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Pro Bono Recognition

Recognition of volunteers is essential to the success of any volunteer program, including pro bono programs. The ABA Standards for Programs Providing Civil Pro Bono Legal Services to Persons of Limited Means discuss the importance of recognizing volunteers. Standard 3.5-8 provides that pro bono programs should develop effective methods of recognition.

Purpose of Recognition

Recognition serves a number of program goals, including:

  • letting volunteers know their work is valued, both collectively and individually
  • helping volunteers feel included in the program's overall mission
  • educating program executives and the board about the impact of volunteers
  • acknowledging the contribution of volunteers to the success of the paid staff and vice versa
  • re-committing paid staff and volunteers to ongoing, enthusiastic volunteer service
  • publicizing the program to the legal community and the community at large.

Pro bono programs should design a recognition program that will provide both appreciation for the volunteers' participation and recognition of outstanding service. The use of a combination of recognition methods -- such as annual awards, honor rolls, and refreshments -- is the most effective way to continually communicate the program's appreciation of its volunteers' efforts. Periodic review and re-evaluation of the program's recognition plan ensures that the program is utilizing the most effective recognition techniques. 

The National Celebration of Pro Bono, held during the last week of October every year, is a great opportunity to recognize your volunteers. 

Show Your Appreciation 

In addition to recognizing volunteers' outstanding contributions, it is vital that a program regularly show appreciation for all of its volunteers. Methods of recognition range from large and expensive to small and budget-conscious and may be as varied as: plaques, luncheons, pins, personalized holiday cards, providing refreshments at volunteer events (clinics, etc.), providing free CLEs throughout the year, certificates, publishing "honor rolls" of participating attorneys, or sending handwritten thank-you notes. Encouraging clients to send their volunteer attorney a thank-you note is also very effective.

Pro bono programs have given volunteers a variety of items in recognition of their pro bono participation, including:

  • at a golf outing: beverage-can holders with the pro bono project logo, golf balls, tees, and a pen
  • at a lunch or dinner event: coffee mugs with plants or flowers in them which served as the centerpieces and can be taken home by attendees
  • at a bar event: distributing boutonnieres to pro bono panel members
  • various promotional items such as water bottles, coffee mugs, magnets, or pens
  • phone cards with the program's logo and/or a pro bono message
  • "give-aways" including coffee mugs, travel mugs, baseball hats, calculators, drink coasters, pens, magnets, business card holders, stress balls, and pocket calendars
  • for the holidays: calendars with holiday greetings and the program's logo
  • upon completion of a case: a 'coupon' to attend a free lunchtime CLE with the program OR an on-line CLE coupon with Westlaw Legaled Center
  • small gift certificates to a local or online bookstore or to a coffee shop
  • file cabinet magnets with the program logo and address and inspirational quotes
  • mouse pads with the program's logo or miniature mouse pads that also serve as coasters

The Center for Pro Bono maintains a large collection of materials regarding recognition in the Knowledge Center, including sample certificates, honor rolls, and other documents.

Recognition of Outstanding Service

Recognizing the outstanding service of a volunteer achieves two goals: it provides positive feedback and encouragement for the volunteer being honored and it re-energizes other volunteers. Awards may target particular volunteer demographics -- such as large law firms, small law firms, law students, or corporations - or may apply to the entire volunteer population.

Some examples of pro bono awards are:

In order for the award to be truly meaningful, it is vital that the program giving the award establish criteria that nominees must meet. Those criteria may be objective, such as having performed a minimum hours of pro bono over a year, or they may be subjective, such as having performed significant and meaningful pro bono activity. There should, however, be some guidelines for selecting a recipient for the award.

Examples of criteria for pro bono awards include:

The ABA Center for Pro Bono's Knowledge Center contains additional materials concerning annual awards, including descriptions of awards, calls for nominations, award criteria, and sample programs from award events.

Involving the Judiciary

Recognition events are excellent opportunities to involve members of the judiciary in pro bono. The presence and participation of judges at a recognition event adds to the event's prestige within the legal community and underscores the judiciary's support for pro bono. More information on involving the judiciary in pro bono is available here.

For more information or materials on recognizing volunteer attorney efforts please email Center for Pro Bono staff.


Updated March 2020