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Volunteer Recognition Ideas Across Generations

This article originally appeared on www.mavanetwork.org and is featured here in partnership with the Minnesota Alliance for Volunteer Advancement.

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Volunteering serves as the lifeblood of every community. Generous souls dedicate their time, energy, and skills to causes they believe in, and recognizing these contributions is key to keeping the volunteer spirit alive.

However, there's a catch - not all expressions of gratitude resonate equally with every volunteer.

Just as a one-size-fits-all rule doesn't apply to T-shirts, it certainly doesn't cut it in the world of expressing appreciation- particularly when considering how to say thank you to differing generations of volunteers.

We compiled a list of recommendations on how to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of volunteers spanning various generations.

Traditionalists (Born before 1946)

Traditionalists are individuals who value stability, respect authority, and have a strong work ethic. They tend to appreciate hierarchy, traditional values, and prefer a more formal communication style.

How to express Volunteer Recognition to Traditionalists: 

  • If giving an item, give something useful
  • Make donation in honor of them
  • Service pins are popular
  • Honor years of service
  • Many like recognition parties

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

Baby boomers are individuals born between 1946 and 1964, characterized by their significant impact on society and the economy.

How to express Volunteer Recognition to Baby Boomers: 

  • No trinkets or meaningless stuff 
  • Like training opportunities
  • Offer leadership of a project
  • Send “insider” information – such as advanced notice of new Executive Director hiring or including in organizational communication
  • Provide name tags like staff have
  • Send thank you to their family for sharing their time with the organization
  • Some like to be highlighted in newsletters, on website, etc
  • Mixed reaction on recognition parties – some like the networking and some feel to busy to attend

Gen X (Born 1965-1980)

Generation X, often characterized as independent and adaptable, grew up during a time of significant societal and technological changes.

How to express Volunteer Recognition to Gen X: 

  • Send note to their works supervisor
  • Give business cards for volunteer position
  • Offer to be a reference
  • Acknowledge in news or other ways that are public
  • Add to their network, help make a connection, introductions
  • Offer opportunity to develop skill or skill set
  • Spontaneous email thank you
  • Give volunteer positions interesting titles
  • Provide electronic logo that could add to website

Millennials (Born 1981-1996)

Millennials, also known as Generation Y, are individuals born between 1981 and 1996, characterized by their familiarity with digital technology and diverse perspectives.

How to express Volunteer Recognition to Millennials:

  • Offer reference letter
  • Give feedback – this generation loves feedback
  • Offer to take to meetings for networking opportunities
  • Offer information interview with position(s) in organization
  • Offer increased responsibility or a challenge
  • Gift cards are popular
  • Like verbal thank yous
  • Give increased responsibility, a leadership role or a project to be in charge of
  • Many do not like traditional volunteer recognition parties
  • Handwritten notes
Like this article?

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Volunteer recognition should be as diverse as the people who give their time.

Tailoring your appreciation to account for generational differences makes each volunteer feel that their contribution is truly seen and valued.

As leaders and coordinators, we have the responsibility to turn the spotlight on our volunteers in ways that ensure it illuminates their unique and individual shine.

After all, just as each generation has its own unique cultural imprint, so too should their recognition for a job well done!

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