Skills Based Volunteering: Effective Recognition Strategies

Oct 25, 2023

Volunteers play a vital role in driving positive change in the world and supporting community organizations’ missions. Acknowledging and honoring the contributions of volunteers is crucial for maintaining a positive and appreciative working environment, as well as for attracting and retaining them.  

As an expert in volunteer recognition, whether traditional or skills-based, we wanted to share a few ideas with you while we celebrate Pro Bono Week. At the top of our list is creating both formal and informal ways to recognize your pro bono and skills-based volunteers and developing a multi-faceted approach.  

Informal Volunteer Recognition Tactics 

  1. Personalized Thank-You Notes: Write heartfelt thank-you notes that highlight volunteers’ specific skills and the impact they’ve had on the company’s nonprofit partners. This personal touch goes a long way in expressing gratitude. 
  2. Casual Coffee or Lunch Meetings: Invite them for a coffee or lunch with yourself or with senior leaders to express appreciation and discuss their experiences. It’s an opportunity to learn more about their skills and interests. 
  3. Social Media Shoutouts: Give them a shoutout on your company’s social media platforms, showcasing their work and expressing gratitude for their expertise. 
  4. Small Tokens of Appreciation: Send a handwritten card along with company-branded merchandise or a gift card to show your gratitude for their efforts. 
  5. Highlight Their Contributions in Team Meetings: Ask their supervisor to take a moment during team meetings to acknowledge their contributions and the positive impact they’ve had on your company’s employee volunteer program. 
  6. Peer Recognition: Encourage colleagues and team members to recognize and applaud volunteers’ contributions through informal communication tools like a Slack volunteer channel or by posting photos in the breakroom. 
  7. Feature Them in Newsletters or Blogs: Include a section in internal newsletters or on your company blog that highlights the work and accomplishments of your skills-based volunteers. 
  8. Invitations to Community Events: Often, corporate social impact leaders receive tickets to events hosted by nonprofit partners or others in the community. Offer the chance to attend to your volunteers so that you’re seated amongst colleagues who will truly appreciate the opportunity.  

Remember that informal recognition should be sincere and tailored to the individual volunteer’s preferences. Some volunteers may prefer a private thank-you note, while others may appreciate public recognition. Be sure to consider their comfort levels and preferences when showing appreciation. 

Formal Volunteer Recognition Tactics 

  1. Formal Thank-You Letters: Send formal thank-you letters or emails signed by company leadership to skills-based volunteers, expressing gratitude for their expertise and dedication. Make sure their supervisor also receives a copy for their personnel file. 
  2. Awards and Certificates: Create awards or certificates that acknowledge volunteers for their contributions. These can be presented at company-wide events or volunteer recognition ceremonies. 
  3. Skills-based Volunteer of the Year: Establish a formal award to honor the individual or team that has made the most significant impact through their skills-based volunteering efforts. 
  4. Annual Volunteer Recognition Event: Host an annual recognition event dedicated to honoring all volunteers, including skills-based volunteers. Invite company leadership and colleagues to celebrate their contributions.  
  5. Performance Reviews: Encourage employees to include their skills-based volunteer work in their mid-year or annual performance reviews or conversations. This provides a platform for them to explain skills they learned or practiced that can help them advance. 
  6. Public Recognition: Include a section on your company website or internal newsletters that highlights the achievements and contributions of skills-based volunteers. This can be in the form of profiles or success stories. 
  7. Professional Development Opportunities: After coordinating with HR and leadership, offer skills-based volunteers opportunities for professional development, such as attending conferences, workshops or courses relevant to their field of expertise or creating social impact like the annual Points of Light Conference. 
  8. Mentorship Programs: Implement a mentorship program where experienced skills-based volunteers can mentor newer volunteers. Recognize mentors for their guidance and support. 
  9. Monetary Grants or Donations: Consider offering a charitable grant or donation to a cause of the skills-based volunteer’s choice as a way of recognizing their efforts. This can also serve as an incentive for getting more skills-based volunteers involved in the next project. 
  10. LinkedIn Recommendations: Encourage company leaders and colleagues to write LinkedIn recommendations for skills-based volunteers, acknowledging their valuable contributions. 

When recognizing skills-based volunteers formally, it’s important to make the acknowledgment meaningful and aligned with your company’s culture and values. Tailor your approach to fit the preferences and needs of the volunteers while ensuring that their contributions are acknowledged and celebrated throughout the organization. 

Regardless of format, one of the best ways to recognize the work of a skills-based volunteer is to highlight the results they accomplished at a project’s conclusion. This evaluation should be two dimensional, showcasing the effect the project had on volunteers, the nonprofit organization as well as outcomes related to social impact. Use that information to nominate your skills-based volunteers for a Daily Point of Light Award or congratulate them with a President’s Volunteer Service Award. 

Katy Elder
Vice President of Corporate Insights, Points of Light

Spending 20 years in the corporate social responsibility sector, Katy mixes creativity and strategy with expertise in employee engagement and corporate citizenship to develop resources and learning opportunities that advance corporate social impact.