Recognition of volunteering
Acknowledging the contribution made by student and staff volunteers can take a number of
different forms. Some universities have gone down the formal recognition route, exploring
various types of accreditation (see section Accreditation and volunteering in the curriculum).
Accreditation is not, however, appropriate for all. The option to work towards an award is
unappealing for large numbers of student volunteers, because the commitment required in
terms of attendance, training, providing evidence of learning and other assessment is
beyond that which the student is prepared – or has time – to commit. Similar difficulties
present themselves when considering staff volunteers.
One means of rewarding and valuing volunteer commitment is to organise award schemes
and celebratory events. These have the attraction of being an excellent vehicle for
communicating the university’s HEACF achievements internally and in the local community.
They also enable staff and student volunteers, working on different projects, to meet and find
out more about each other’s work. Furthermore, such mechanisms have supported HEIs in
selecting their annual entries to the HEACF Volunteering Awards, with winners or finalists
being put forward as the HEI’s national nominees.
Increasingly, universities are using multiple ways of recognising volunteering, and awards
and celebratory events form part of broader strategies. This section, however, focuses on
some of the detail of approaches to recognition – sharing aims but taking different forms.
Case study RV1 (2003 updated in 2005)
A Celebration of Volunteering and Learner Development through
University of Salford
Iain Jones, Education Development Co-ordinator,
Education Development Unit,
Volunteering @ Salford,
University of Salford,
Salford M5 4WT
Tel 0161 295 6144
The University of Salford has used the funding received from the HEACF to create
Volunteering @ Salford based within the Education Development Unit at the University.
In October 2003, after a successful first year, the volunteering team promoted its activities to
the wider university and local communities by celebrating the work done by student and staff
volunteers. In October 2005, the work of Volunteering @ Salford was showcased along with
other projects co-ordinated by Access Development at the University. This follow-up event
was designed to emphasise the voices and testimonies of learners and our partners within
an overall theme of learner development and active citizenship. This reflected the work that
has been developed since 1993 in terms of partnerships with FE colleges and schools but
also a range of work-based learning, including the voluntary and community sectors in
Celebration Event, October 2005, ‘Learner development through active citizenship’
The second celebratory event was co-organised by the Project Manager for Aimhigher
Mentoring and the University’s Aimhigher Co-ordinator. It was held at the University of
Salford on 6 October 2005. A selection of speakers were invited, including the Mayor of
Salford, the Head of Widening Participation at the University, the Education Development
Co-ordinator with responsibility for mentoring and volunteering and other colleagues from
within the University and Access Development. Visiting speakers included schools, local
voluntary organisations and volunteers and other learners. The event coincided with National
Poetry Week and the organisers of the event celebrated this by inviting John Siddique, ex-
BBC Poet in Residence, to not only attend but also write and read a celebratory poem on the
day! John’s poem can be read on www.salford.ac.uk (following the link to the Education
Development Unit’s news and announcements).
The most important element of the event was the contributions of the learners, including
volunteers, and those of partner organisations who have worked with the University. All of
the speakers emphasised either the improvements in their own personal and academic skills
or those of the young people or adult learners they worked with. They noted the advantages
of being able to use the knowledge they had acquired at university to benefit local
communities and how volunteering and other learning has helped in developing learning
skills whether in academic or community work.
The overall message of the event was the positive impact that Access Development’s work,
including Volunteering @ Salford, has had on learners and partner organisations whether
schools, colleges, community groups or trade unions. By placing Volunteering @ Salford
within this overall context the event was designed to emphasise the aims of dissemination,
embedding and sustainability. This is not just management speak! The University of Salford
does have a strategic vision that includes volunteering as part of its mission not only to make
its learning distinctive but also to make a difference to the activities of partner organisations.
The overall aim of Volunteering @ Salford in 2005–06 is to embed those opportunities
developed between the spring of 2002 and the summer of 2005. The celebration in October
2005, with a focus on ‘Learner development through active citizenship’, was designed to
emphasise how Volunteering @ Salford is an integral part of the University’s wider
commitments to access development and widening participation. The following case study,
featured at the October 2005 event, illustrates that strategy in practice.
Case Study: Volunteering @ Salford and Summerville Primary School, Salford
The University has developed and sustained a relationship with a local primary school in
Salford. Summerville, the first eco primary in the city, has developed a series of connections
with the University. The work has been co-ordinated by a PhD student who has worked as a
project consultant with a dozen learners from across the University, who together have
developed a nature garden, a gardening club, a woodland area, a thorny wildlife hedge and
a bird box survey. These activities are to be sustained in 2005–06 and the project that was
showcased at the celebration event provides an exemplar for the role of the project
consultant and of how to build on and enhance existing activity. Volunteering @ Salford aims
to embed these opportunities in 2005–06 and to spread the word by working with two other
eco schools in neighbouring boroughs in Greater Manchester. Special thanks are due to the
project consultant, the eco co-ordinator at the school and to the headteacher at Summerville
Primary School for her support in developing, embedding and sustaining this partnership. It
is an excellent example of the overall theme for the October 2005 celebration event.
Volunteering @ Salford aims to build on this success and the opportunities for learner
development through active citizenship.
Outcomes of October 2005 event
It celebrated the variety of contributions of volunteers, other learners and partner
It provided an opportunity to thank volunteers, learners and partners.
It disseminated the work of Access Development – including that of Volunteering @
Salford – and emphasised an overall theme of learner development through active
Hints and tips
Start planning an event at least three if not six months before.
Give it a distinctive message, e.g. celebrating the work of learners and volunteers
through their voices and testimonies.
