Sample tribute to a special volunteer

The sample tribute below has the elements of a classic speech honoring someone. It follows a standard pattern:

  •     Welcome to guests and acknowledgement of honoree
  •     A story about the honoree that only you know
  •     Qualities about the honoree that everybody knows
  •     Comments that describe the reason for the tribute
  •     A closing that congratulates the honoree.
You can toot your own horn when you are four and people find it endearing. After that, let others pay tribute to your accomplishments. See sample tribute below.

When achievements are being recognized with a speech, the same rules apply as with any public speaking.  You must plan your remarks, think about engaging your audience and practice.

The sample tribute on this page gives special recognition to someone who is an exceptional volunteer. All of the references in the tribute are fictional but the tribute and annotations will give you a guide in developing your own special speech or written citation.

A word of caution is in order. Once you write your speech, outline some notes and practice so that you are familiar with the material.
Do your audience a favor: don’t read.
You want your personality and style to come through. Besides, if you are just going to read, you might as well print out your remarks and let your audience read it themselves.

A sample tribute to John Smith, a special volunteer

This opening is a bit bland but it gets the thank-you out of the way and focuses attention on the person being honored.

It’s great to see so many people here to honor our good friend and neighbor, John Smith. Even though we are of different age groups and have all kinds of jobs and interests, we certainly all have one thing in common:  our admiration of a man who never quits until the job is done. 

That man is none other than John Smith.

Early in your talk, tell a story about the person that no one else knows. 

About 10 years ago,  I first met John at a Little League game shortly after we moved here and my wife and I were watching Timmy play. Our son was about 8 years old at the time. 

Anyway, this woman sitting near us was complaining loudly about the sun. My wife and I were almost annoyed because you expect sun in an afternoon baseball game and we were glad the game wasn’t rained out. But the woman wouldn't stop grumbling about how awful the sun was and how we just needed some clouds.

John was also sitting nearby.

Not one to just listen, John went over to the lady and said, “I can’t do anything about the weather but maybe this will help.” He handed her an umbrella that he had gone to his car to get and urged her to use it as a shield from the sun. She was ecstatic.

She then explained that she was there to see her grandson play and some friends who gave her a ride had come early. She was a skin cancer patient but had rushed to leave with her friends and so forgot to bring her sun protection. 

Be sure the point of your story is obvious . . . in this case that your first impression was of this person as a compassionate man. 

Had John done nothing, the rest of us would have continue to listen to her complaining – which was not something we wanted to hear – and that bright sun might have given her more problems down the road.

I was so impressed with what John had done that I knew that this was someone I wanted to know. So I introduced myself. John and I have been close friends ever since.

As all of you know, John is a native of Charleston.  In fact, he’s helped many in this room get to know this city, telling us about the joys and quirkiness of Lowcountry life.  He knows the high and low places – not that there are that many high places in the Lowcountry.

Also give some mention in your talk to the qualities that everybody knows and appreciates about the person.

John can tell you when the first settlers came and where the pirates stashed their treasure. He knows where to eat, what to drink, when to play and where to escape . . .  something that many of us do far too seldom. He knows the local news  before it's on TV, and he keeps his hand on the pulse of the community better than anyone else I know.

Tell what sets this person apart from ordinary people and typical behavior.

We all know something else about John.  He doesn’t just look around and see things that need attention. He takes action.

We all see the same things that John sees. There are jobs that need to be done, problems that need to be solved. And as we look at those and think about our busy lives, we most likely say to ourselves, “Somebody will that care of that.”  We mean well but we just don’t get around to doing anything.

John is the person who does something.

When we look at this community center – which was only a dream five years ago – many of us were in that camp that said “We really do need a place where neighbors can meet, where children can play after school and where senior citizens can get some support and companionship.  Somebody needs to do something.”

Well, that somebody was John Smith. He saw possibilities where the rest of us saw need.

What vision did this person have that allowed him to go after a difficult goal?  The dichotomy between opportunity and problems emphasizes why he is unique.

He saw opportunity where the rest of us saw problems.

He didn’t say, “Let somebody else do it.”  He said, “I’ll take that on.”

With the hustle of the Energizer Bunny, John started talking and raising money. All John’s talk and enthusiasm gave the rest of us what we needed most – and that was leadership.

Use metaphors to paint a picture for your listeners.

Conclude with some grand summary of the person and their actions.

He was the quarterback in a drive that took us from a dream to a reality….the reality of this fine building we will enjoy for years.

So John, on behalf of everyone here, I’d like to say thanks for being a man of action and not just words. You got us started, rallying many people to work together to complete this community center.  It would never have happened without you. 

End by giving others a chance to express appreciation.

So join me in giving John a round of applause and a big thank you.

Examples of other tributes can be found on the graduation pages of university websites where almost every graduation ceremony features the presentation of special awards or honorary degrees.  Although these are written tributes that are usually read (something you will not do), the texts offer some good examples of ways to work in the merits of the honorees along with interesting details of their lives.

A great speech honoring volunteers comes from non other than the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan, who spoke about senior citizen volunteers and their impact on society.