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Appreciation for Volunteers (Guidelines and ideas for expressing appreciation)

Daniel C. Olsen, Senior Consultant, SDAO


Appreciation is like rain in the desert…

not expected …

but greatly appreciated when it comes.


How do you show appreciation for your volunteers? Appreciation can be shown in a variety of ways. It can be shown to individuals or a group. It can be spontaneous or planned. It can be small or large.

In this article, I provide nine guidelines and over fifty specific ways to show appreciation for your volunteers and their service. While we are talking about volunteers, appreciation also apply to your career personnel.

Use the following nine guidelines when expressing appreciation:

1.  Be specific and sincere

Be specific about why you appreciate what the person did. Clearly explain what you appreciate about the member and why. Sincerity is extremely important; it is positive feedback to the individual.

2.  Be timely

In most cases, express appreciation as soon as possible. While this may not always be possible, the sooner the better always works.

3. Fair, consistent, and appropriate

Consistent application to all volunteers. This also includes the amount expended.


4.  A keepsake or one time gift?

Is the item a one-time gift such as a gift card or is it something the individual will keep and display


5. Presentation adds value

Present your gift of appreciation in a gift box with wrapping. It will make it memorable. A certificate mounted in a frame, and matted, is different from a piece of paper certificate alone.


6.  Make it exclusive and unique

The department logo will make it exclusive. Think how you can make the appreciation different from others.


7.  Personalize the appreciation

Put the recipient’s name, rank, years of service or other information that makes it their own.


8.  Make it meaningful

Many years ago, a friend was retiring after twenty-five years of service. He was also a big fan of Coach Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys. I wrote to Coach Landry explaining that my friend was retiring and asked if he could send me a signed photograph which I could present at his retirement. Coach Landry graciously sent a personalized photo and included a note on Cowboy stationery congratulating him on his retirement. It was a great gift of appreciation made meaningful by Coach Landry.


9.  Make a connection

And finally, how can the appreciation, whatever it be, make a connection with volunteer so they will remember it. Take the time to know each volunteer and what is important to them. That personal interest makes a tremendous difference.


More than 50 ideas to express appreciation

I am sure that you can add to this list. But it does provide a starting point for specific ways you can demonstrate appreciation.

What is presented here are ideas to consider. They range from simple and spontaneous (a verbal “thank you”) to special awards and commemorative ideas (i.e., firefighter memorial).

These are various ways to appreciate your volunteer members, their service, and contributions to your organization.

“Thank you”

·       A verbal “thank you”

·       A written thank you note

·       A written thank you on a special card

·       A written thank you on a department card embossed with a Maltese cross or logo


Informal Tokens of Appreciation

·       Upgraded Department Identification card

·       Bouquet of flowers (do not forget the spouse)

·       A gift card of varying denominations

·       A special department Identification card or baggage tag

·       Department lapel pin

·       Key chain with department logo

·       License plate frame with logo

·       Car window sticker/logo


Certificates and formal Awards

·       A framed certificate

·       A framed handmade certificate (i.e., done by a calligrapher)

·       A belt buckle with department emblem (these could be for number of alarms during year i.e., 100, 200, 300 alarms)

·       A special “Challenge Coin”

·       A medallion with embossed Department seal in framed case

·       A framed portrait of the individual with the Fire Chief or Chairperson of the Board

·       Department Medalion – framed


Other Gifts of Appreciation

·       A paperweight with the person’s name

·       Special article about individual on Department social media posting

·       Pocket knife/tool with department logo

·       Dress or sporting gloves

·       “Collar brass” for uniform

·       Car blanket with embroidered department logo

·       Scarf with embroidered department logo

·       Coat with embroidered logo


Tickets to special events

·       Tickets to special sporting event

·       Tickets to concert or entertainment event or show


Uniform Items 

·       Uniform ribbons for training accomplished, ranks achieved or outstanding acts of service

·       Uniforms (if funding is tight, the following items could each be added over a period of time)

·       Tee shirt

·       Baseball cap

·       Short sleeve shirt

·       Long sleeve shirt

·       Uniform slacks

·       Lightweight coat

·       Class A coat

·       Uniform Hat

·       Sweater embroidered with Department logo

·       Shoes/Boots


Photographs of special events

·       Framed Photograph – “Welcome Aboard” for new member

·       Framed Photograph – graduation class of recruits

·       Framed Photograph – promotions and special achievements

Special Awards

·       Statuette

·       Framed Currier & Ives firefighter lithograph

·       Fire Axe

·       Bugle/Chief’s Trumpet

·       Signed Celebrity Photo

·       Watch with Department emblem

·       ‘Volunteer of the Year’ Award

·       ‘Volunteer of the Quarter’ Award

·       Plaque - single year

·       Plaque - multiple year


Personalized recreational equipment

·       Sporting Equipment (golf)

·       Sporting Equipment (fishing)

·       Sporting Equipment (hunting)

·       Sporting Equipment (tennis)


Cash Awards

·       Cash award based on years of service

·       LOSAP (length of service award program)


Memorial Awards

·       Hall of Fame (or Hall of “Flame”) on a specific wall or hallway in your facility with framed photos of the individual who received the honor

·       Firefighter Memorial with names of volunteers who has passed in a specific place


Encourage one another.

Many times, a word of praise or thanks or appreciation of cheer

has kept people on their feet.

-          Charles Swindoll


What are your volunteers worth?

You will be able to think of more ways to show appreciation. The important thing is doing it. Let your volunteers know every day and, in every way, they are valued and appreciated.