How To Write A Letter Of Recommendation For Volunteers

How to demonstrate your appreciation and endorse your volunteer's talents to others.

For individuals who are entering the job market for the first time or returning to it after a long absence, the requirement to provide professional references can be problematic. Accordingly, many of them will turn to their experiences as school, church or community volunteers and rely upon the administrators of these various programs to provide them with letters of recommendation and/or introduction. Although they were not paid in cash for their participation, the fact that they selflessly contributed their time, energy and resources to a worthy cause is something that merits positive mention. A well crafted letter that speaks to their accomplishments, enthusiasm, and leadership abilities in a volunteer capacity can be a powerful plus in influencing whether they are chosen for a paid position, membership in a club, or some sort of civic honor.

If you are asked to compose such a letter for a volunteer, the first thing you need to do is determine what its purpose is going to be. This will then enable you to identify, with the volunteer's input, those areas that need to be highlighted. Just as resumes are individually tailored to fit the requirements of a targeted job, a letter of recommendation should provide specifics that will match the requirements of the specific goal being sought.

Let's say, for instance, that Jane is seeking an entry level accounting job. Although she has just started college and is new to the work force, she's a natural with numbers. This was reflected when she volunteered to straighten out the bookkeeping records for her local church. Jane's ability to organize and enter receipts, transfer the handwritten ledgers to an easy to use computer template in Excel, and discover a forgotten savings account that facilitated the purchase of new equipment for the church playground demonstrates that this is a young woman with the initiative, smarts, and integrity to handle other people's money. Even though she has performed a variety of other volunteer tasks, the focus of this particular letter will be structured to meet what the prospective employer is looking for.

Perhaps the intent of the letter you are asked to write is to endorse a volunteer for membership in a community organization. In contrast to performance skills such as the example of Jane and her knowledge of accounting, this particular service group is looking for people who will not only be team players but who also have the capacity to be good mentors. In this situation, the volunteer is Bill, a retired gentleman who participates in an inner-city teen reading program after school. He also volunteers his time teaching a community service class in beginning woodcraft for senior citizens. In structuring your letter for Bill, you would point out his ability to get along well with all ages, his communication skills in imparting new and/or challenging concepts to students, and his ability to motivate young people to better prepare themselves for the work force. The sum of these qualifications will be consistent with the image and objectives the club would like to foster.

Sometimes you will be asked to compose a letter that acknowledges the monetary value of a volunteer's term of service. This is especially common with non-profit corporations that, in the pursuit of government grants, need to provide annual statements regarding donated goods and services they have received. Let's say that Cassie, a professional writer, agrees to script, cast and direct an original theater production for the local historical society's Christmas fundraiser. Although Cassie is not being reimbursed for her time or talent, she is entitled to a non-profit letter that identifies what her hours would have been worth if the historical society had formally contracted her services. Cassie can then provide her tax accountant with a copy that will allow her to use the specified amount as a charitable contribution.

In writing a volunteer letter of this type, it is important to identify what service the volunteer performed and the amount of money that service is claimed to have been worth. It is also helpful to provide remarks on the outcome of the event. For example: "Cassie's show was sold out every performance, making this season our most successful in 10 years." Not only will Cassie be able to use this letter for tax purposes but also include it in the portfolio she presents to other non-profits in search of assistance for their fundraising operations.

Last but not least is a letter of recommendation that will serve as either an introduction to parties as yet unknown or provide a contest chairperson with a general overview of the volunteer's moral character and award-worthy merits. These communications are known as "Dearless Letters," because they are not addressed to a specific person. They start out something like this:

"This letter will introduce Don Martin, whom I have had the pleasure of knowing the past 6 years through his work as a volunteer chef with The Community Soup Kitchen."

The letter then goes on to comment on Don's culinary skills, his cheerfulness, his compassion for the homeless clientele, and his energy as a team player. These letters should always be typed on the organization's letterhead, as well as include a contact telephone number for the provision of further information. A good recommendation letter should also not exceed one page in length and get straight to the point without flowery phrases or vague generalities.

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