Award Messages That Sizzle Part 8: Volunteerism

Copyright © 2003 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in December
2003, Volume 29, No. 5 of The Engravers Journal.

     Awards for volunteerism often constitute a large part of plaque sales for recognition and identification businesses. There are many types of organizations that literally couldn’t survive without the efforts of volunteers. Honoring the men, women and children who provide support is a responsibility that most organizations take very seriously.
    Any group that utilizes volunteers is a potential customer for this type of award. While numerous charities and service-oriented groups instantly come to mind, many other less obvious organizations also rely on volunteers. The majority of community groups, clubs, associations, civic and fraternal organizations, etc., have members and officers who serve in a voluntary capacity.
    Given the large number of groups that depend on the volunteer effort, there is little wonder that awards for volunteerism are so popular. This type of award serves a dual purpose. First, it allows the presenters to express their appreciation for the many hours of dedicated service that have been provided by volunteers. Secondly, such an award recognizes the recipients’ valued contributions of time and energy to the organizations.
    Award professionals are commonly looked to for advice on award messages. This is especially true for plaques, where the messages tend towards length and eloquence. Customers frequently have questions concerning appropriate wording, layout and graphic design. And while you might want to offer constructive and creative advice to every customer, realistically, time constraints often hinder such efforts.
    The time and effort spent helping customers to decide on a message and layout can be lessened with an award plaque message handbook. This is simply a series of neatly drawn or computer rendered sample plaque layouts. Divided into appropriate occasions, such a handbook provides customers with suggestions and ideas for their own award.
    Awards for volunteerism are presented in a number of different situations. One of the most frequent occasions is honoring a volunteer who has reached a specific milestone. For instance, a local PTA may recognize a parent who has served as secretary for five years. Or a charity such as Meals on Wheels might choose to honor a volunteer who has delivered 1,000 meals to senior citizens in the community.
    Specific events also bring opportunities for recognition. After a long and successful fundraising campaign, for example, a public television station might wish to present a plaque commending the director of the campaign. Or a children’s hospital might recognize a local high school’s senior class for their volunteer efforts during an annual action project.
    Many organizations present awards on a regular basis. For instance, a Volunteer of the Month award is a popular choice, perhaps culminating in the naming of a Volunteer of the Year. Named or titled awards are also presented regularly, often once a year. These awards are usually highly coveted. For example, a large charity might wish to recognize the one person who has done the most to further the goals of the organization over the past year. To accomplish this, they might establish an annual award named after the founder of the organization, for instance, the C.G. Hunt Humanitarian Award.
    As noted earlier, the number of organizations that utilize and recognize volunteers is extensive. Service-oriented groups are the most obvious examples. These include charitable organizations such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association, The Salvation Army and The United Way of America.
    A large number of organizations provide services to the public at little or no cost and, therefore, find it necessary to use volunteer workers. Some examples might include an inner-city clinic, a homeless shelter, a suicide hotline and an adult education program. In addition, community groups such as the PTA or the local Historical Society frequently utilize volunteers.
    Another sector which uses volunteer workers almost exclusively can be referred to as cause-oriented groups. This includes groups which are dedicated to a certain cause. For instance, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) utilizes volunteer workers in its efforts to rid the streets of drunk drivers. There are a large number of groups dedicated to various environmental, political or social issues, most of whom rely on volunteer efforts.
    Numerous other types of groups also benefit from the services of volunteer workers. Various professional and trade associations count on members to serve the organization without compensation. Community groups are another good example, as are a host of clubs, associations and civic and fraternal organizations. These range from the local Chamber of Commerce to a national fraternity such as Phi Beta Kappa.

    The majority of these groups realize the great debt they owe to their workers. Very few, if any, could survive without the efforts of volunteers. Because workers are unpaid, plaques and other types of awards are one way that these groups can express their gratitude.
    An award says to the recipient that the organization recognizes and appreciates their efforts. Awards are also an excellent means of motivating both the recipient and others who aspire to receive similar recognition. This type of recognition can go a long way toward preventing the “worker burnout” that sometimes occurs among volunteer workers. In addition, an award provides the recipient with tangible evidence of a job well done.
    The message on a plaque for volunteerism frequently includes several key elements. The names of both the presenter and the recipient should be prominently featured. In addition, the name of the award or the reason for the award is generally included. Some awards may also contain a date, such as the presentation date and/or the year(s) or period of service. Another message element is the location, e.g. the city, state or group. In order for the various elements to form a coherent message, it is usually necessary to include several descriptive or miscellaneous phrases like “presented to” or “in recognition of.”
    When planning a plaque layout, you will want to consider the formality of the message. Some organizations prefer a more formal tone and would opt for the use of full names and perhaps titles. For example, a formal message might read James Patrick Cooper or James P. Cooper rather than Jim Cooper. On the other hand, many groups are less formal and would choose to use an abbreviated name or nickname, e.g. Sue or Suzy instead of Susan. Check with your customer to see what their preference is.
    Humor is another consideration when designing a plaque. Although humor isn’t often utilized for this type of award, it might be appropriate in some circumstances. For instance, a local museum might want to honor a long-time volunteer with a lifer award. If humor is appropriate, make certain that it is used tastefully. The award should be representative of both the presenter and the recipient. For example, hospital volunteer known for his excessive use of puns might appreciate an award which utilizes this type of humorous wordplay. Question your customer as to what might be in good taste.
    There are a variety of other text elements that might be included on a plaque honoring a volunteer. The motto or slogan of the organization presenting the award is commonly included. A health care facility may want to include their familiar slogan, Bay County Cardiac Institute – At the HEART of it all! Other options include appropriate poems or quotes.
    In addition to the text, a customer may want to feature one or more graphic elements on their plaque. Graphic elements are a popular way to personalize an award. They can add flair to plaques, make an award look especially unique or convey the intent of the award instantly.
    Logos are among the most commonly featured graphic designs. An organization’s logo or emblem can provide instant recognition to anyone who sees it. The Red Cross logo is widely known, as is the familiar red shield of The Salvation Army.
    Other graphic elements can be specific to an event. For instance, a basketball plaque relief might be featured on plaques recognizing the volunteer coaches of a midnight basketball league. Or, the design may be used only for a particular award. A charity’s annual “Founder’s Award” might feature the likeness of the organization’s founder.
    There are many general, multipurpose designs that could be suitable for this plaque style. For example, a variety of stock plaque reliefs are available. Appropriate designs might include a star, a light bulb or a gavel, along with many others.
    This article has discussed the various elements and considerations of plaque layout for volunteer awards. Many different types of organizations utilize this type of plaque. Because this may be the only tangible benefit that volunteers receive, most groups strive to make their awards meaningful. You can help them achieve this goal by offering a sampling of layout ideas for volunteer awards in your award plaque message handbook.
    Use the examples provided in Figure 1 as the first page of the volunteerism chapter of your handbook. Add your own unique and creative designs to our suggestions. This handbook will prove to be an invaluable resource to you, your staff and your customers. Be sure to watch for the final installment in this series, Sports Awards, in the January 2004 issue.