The Journal of Extension -

June 2010 // Volume 48 // Number 3 // Tools of the Trade // v48-3tt2

The Volunteer Recognition Program Model: Providing Volunteer Recognition Throughout the Year

The Volunteer Recognition Model was developed as a tool for Extension agents and volunteer administrators to use in designing their own comprehensive volunteer recognition program. The model uses both extrinsic and intrinsic recognition throughout the entire program year. Recognition is vital to sustaining volunteers in the roles in which they serve, and it encourages volunteers to expand responsibilities into other areas. This model provides diverse methods of recognizing volunteers on all levels, regardless of their motivation for service.

Marla Stillwell
Hardin County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development
Elizabethtown, Kentucky

Ken Culp, III
Senior Specialist for Volunteerism
Department of 4-H Youth Development
Lexington, Kentucky

Kathleen Hunter
Pendleton County Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development
Falmouth, Kentucky

University of Kentucky

Introduction & Review of Literature

Nearly every volunteer administration model includes volunteer recognition as a key component. These include the Bridge from Dreams to Realities model (Vineyard, 1980), the 4-H Leadership Development model (Kwarteng, Smith & Miller, 1988), ISOTURE model (Boyce, 1971; Dolan, 1969), the L-O-O-P model (Penrod, 1991), the Volunteer Management Cycle (Lawson & Lawson, 1986), the Volunteer Professional Model for Human Services Agencies and Counselors (Lenihan & Jackson, 1984), and the GEMS Model of Volunteer Administration (Culp, Deppe, Castillo, & Wells, 1998). Recognition of volunteers can be found within the GEMS Model of Volunteer Administration under the sustain phase. Other components within the sustain phase includes evaluation, retention, redirection, and disengagement (Culp, Deppe, Castillo, & Wells, 1998). Volunteer recognition is defined as "formal and informal favorable attention given to an individual to provide a sense of appreciation" (Kwarteng, Smith, & Miller, 1988).

Determining which categories of recognition are most significant, as well as the specific types of recognition that are most meaningful to individual volunteers, however, is an open debate (Campbell, Culp, & Schwartz, 1999). The debate most often centers on whether extrinsic versus intrinsic recognition is most meaningful, appropriate, and appreciated by volunteers. Although extrinsic recognition is recommended by some (Murk & Stephan, 1991), the most important factor in volunteer development and administration has been found to be informal, verbal recognition, praise, and encouragement by others (Kwarteng, Smith, & Miller, 1988), which is clearly intrinsic recognition.

A research study was conducted of tenured Ohio 4-H volunteers who were attending a statewide recognition luncheon to explore the types of recognition 4-H volunteers preferred (Culp & Schwartz, 1998). The recognition types that most tenured 4-H volunteers in the study preferred were intrinsic, informal, and local (from the program participants) rather than from parents or Extension professionals.


Because studies have shown that 4-H volunteers prefer intrinsic over extrinsic rewards (Culp & Schwartz, 1998; Culp & Schwartz, 1999a; Culp & Schwartz, 1999b; Fritz, Karmazin, Barbuto & Burrow, 2003), the volunteer recognition program model was developed to recognize volunteers with acts of simple, intrinsic appreciation. The program model was created for volunteer administrators to use throughout the program year and can be adapted to fit any Extension program or non-profit volunteer organization.

The model is divided into months and includes gestures and/or activities to conduct throughout the month for recognition and appreciation of 4-H volunteers (Table 1.) Components of the recognition program model include many events and activities that will recognize all volunteers whether they are motivated by achievement, affiliation, or power (McClelland, 1955), and the program model includes both extrinsic and intrinsic rewards. The model was developed so that volunteer administrators could provide inexpensive forms of recognition to volunteers through the entire year, rather than focusing all resources and attention on an annual volunteer recognition event. The program model begins in the month of August as volunteer administrators and Extension 4-H professionals are preparing for the onset of the next program year.

Table 1.
The Volunteer Recognition Program Model & Timeline

MonthRecognition EventCostActivities
AugustSchedule and conduct a Volunteer Kickoff Event$10.00 / personOpen with a welcome and mixers
Make introductions
Share success stories
Give each volunteer a tote bag or calendar (for club planning purposes)
Enjoy an ice cream social
SeptemberMail Welcome Notes to volunteers from the Extension professional and/or middle manager $1.00 / person 
 Select and recognize a Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation   
OctoberCelebrate National 4-H Week $100.00 totalPlace an ad in the local newspaper, listing volunteers and thanking them for their service for the year
Submit weekly feature articles on volunteer impact
Contact a reporter to emphasize volunteer impact
Publicize National 4-H Week around the county, recognizing volunteer contributions
Plan a recognition banquet, luncheon or reception; ask a civic organization to sponsor it
Select Hall of Fame volunteers on the county level (criteria and categories at
Send Hall of Fame winners to state award selection committee as nominees for State Hall of Fame volunteer recognition
 Select and recognize a Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation  
NovemberRecruit local businesses to use their marquees to thank 4-H volunteers in the spirit of Thanksgiving  
 Select and recognize Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation  
Send volunteers a holiday card$1.00 / person 
 Select and recognize Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation  
 Hold a holiday party meal (potluck) with optional gift exchange or give gifts to your community Angel Tree or local charity  
FebruaryEncourage members to send thank you valentines to volunteers   
 Attend the State Volunteer Forum  
 Select and recognize Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation  
MarchMail a thank you note from agent and/or middle manager$1.00 / person 
 Select and recognize Volunteer of the Month based on members'   
April/MayCelebrate National Volunteer Month Submit a news article about the importance and accomplishments of 4-H volunteers in your community
 Plan a community wide volunteer recognition ceremony with Soil Conservation Service and plant a tree in honor of volunteers for Arbor Day (could be funded by Soil Conservation Service)  
 Plant or landscape a place in the community with Master Gardeners in honor of 4-H volunteers  
 Select and recognize Volunteer of the Month based on members' recommendation  
June/JulyPlan a pre county fair volunteer meeting to discuss plans and recognize volunteer efforts  
 Plan and coordinate a volunteer appreciation luncheon$8.00 / personInvite volunteers to have lunch with the agent (either catered or at a restaurant)
 Take thank you notes to camp and have campers write thank you notes to their cabin leaders or chaperones  
 Have 4-H members present an appreciation skit at camp  

