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Dave Thomas, NCVS Volunteering Development Officer

Volunteer Recognition and Reward

Dave Thomas, Volunteering Development Officer at NCVS writes...

One of the things that I try to drum into new Leaders of Volunteers is the importance of not turning volunteers into workers or employees by paying them. The legal position is that the only money volunteers can get is expenses to cover what is costs them to volunteer. This rule comes from both tax and benefits legislation.

I also know that many volunteers never claim a penny in expenses and that some organisations don’t offer expenses. Neither of these points appear to affect the commitment of volunteers.

So why am I even writing about giving volunteers any kind of reward?

First of all, I often think of a reward as being something of monetary value. This could be a Christmas lunch or a gift voucher in Volunteers Week. I have given volunteers both of these in my time at NCVS and in other organisations. In practice, an occasional small value gift of this kind has never been a problem. While the official guidance is very strict, both HMRC and Job Centre Plus informally understand that this happens.

However, I would never advocate for only using such tokens to recognise volunteers’ contributions. In my own volunteering and in volunteer teams that I have led, regular appreciation and recognition is far more important than an infrequent financially-based gesture. I know that Leaders of Volunteers appreciate their volunteers because you tell me at every Leaders of Volunteers Network meeting or training session.

I feel sure that you are already saying “thank you” to them regularly (frequently even), but you could probably do more to make sure that your colleagues also know how great your volunteers are. At the same time, could you remind staff colleagues that your trustees are volunteers too?

The excellent online resource from my colleagues at Community Works, the Volunteer Centre in Brighton, has a great page of tips, most of which won’t cost you a penny, but will help you to ensure that the contribution of all your volunteers is known and appreciated by the volunteers themselves and by staff across your organisation.

Recognise and reward your volunteers - Community Works

While some Leaders of Volunteers love award ceremonies; they are one of the suggestions in the list on the Community Works website, I’m not a fan of volunteer awards. This is not because the winners of awards don’t deserve their recognition – they really do - but because nominees who are runners-up or not awarded anything could feel that they are being sent a subliminal message that their contribution was not valued. I have even known of volunteers leaving the organisation as a result of not winning an award.

If you run volunteer awards, please think hard about how these other volunteers can be made to feel as valued as the winners. It would really help me if you have any ideas or experience about this aspect of awards if you would let me know how you manage this process.

Key points

  • Make sure any way you choose of recognising and rewarding fits the type of achievement and the volunteer concerned.
  • Make it personal and meaningful. Be honest and sincere. Most people can see through superficial praise.
  • Be consistent and fair. Don’t have different rules for different people .
  • Make sure the paid staff are fully aware of how important volunteers are to your organisation and ensure they have some training in supporting volunteers.
  • Trustees are volunteers too!

 Dave Thomas 

07564 040767

Date Posted: 
Wednesday, 29 June, 2022

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