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STATE GOVERNMENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS

This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs run by state agencies, including information for parks, natural resources and social and health programs.

~ February 2004 ~ Topic

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Meaningful Volunteer Recognition on a Low Budget

As a volunteer for the last 50 years, I have enough volunteer recognition certificates and plaques to cover all the walls of my bathroom. However, the recognition items have been relegated to a box under the stairs in the basement. Since I haven’t the heart to throw them out, my kids will have to do that after I’m gone.

State agencies across the country suffer from cutbacks and downsizing. Many of us who manage volunteer programs have seen the budget for volunteer recognition items and events dwindle to a mere pittance over the past few years. Even though the money is gone, I believe “doing more with less” can be much more meaningful.

Meaningful recognition to me are the times when my volunteer supervisors included me in a special task, or asked me to stretch and grow beyond my skills and abilities, or wrote me a special note, or sent me a photo of our work together. Here at the Department of Natural Resources, we try to recognize volunteers in the same way. Some examples include:

  • Asking volunteers to join us in a special task: Our scientists invite individual volunteers to join them in field trips to monitor threatened or endangered species.
  • E-mailing volunteers with updates on projects, issues, and plans: Volunteers Balloons Imageappreciate being in the loop. They care as much as we do about the work and want to know how things are going.
  • Taking photographs of volunteers as they work: Sometimes we write a note of thanks on a photograph, then frame it and give it to the volunteer after an event or work party. Other times we write a brief article and e-mail it along with the photograph to the newsletter editor of their group or organization or to the local newspaper.
  • Use humor to make a volunteer feel special: One dedicated trail work volunteer accidentally backed into and knocked over a parking sign at the trailhead. Staff each wrote a note on the sign in permanent ink. They wrapped it and gave it to the volunteer at a thank you event later that year. The sign is a treasured item on the wall of the family room in the volunteer’s home.

The above recognition ideas are inexpensive. All that is required is to know your volunteers well, and make them feel special in special ways.


The Volunteer Program of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) includes 2000 volunteers who help the agency protect and enhance our state’s natural resources. Volunteers build and maintain trail and recreation sites, monitor and conduct research on natural area preserves, act as ambassadors in Forest Watch Patrols and a myriad of other tasks. Washington State law provides medical industrial insurance and tort claim liability coverage for volunteers in state agencies. For additional information about the Washington State Department of Natural Resources check the website http://www.dnr.wa.gov. If you have questions about DNR’s volunteer program contact Susan Emley at susan.emley@wadnr.gov.
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