Additionally, episodic volunteers who serve occasionally or at special events should also be recognized. Recognition should be provided as soon as possible after the service has occurred, in order to be most meaningful and beneficial to the volunteer. A partial listing of special events is found in Table 2.

Table 2.
Recognizing Volunteers at Special Events Throughout the Year

MonthRecognition EventCostActivities
Special EventsRecognize special events volunteers formally, in front of peers, and informally, after the event, by sending a thank you note.$1.00 /person /eventReality Store
4-H Summer Camp
Communications Event
Variety Show
Fashion Revue
Day Camps
Horse Camps
State Horse Show
County Fair
State Fair
Annual Awards Recognition Banquet - service pins, Hall of Fame, Outstanding Volunteer


  1. The recognition program model helps to fulfill the basic human need of recognition and appreciation.

  2. The recognition program model helps to build positive self-esteem.

  3. The recognition program model should be supported by the volunteers (for members) and by the Extension professional (for volunteers).

  4. The recognition program model was developed for recognition to be presented soon after service is performed and in front of clientele, peers, and significant others.

  5. The volunteer recognition program model contributes to effective recognition of 4-H volunteers.

  6. The recognition program model assists the volunteer administrator with retention of well-rounded volunteers.


An effective volunteer recognition program is one that fulfills volunteer motives and improves volunteer retention (Campbell, Culp, & Schwartz, 1999). Because volunteers are stimulated to serve under various motivations, the same mode of recognition for all volunteers will not be appropriate in all situations. Volunteer administrators need to discover what types of recognition are best for their program and meet program goals and needs. The recognition program model presented here is only a suggested outline and was developed so that volunteer administrators could provide inexpensive forms of recognition to volunteers through the entire year. Effective volunteer administrators will adapt what works best and fulfills a variety of needs and expectations.


Boyce, M. V. (1971). A systematic approach to leadership development. Washington D.C.: USDA, Extension Service. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 065 763).

Campbell, J. I., Culp, III, K., & Schwartz, V. J. (1999). 139 ways to say "thank you" and recognize volunteers. OSU Fact Sheet.

Culp, III, K., Deppe, C. A., Castillo, J. X., & Wells, B. J. (1998). The GEMS model of volunteer administration. Journal of Volunteer Administration, 16(4), 36-41.

Culp, III, K., & Schwartz, V. J. (1998). Recognizing adult volunteer 4-H leaders. Journal of Extension [On-line], 36(2) Article 2RIB3. Available at:

Culp, III, K. & Schwartz, V. J. (1999). Motivating adult volunteer 4-H leaders. Journal of Extension [On-line], 35(3) Article 1RIB5. Available at:

Culp III, K., & Schwartz, V. J. (1999). Recognizing tenured 4-H adult volunteers. Journal of Agricultural Education, 40(2), 38-45.

Dolan, R. J. (1969). The leadership development process in complex organizations. Raleigh: North Carolina State University.

Fritz, S., Karmazin, D., Barbuto, Jr., J., & Burrow, S. (2003). Urban and rural 4-H adult volunteer leaders preferred forms of recognition and motivation. Journal of Extension [On-line], 41(3) Article 3RIB1. Available at:

Kwarteng, J. A., Smith, K. L. & Miller, L. E. (1988). Ohio 4-H agents' and volunteer leaders' perceptions of the volunteer leadership development program. Journal of the American Association of Teacher Educators in Agriculture. 29(2), 55-62. Summer, 1988.

Lawson, A., & Lawson, S. (1987). Congregational workshop: Volunteerism in the church. Journal of Volunteer Administration, 5(3), 35-40.

Lenihan, G. O., & Jackson, L. (1984). Social need, public response: The volunteer professional model for human service agencies and counselors. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 62(5) 285-289.

Murk, P. J., & Stephan, J. F. (1990). Volunteers enhance the quality of life in a community...or (How to get them, train them and keep them). ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 326 639.

Penrod, K. M. (1991). Leadership involving volunteers: The L-O-O-P model. Journal of Extension [On-line], 29(4) Article 4FEA2. Available at:

Vineyard, S. (1980). Recruiting and retaining gimmicks, no gags! Journal of Volunteer Administration, 29(4), 9-11.