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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~February 2010~

Generational Implications for Recognition


The past few months have centered on understanding the generational differences in dealing with volunteers from all different ages.  Recognition for volunteers in various age groups also requires some thoughtful consideration.  One component of recognition touches on understanding why people volunteer in the first place. 

David McClelland writes about the three main motivations for volunteering:

    1. Achievement
    2. Affiliation
    3. Power/Influence

Basic characteristics and appropriate tasks/duties are summarized as follows:










Needs specific goals

Gathering statistics

Personal interaction

Task forces

Needs to impact others


Works well alone

Leading events

Works to make friends

Committee work

Enjoys teaching others


Sticks to tasks until completed

Skill building tasks

Involve with group projects

Group projects

Seeks position of authority & responsibility

Solving disputes

Likes to problem solve

Keeping score

Wants to be liked

Recruiting others

Is persuasive

Creating new ideas

Needs tangible rewards


Wants to keep people happy


Works alone or with others

Teaching or influencing others

Needs feedback

Setting records

Seeks socialization

Welcoming new people

Writing articles


Working with clients

Board or leadership positions

With this understanding in mind, it is fairly easy to see that the Veterans era generation are perfectly content with the annual banquets, recognition pins, certificates or whatever form of honor you choose.  They are also the group of people who appreciate the handwritten thank you note – but then, that’s what they grew up doing themselves.

The Boomers, on the other hand, do not have time for banquets and luncheons and probably do not want the organization’s dollars spent on thank you gifts.  They are perfectly content with a thank you card reminding them that the organization values their efforts.

Those falling into the Gen X category might think a thank you is appropriate but does not want it to be a big deal – no banquets, luncheons for these folks.  If a formal thank you card is something that you would consider, make it an electronic one – which illustrates to them that you do understand a bit of the world of technology.

Recognition is easy for the Millennials – just post a thank you on Facebook or other social network.  If you want to make it personal, send them a text message – that’s how they are used to communicating.

While these are generalizations for each generation, remember that understanding the motivation behind volunteering goes hand in hand with recognizing those efforts in a meaningful way for each volunteer.  Whatever the generation or motivation, don’t hesitate to:

  1. Greet them with a welcoming manner when they arrive (preferably by name)
  2. Thank them for coming to help when they leave for the day.

I often close with the phrase “See you next time” to re-confirm that I am indeed expecting them to return.

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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood MS, Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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