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The Power of Recognition

By January 19, 2024January 25th, 2024No Comments

When you’re leading a mission-driven organization like a nonprofit, it can be easy to assume that everyone on your team is as dedicated to the mission as you are. After all, they signed up to work on it with you, and wouldn’t do so if they weren’t invested. However, workplaces and the people that fill them are quite a bit more complicated than this. Being invested in the mission is just one part of what motivates your team — they want to feel like they are making a difference, that their work is important, and that it is being recognized.

Creating a culture and practice of recognition and celebration is a great way to address these needs while promoting good work and dedication. Employee engagement has been trending downward for the last few years, no doubt due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, the growth of remote and hybrid work, and other key factors. Recovering from this slump is essential for any organization, but that is doubly true for nonprofits like yours. Because you may not be able to offer the remuneration or benefits of similar private sector organizations, celebrating your team’s accomplishments is a great way to help them feel motivated to do their best work and put in extra effort. Here are some of the ideas behind recognizing success, and ways you can get started:

Consider what you want to celebrate

The practice of employee recognition is not only valuable for engagement and retention but also for reinforcing the kinds of efforts you hope to see and goals your organization needs to achieve. Thinking about things like key performance indicators (KPIs), indications that a project or effort is achieving its goals, will help give you an idea of what milestones you can celebrate to emphasize your goals. For example, if you just launched a new webpage to attract donations, you can recognize efforts that drive more people to visit the page. This shows your team that you consider this a priority while also giving the creators and promoters of the webpage a feeling of pride and achievement. This kind of positive feedback offers your team guidance, helping them understand what you expect and that you will recognize their hard work when the time comes.

Recognize work that goes unrecognized

On the other hand, there is a lot of work in modern organizations that can’t be easily measured in terms of achieving a particular goal. IT work, for example, is an essential part of modern organizations, but because it exists primarily to support other teams, it often can’t be directly tied to a KPI or goal. You should take stock of your organization’s structure and pinpoint teams and team members who fit into this category of support work. This could also apply to junior members of the team, including interns and contractors, who may feel that their work is less important because they have less decision-making power. Finding creative ways to celebrate this work not only motivates these team members, but it also fosters a better understanding and respect from other team members who may not have realized how important this work is. This kind of social recognition is a knock-on effect of a culture that celebrates good work. Building this kind of culture encourages employees to congratulate one another and recognize each other’s contributions, which can have a powerful motivating effect across teams.

Recognize the good that their good work is doing

While nonprofits are often at a disadvantage in hiring and retention, they also enjoy the significant advantage of being able to point to the altruistic benefits of their work. While recognition in the private sector can only point to increased sales or revenue, nonprofits have the ability to tie their team’s work to real benefits to people and projects. You should think of ways to give your team a better insight into the effects their work has on the goal, whether it’s meeting people who rely on your nonprofit and hearing about how it helps or giving them an opportunity to see or interact with the good work they have done. A study from Workhuman showed that recognition makes employees 73% less likely to feel burned out, a clear indication that reinforcing the value of work is essential for retention. This is especially the case for nonprofits, where many employees may knowingly work for less money because they believe in the mission and goals of the organization. Giving them insight into the effect their work is having becomes in itself a form of remuneration.

Find ways to reward your team

If you have the resources, bolstering internal recognition with rewards like gift cards, a free team lunch, a team outing, or other material rewards reinforces the gratitude you feel for your team’s work. Events like outings and luncheons are also a great opportunity to socialize and foster communication in a positive, uplifting atmosphere. It is a good idea to mark the end of a major project, deadline, or goal with some kind of event to show your thanks. You can also give shout-outs to team members deserving of recognition during organization-wide meetings as a reward for good work. When offering these kinds of rewards, it’s important that you are as clear as possible about why the individual or team is receiving the reward. If you can point to benchmarks or specific goals that were met and why they matter, this offers others guidance and helps them calibrate to your expectations. A lack of clarity, however, can lead to people assuming favoritism, feeling confused, or otherwise not understanding the importance of their work.

Get nonprofit management expertise from 501(c) Services

Our organization is composed of career long nonprofit experts who are well-versed in the challenges and opportunities present at every organization. We’re dedicated to putting our experience at your disposal, helping you to identify resources and options to help your nonprofit meet its goals and thrive. If you’d like to learn more about our expertise and services, please get in touch with us.


For more than 40 years, 501(c) Services has been a leader in offering solutions for unemployment costs, claims management, and HR support to nonprofit organizations.  Two of our most popular programs are the 501(c) Agencies Trust and 501(c) HR Services. We understand the importance of compliance and accuracy, and we are committed to providing our clients with customized plans that fit their needs.

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The information contained in this article is not a substitute for legal advice or counsel and has been pulled from multiple sources.

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