidered jacket in exchange for donating your time or if someone explained how donating your time would double your local chapter’s meetup attendance? While the first option might generate more excitement in the short term, the latter option is more likely to yield the kind of volunteers who continue to support your organization for years to come.


The balance between making sure volunteers are recognized and celebrated for their contributions and making sure they understand the true benefits of their time and energy is sometimes a difficult one to achieve. When it comes to incentives and rewards, it’s important to understand the timing and how it affects the morale and motivations of your organization’s volunteers. Contact Innovatis Group today to learn how we can help you strategize the most effective way to recognize your volunteers.

Kaiti Norton

Kaiti Norton

Kaiti is the Social Media Associate and Blog Editor at Innovatis Group. Her primary goal is to curate content and create a cohesive online brand for Innovatis and many of its clients. (Fun fact: she has 2 twin Siamese cats and has an extensive eyewear collection!)