Creative Volunteer Recognition: Beyond the Banquet

Recognition is a cornerstone of any volunteer program, and government agencies (or any organizations) often rely on the dedication of volunteers to achieve their missions effectively. While traditional forms of recognition such as awards, volunteer dinners, social media posts, gifts, or thank you notes can be meaningful, some organizations are thinking outside the box to show their appreciation. Creative volunteer recognition:

·      Acknowledges the efforts of volunteers.

·      Provides enriching experiences for them and their families.

·      Educates volunteers about different parts of the organization.

·      Recruits new volunteers.

Many cities, counties, and state agencies are thinking about how to provide high-touch volunteer recognition. Especially if the recognition is at little to no cost. Creative volunteer appreciation is particularly effective if agencies can cross-collaborate between departments, divisions, or even outside organizations to amplify their impact. Here are some ideas:

Educational Workshops

Government agencies offer educational insights, enhancing volunteers' understanding of the organization's mission and impact. These could include Lunch & Learns, training, and conferences.

Some organizations give classes like First Aid/CPR, gardening classes, emergency preparedness, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training, for example. Think about what classes would be beneficial for your volunteers personally and would benefit your agency at the same time.

The Volunteer Summit, hosted by the City of Fort Collins, is a premier event dedicated to recognizing and celebrating the invaluable contributions of volunteers within the community. This annual gathering serves as a platform to honor the dedication and commitment of volunteers from diverse backgrounds and areas of service. Attendees participate in keynote speeches, interactive workshops, and networking opportunities, all aimed at fostering a culture of volunteerism and civic engagement. Through the Volunteer Summit, the City of Fort Collins demonstrates its deep appreciation for the tireless efforts of its volunteers and their transformative impact on the community.

Exclusive Projects

Agencies can host exclusive events, conferences, and projects dedicated to celebrating volunteers' contributions. These initiatives inspire others to get involved and make a difference in their communities.

Fish and wildlife agencies collaborate with volunteers to restore and maintain habitats for native species. Volunteer activities may include planting native vegetation, removing invasive species, or constructing wildlife habitat structures, contributing to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health. These special opportunities may not be open to the public, but are open to their most dedicated volunteers because the opportunity is so special.

The National Park Service organizes workshops where volunteers can learn about environmental conservation and participate in hands-on activities such as trail maintenance or habitat restoration. Combining education with a project allows volunteers to apply the skills they learned immediately, enhancing understanding.

Behind-the-Scenes Tours

Consider giving special guided tours of new and novel things at your organization. It could be capital projects, like new facilities or parks, or of a place the public is seldom invited, like a private wildlife area or archives facilities.

Law enforcement agencies sometimes offer community volunteer tours through their stations or Police Ride Alongs. Volunteers gain insight into the daily operations of different divisions, enhancing their appreciation for the vital role law enforcement plays in the community.

Horticulture organizations often host community garden tours, plant sales, and harvest parties to celebrate the efforts of volunteers who contribute to urban greening initiatives. Some open the events an hour early just for volunteers.

The Denver Botanic Garden offers a 10% discount, access to the preview party, and lunch at their Spring Plant Sale to any active volunteers.

Cultural Opportunities

By partnering with performing arts venues, especially if they are internal to your organization, agencies create memorable and enriching experiences that foster a sense of community among volunteers.

Screenings of movies offer a chance for agencies to provide entertainment for their volunteers. Think about providing free tickets to local performing arts centers. Ideas to consider are comedy shows, plays, sporting events, and concerts.

Arts commissions and municipal governments engage volunteers in public art projects such as mural painting, sculpture installations, or community art workshops. Participation numbers are sometimes limited and opening them up to your existing pool of volunteers can be meaningful. Volunteers can contribute to the beautification of public spaces and the promotion of artistic expression within their communities.

Creative workspaces like Recreation Centers and Art Studios often invite volunteers to participate in art classes. These workshops foster creativity and skill-building while providing volunteers with a behind-the-scenes look at the facilities operations and potentially help advertise for new students.

BLDG 61, a creative workspace at the Boulder Public Library in Colorado, invites volunteers to participate in hands-on projects like laser cutting while providing an overview of their facility. These workshops not only foster creativity but also empower volunteers to learn new skills.


Offering volunteers discounts is a meaningful way for organizations to express gratitude for their dedication and service. Whether it's discounted admission to local attractions, special rates on products or services, or exclusive deals at participating businesses, these discounts acknowledge the valuable contributions volunteers make to the community.

At Space Center Houston, two complimentary tickets are provided to give to others for every 60 hours of service, as well as complimentary access to the Space Center when not volunteering. They also receive discounts at the SpaceTrader Gift Shop and The Food Lab, and on many events and unique experiences.

Free Day or Annual Passes

Government agencies can show appreciation for volunteers by offering free passes to municipal-owned facilities such as botanic gardens, recreation facilities, or museums. These passes provide volunteers and their families with opportunities to explore cultural and educational attractions in their community.

Additionally, municipalities can further enhance volunteer recognition by trading passes with non-profit organizations, developing collaboration and expanding access to experiences for volunteers across various sectors.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife gives annual passes to volunteers who contribute more than 48 hours in a year. Besides administrative overhead, this costs the agency nothing and is an appreciation item, and an incentive for people to volunteer. Similarly, The National Park Service recognizes the contributions of volunteers across its parks and sites nationwide with free passes to national parks, monuments, and historic sites. Volunteers earn this annual pass after contributing 250 hours.

Wellness and Recreation Activities

Recognizing the importance of self-care, agencies often organize wellness activities such as free yoga classes, cooking classes, or health fairs for volunteers. These events promote physical and mental well-being while fostering a sense of community among volunteers.

Gatherings at local reservoirs or parks offer volunteers and their families a chance to enjoy outdoor activities in a scenic setting. You could invite volunteers to bring their own food to a potluck style event. These events create memorable experiences, the opportunity for volunteers to get to know one another, and express thanks for volunteers' contributions.

At MaineGeneral Health, volunteer benefits include an annual flu shot, educational programs, free healthy meals, area business discounts, and access to MaineGeneral's medical library.

Next Steps

To further enhance volunteer recognition efforts, organizations can:

·      Survey Volunteers: Gather feedback to tailor recognition initiatives to volunteers' preferences.

·      Expand Recognition: Explore new ways to recognize volunteers, asking staff for creative ideas like the ones listed above.

·      Training Opportunities: Offer workshops or certifications to support volunteers' skills and knowledge.

·      Maintain Communication: Keep volunteers informed about opportunities and organizational updates.

·      Evaluate and Adapt: Continuously assess recognition efforts and adjust based on feedback.

By taking these steps, organizations can foster a culture of appreciation that encourages continued volunteer engagement and support. These creative ideas can work on a limited budget- making the strategies easier to maintain. It is a win-win scenario where volunteers feel valued and recognized, while agencies can educate and connect with their ambassadors.

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