As a Christian organization, it is a part of our values to lead with an attitude of gratitude. As a volunteer-led organization, this should begin from the moment our volunteers choose to help support our mission.

We should keep in mind the value of praising effective work at the time it takes place and treating volunteers as important members of the team. When their time with us is completed, we should thank them and let them know how appreciative we are for their contribution.

Effective recognition is comprised of five main components:

  1. Staff and Volunteer Relationships
  2. Understanding Motivations
  3. Informal Recognition
  4. Making 'Thanks' Meaningful
  5. Formal Recognition

Staff and Volunteer Relationships

Crucial to volunteer retention is a supportive team environment, with positive relationships between volunteers and staff.

Effective staff and volunteer integration depend on:

  • The involvement of paid staff in role development and volunteer placement.
  • Use of a role description so expectations and boundaries are clear to everyone.
  • Listening respectfully to issues raised and taking actions to remove the issue.
  • Timely and respectful dispute resolution between volunteers and staff members.
  • Defined channels for volunteers to voice ideas or criticisms.

Understanding Motivations

Recognition is not one-size-fits-all, so consider and apply what is relevant according to the volunteer in mind. The key is to understand their motivation for being involved and if practical, to satisfy that motivation. It's always helpful to know what's important to your volunteer, so you can help meet those expectations during their volunteer journey. 

  • Schedule regular check-ins with your volunteer to see how they're doing and what you can do to support them or make the position more meaningful. 
  • Ask your volunteer why they started/continue to volunteer. 
  • Try to meet those expectations where practical.

Informal Recognition

Informal recognition contributes to a positive culture of gratitude and creates a feeling of belonging and connection.

Informal recognition is when you:

  • Remember someone’s name and personal details.
  • Include them in team meetings/activities and ask for their input.
  • Communicate, to them and to others, how their contribution is making a difference to the activity and/or community.
  • Offer opportunities for skills/professional development.

Making "Thanks" Meaningful

Expressions of gratitude and feeling appreciated can improve well-being, physical health, strengthen social relationships and help us cope with stress. In general, recognition is most meaningful when it’s specific. Say a simple "thank you" and make it about a specific thing.

Specific things you may recognize and express thanks for can include:

  • A skill demonstrated or quality of character demonstrated.
  • Persistence—remaining reliable through a difficult period.
  • Exemplary customer or client service.
  • Assistance in resolving a particularly difficult problem.
  • Creativity—generating ideas, innovative problem-solving.

Formal Recognition

Create both an informal and formal recognition strategy because each type can be viewed differently by the beneficiary of that recognition. Informal recognition is often viewed as coming directly from the person giving the recognition and the immediate team. Formal recognition is more likely to feel like it is coming from The Salvation Army as a whole.

Formal recognition works well as an addition to informal recognition but cannot replace it.

Formal recognition includes:

  • Certificates.
  • Thank you letters or cards.
  • A featured volunteer story in a newsletter or on the web.
  • Team morning/afternoon coffee breaks, lunches.
  • Nominating for awards, such as Volunteer of the Year.


Strong volunteer retention reflects a healthy organization. So, consider the characteristics that create an encouraging and supportive place to volunteer and the steps you can take to construct that environment. When thanking a volunteer, consider how you will tailor that recognition to the unique personality of the volunteer. For example, if you know your volunteer is quite shy, give them a handwritten card, if your volunteer is an extrovert, present them with a certificate in front of the team.

Recognize Checklist

For the Recognize stage, have you:

Involved staff in the volunteer process (planning and recruitment)?
Discussed with staff how volunteers will form part of the team and assured paid staff of their positions?
Taken the time to understand the motivations of your volunteers?
Actively tried to find ways to satisfy your volunteers’ motivations?
Learned the names your volunteers?
Shown an interest in volunteers as individuals?
Asked volunteers for their input?
Included your volunteers in team events/activities?
Included your volunteers in regular team meetings?
Thanked your volunteers for specific things?
Given out birthday cards?
Given out cards for other significant life events, such as completing a university degree?
Hosted a "thank you" lunch or event for, or including, volunteers?
Celebrated volunteers’ significant dates of service?
Offered and planned development pathways?

A considered strategy and team approach to recognition will create a positive and inclusive culture that will motivate your staff and volunteers. This is not only a chief principal in increasing engagement and retention, but also in how we treat people.

Please click on the links below to access the files for each Behind the Shield resource. All resources are available in both French and English. For some of these resources, we have created a version that can be printed on any printer you have access to and a version that should be used if you are outsourcing to a print house. Please read the file names carefully and choose the resource that best suits your needs. 

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