Choose the date carefully. The co-organisers recognised that October was a good date
because the event could reflect on the achievements of 2004–05 and contribute to
planning for 2005–06.
Case study RV2 (2004)
Annual Celebration of Volunteering
The University of Exeter Guild of Students
St Germans Road
Tel 01392 263525
Exeter Community Action was well established, with a 36-year history. A high number of
students were already volunteering. In light of this, emphasis was placed not only on
achieving the target volunteer numbers, but on making volunteering an easy, valuable and
rewarding experience. The course of action followed was to review the processes
volunteers go through, the training and support offered to them and the rewards and
accreditation provided to enhance their experience. The need for an awards ceremony was
identified at the outset of HEACF Round 1, to recognise the achievement of volunteers and
to publicise their commitment to the wider community through the press. The Annual
Celebration of Volunteering was established.
The inaugural Annual Celebration of Volunteering took place in June 2003, with over 300
student volunteers attending a black tie champagne reception, three-course dinner and
Oscars-style awards ceremony, followed by a disco. The event was provided free of charge
as part of the volunteer’s reward, to ensure every volunteer received something in return for
their efforts. The standard VIP bar was abolished and the volunteers became the VIPs for
the evening, in the presence of guests such as the Vice-Chancellor, City Mayor, trustees of
partner community organisations and the press. Workers and clients from community
organisations had the opportunity to thank volunteers personally. The evening was profiled
in the student press and local media. The local paper used the concept of student volunteers
to combat the ‘town and gown’ stereotype and challenge negative attitudes to students in
general. The high profile of the evening has created excellent relationships with BBC Radio
Devon and the local media which is used for publicity and for assistance in fundraising and
charitable events such as our community Christmas parties.
Volunteering at the University of Exeter encompasses the efforts of all those who engage in
extra-curricular activities for the benefit of others. Not only is it appropriate to reward the
volunteers who engage with the local community, but also those who benefit the student
community, such as the Campus Media, Telephone Helpline and Listening Service and the
efforts of the RAG volunteers raising money for local charities. This is a view adopted by the
University of Exeter Guild of Students and deserves to be shared by other institutions. The
Annual Celebration assisted in building relations across the students’ union activities and
recognises the efforts of all volunteers, including some who had been overlooked in the past.
Eight areas of the guild of students were asked to submit one volunteer for an award, in the
category of ‘outstanding volunteer achievement’. This was done by asking the elected
student representatives to call a working party with their respective organisations and look
for volunteers who had committed over and above what was expected of them in their role.
From this, the elected chairs chose two nominees in year one and one in year two. It was
difficult to impose criteria due to the different forms of volunteering being rewarded. The
number of nominations per area was reduced after feedback from staff and students
suggested the ceremony would have more impact if one person won rather than teams of
people. Feedback from 2004 has suggested that different categories could be created to
allow, for example, ‘most successful project’, ‘most innovative approach’ or ‘greatest
achievement in the face of adversity’. This would help group the students together as
volunteers and reduce rivalry between activity areas.
Each area was asked to generate an invite list and a reserve list. Each student was sent an
invitation with a personal congratulation from the Guild President for their efforts throughout
the year. Each was asked to RSVP to their invite and leave a deposit for their place which
was returned to them on the evening. The event was opened up to all student volunteers
free of charge after the awards presentation for the disco and celebrations.
None of the volunteers receiving awards had any knowledge of their nomination prior to their
name being read out. Each winning volunteer was presented with a £20 voucher, a crystal
champagne glass with the University’s crest, and a certificate. It is important that the rewards
are worth receiving as, word of mouth from the event will ensure more students volunteering
and more students attending the awards celebration.
The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Exeter is held in high regard by all the students due
to his down-to-earth approach and ability to engage with the young people in his care. The
VC gave an inspiring speech to the Annual Celebration in 2004 and received a standing
ovation. It is imperative that the guest speaker at the event is someone held in high regard
by the students as their words of praise are an important part of the reward. The VC included
areas of his ACV speech into his graduation speech. As a result, we have increased the
number of postgraduate volunteers thanks to his endorsement at such a high profile and
The décor of the venue transformed the graduation hall into a glitzy, glamorous ballroom.
The efforts to make every section of the venue special emphasised to volunteers how
special they were. Other institutions offer similar events but not on this scale in terms of
attendance or expense per volunteer. Sponsorship is obtained to ensure every volunteer has
the opportunity to attend. Numbers are expected to be higher that ever before in 2005 due to
increased volunteer numbers and the excellent reputation of the evening.
Feedback from each area suggested in year one that community volunteering heavily
dominated the event awards. This was fed back to the student activities group, which has
developed opportunities for each area to work in partnership. It has also allowed a working
party to assist in setting up the event to ensure equal representation.
The Annual Celebration of Volunteering is a valuable opportunity to promote the efforts of
the student volunteers and, more importantly, to thank them for their efforts in a way that is
wholly about fun and not about work or learning. As it occurs at the end of the year, coupled
with the summer ball and the graduation ceremonies, volunteering is tied in with the most
prestigious annual events and receives the coverage it deserves.
Hints and tips
Arrange your special guests at least nine months to one year in advance. If you cannot
confirm dates with them, at least make them aware of the event so the thought is in their
Ensure that all volunteers are rewarded in some way. Free tickets to the evening,
complimentary drinks or free event photos after the evening are good methods of
keeping everyone happy.
Invite the press. Professional photography and local coverage assists in community
organisations accessing volunteers and improves city/university relations.
Offer the opportunity for feedback to all represented areas.