Recognition

Volunteer recognition is a critical part of volunteer involvement. Volunteers give their time willingly and without expectation of a reward; however, appropriately recognising volunteers demonstrates how much your organisation values their contribution. Volunteer recognition should be considered during the planning stage of volunteer involvement, rather than being an afterthought. Recognition does not have to be a costly exercise and the level of formality of your recognition strategies might relate to the specificities of a role. Recognition can be both individual and done in groups..

Alignment with the National Standards for Volunteer Involvement

National Standard 7: Volunteer Recognition covers volunteer recognition. To meet this National Standard, organisations need to demonstrate that volunteer contribution, value, and impact is understood, appreciated, and acknowledged. National Standard 7 has four sub-standards that demonstrate how it can be met, including recognition of volunteer involvement from the governing body, feedback processes that inform the volunteer about the value of their contribution, public acknowledgement of the value of volunteers, and appropriate recognition that considers individual preferences.

Principles of recognition

There are three principles of good volunteer recognition:

  1. Recognition is an ongoing and integral part of the volunteer management process.
  2. Recognition can be formal or informal and given on more than one occasion.
  3. Recognition should be meaningful to the person being thanked and given in a timely manner.

One of the best ways to approach recognition is to ask volunteers how they would like to be recognised. If a volunteer says they do not want recognition that does not provide a license to do nothing. Instead, consider simple, low-key approaches that won’t make the volunteer feel uncomfortable. It is important to remember that formal, scheduled recognition does not replace a daily thank you.

Ideas for volunteer recognition

Volunteer recognition can take a variety of forms, including:

  • Aligning recognition with National Volunteer Week or International Volunteer Day
  • Events such as morning teas and lunches
  • Organising an activity outside the workplace paid for by the organisation
  • Providing certificates
  • Providing references (written or verbal)
  • Commemoration pins
  • Recognition in newsletters or on social media

Many organisations may not have a budget for volunteer recognition, but recognition does not need to cost money. Simply finding opportunities to recognise volunteer impact and provide volunteers with feedback on how their involvement makes a difference is a great way to start.

Gifts, honorariums and reimbursements

Gifts and honorariums may be used as recognition strategies for volunteers but need to be approached with caution. The Australian Taxation Office provides information on honorariums, including when an honorarium would be considered assessable income. If your organisation provides honorariums, it is important you understand your taxation obligations and any volunteers receiving an honorarium seek advice on their individual circumstances. When it comes to gifts, it is recommended that your organisation has policies and procedures that guide to provision, acceptance, and disclosure of gifts. This should cover gifts your organisation provides to volunteers (if any) and your process for gifts given to volunteers by service users.

Reimbursements are generally provided for pre-approved, out-of-pocket expenses. It is recommended that your organisation has a reimbursement policy and this is clearly communicated to volunteers. It is Volunteering Australia’s position that volunteers should not be out-of-pocket as a result of volunteering. Consider how your organisation can reduce or remove financial barriers to volunteering and be up front about any costs that may be associated with volunteering.

Gifts and honorariums align with National Standard 7: Volunteer Recognition and reimbursements align with National Standard 2: Commitment to Volunteer Involvement and National Standard 5: Support and Development.

Gifts

Providing gifts to volunteers can be a fantastic way to recognise their contribution; however, the provision of gifts should be approached with care. The Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission expects that gifts provided to volunteers will be of a token nature. It is up to the Responsible Person in an organisation to consider the issues associated with gifts and understand any implications of providing or receiving gifts.

It is recommended that your organisation has a policy on gifts, which identifies a monetary threshold, a decision-making process, and a disclosure process. It can be common for service users to provide gifts as tokens of their appreciation, especially if they have close relationships with volunteers. Sometimes this can create an awkward situation for volunteers who may feel rude rejecting a gift. Providing volunteers with a clear policy on gifts will enable them to communicate this effectively in the event someone tries to gift them something that breaches your policy, the threshold of an acceptable gift, or ATO/ACNC requirements.

Honorariums

Honorariums are usually provided as a reward for voluntary service and can be paid in money or as property. Often, they are used to recognise a substantial contribution from a volunteer or to compensate volunteers for sharing their lived experience. If your organisation provides honorariums, it is recommended that you seek independent legal and taxation advice. Large honorariums could be assessed as taxable incomes, and ongoing honorariums could be assessed as payment for work. In the case of the latter, this may breach Fair Work regulations if it is found that the honorarium is provided in lieu of a wage.

Reimbursements

Volunteers should not be out-of-pocket as a result of volunteering. An important consideration prior to the involvement of volunteers is whether your organisation has sufficient resources, both human and financial, to effectively support volunteers to deliver programs and services. It may be the case that volunteers procure items for your organisation in their role. Where possible, provide petty cash for small purchases. It is recommended that your policy clearly stipulates the conditions for reimbursements, and it is suggested that any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by volunteers are pre-approved by the organisation.

More information

For more ideas on how to recognise your volunteers see Volunteering Australia’s 101 Ways to Recognise Your Volunteers.