Understanding Volunteer Motivation

Working as a nonprofit,  a passionate force of volunteers and partners form the backbone of your efforts. Volunteers donate their time and energy doing the groundwork that moves a cause forward. Showing appreciation isn’t just gracious, it’s essential for maintaining a healthy organization and reaching its goals.

Small gestures like personal thank you notes or throwing a big banquet can be great for morale and personal recognition but these gestures ring hollow if not backed by an understanding of what moves your volunteers. Making an effort to recognize your volunteers, not just as a workforce but as individuals who believe in your cause and want to see their efforts making an impact.

Understanding Volunteer Motivations in Your Nonprofit

If donors are the lifeblood of an organization, your volunteers are the organs keeping it all working and you are maximizing your goal when you invest in your volunteers. However, there’s a big difference between what motivates a volunteer and what motivates an employee working for a company. For many volunteers, the work they choose to do is key to their identity in a much more personal way.

Volunteers are driven by internal personal beliefs or reasons related to your organization’s mission and many of them want to know how their efforts are making an impact. These people aren’t a workforce whose services you are paying for, they’re partners who share your mission and are willing to give their time to see that mission fulfilled. 


Karl spends 10 hours a week volunteering at the local animal shelter because he loves the animals and wants to make sure they’re cared for. Meanwhile, Jane spends her weekends serving food to the homeless with her church group due to her faith in performing charity for the needy. Karl’s love for animals and Jane’s faith drive them both to volunteer, not out of a desire for compensation but to see a broader goal achieved. Of course, volunteers might have secondary motivations. Karl might want experience with animals as a future vet and Jane wants leadership experience for her own nonprofit. Volunteers each have their own reasons for volunteering but everyone likes to see their work making a difference and that difference being recognized.

Validating Volunteers With Volunteer Award Pins

Award pins have been used for years to recognize the efforts of outstanding employees and volunteers in their organizations or businesses. Bearing the symbols of an organization or business, they’re not just an accessory, they’re a means for people to highlight their involvement with an organization and the impact of their work. They might be one of many items used as physical awards but they’re a more distinguished item than shirt or mug, awarded for success.


Unfortunately, some organizations hand award pins away like cheap tokens rather than actual recognition. Simply giving an award or thanking employees isn’t enough. Your awards need to be linked to accomplishments and backed by demonstrated progress showing the impact volunteers are making with your organization. Remember, volunteers need to be recognized for their involvement not simply as a workforce but as partners helping bring a mission to fruition. Design custom award pins directly highlighting specific accomplishments, goals achieved or a major difference made for your organization’s mission.

Results-Based Awards

One mistake many organizations make when awarding custom pins is choosing to recognize factors like time spent or tasks performed instead of a volunteer’s impact made. After volunteering hours each week, both Karl and Jane know they’ve given their time and skills to an organization. What they want to know is how their efforts have paid off.


An award pin given to Karl for his involvement in a major animal rescue operation becomes a mark of personal pride. An award pin recognizing Jane’s involvement helping people after a natural disaster reflects gratitude and pride in her good works. You want your pins to reflect specific achievement as part of an organization, not merely broad involvement. Awards are meant to recognize outstanding actions after all and it goes a long way to highlight how far you’ve come together.


Wrapping Up

At the end of the day, remember that your volunteer workforce isn’t some amorphous mass of labor. They represent a group of individuals who believe in your cause and should be treated as such. Your award pins need to recognize the individual impact of a volunteer and celebrate the results of their contributions. If you’re looking to begin using custom award pins in your organization, follow the advice we’ve outlined here and send us a message to learn more! Our team at All About pins has over 10 years of experience working on custom pins of every stripe and are happy to lend our advice and expertise to help honor your volunteers.