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How to Earn the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA)

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

President's Volunteer Award Logo

The President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) is a prestigious recognition established to honor individuals who dedicate their time and talents to serving communities across the United States. This award acknowledges the significant impact volunteers have on the nation’s strength and identity, inspiring others to take action and contribute to society.

History of The President’s Volunteer Service Award

Founded in 2003 by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, the PVSA was created to celebrate the essential role of volunteers in America. Over the years, the award has continued to thrive under successive administrations, consistently honoring those who address some of the nation’s most pressing challenges through volunteerism.

three medals dangling

How can I receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award?

To get the prestigious President’s Volunteer Service Award, interested volunteers must first align themselves with an organization recognized as an official Certifying Organization (CO). A CO is typically a nonprofit entity that has completed the necessary registration forms with the PVSA to certify volunteer hours and order awards for qualifying volunteers.

For those eager to qualify for the PVSA, it’s important to begin by verifying whether the organizations where you volunteer hold CO status. If they do not, you might suggest that they consider registering, thereby enabling more volunteers to be recognized for their service. 

Importantly, a CO has the flexibility to certify volunteer hours accumulated at various organizations. This means that if you have volunteered, for example, 25 hours at a local humane society that is not a CO, these hours can still count towards your PVSA. You simply need to document these hours and have them verified by a volunteer director at a designated CO.

To proceed, volunteers should keep accurate records of their service hours across different organizations. These records are then submitted to the CO, which is responsible for ordering the PVSA once eligibility is confirmed.

It’s advisable to inquire with larger agencies or well-known nonprofits in your area to determine if they are registered COs, as they frequently participate in such national service recognition programs. This approach broadens the scope of where one can volunteer and still receive recognition while promoting a diverse volunteer experience.

Who can give out the PVSA Award?

As mentioned above, the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) can only be given out by authorized entities known as Certifying Organizations. These organizations have been granted the authority through a tough application and review process to certify that volunteers have met the necessary requirements to receive the PVSA. 

Certifying Organizations play an important role in the PVSA program. They are responsible for verifying the service hours of volunteers, ensuring they meet the criteria for the award, and distributing the awards. Only Certifying Organizations can certify volunteers’ eligibility for the PVSA and order the awards on their behalf.

How to Become a Certifying Organization (CO)

To become a Certifying Organization, an entity must be established and operate within the United States, its territories (including Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands), or on overseas U.S. military and state installations. Additionally, they must facilitate or receive volunteer service.

The following types of entities are eligible to become Certifying Organizations, provided they meet the threshold requirements:

  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Community-based organizations
  • Faith-based organizations
  • Businesses
  • Schools (K-12, colleges, and universities) or institutions of higher learning
  • National Service programs
  • Civic, fraternal, or service organizations
  • Membership or trade associations
  • Federal, state, or local government agencies
  • U.S. military and state entities abroad (e.g., U.S. military bases and U.S. embassies)

a male student doing community work

Responsibilities of Certifying Organizations

Certifying Organizations have several responsibilities to maintain their status and effectively administer the PVSA program:

  • Confirm that volunteers have completed the required service hours.
  • Ensure that volunteers are U.S. citizens or lawfully admitted permanent U.S. residents.
  • Pay for the nominal cost of the PVSA awards, including shipping, without charging the volunteers.
  • Receive and distribute the awards package to volunteers.
  • Complete an e-course annually to stay updated on program requirements.
  • Establish and follow procedures for compliance with PVSA eligibility and program requirements.
  • Operate ethically and transparently, avoiding any criminal activities or felonies.
  • Revoke awards if a volunteer is found ineligible and inform the relevant authorities.
  • Maintain a databank with detailed records of all awards and criteria met by each awardee.
  • Seek permission to use the PVSA logo where necessary.

Steps to Become a Certifying Organization (CO)

Entities interested in becoming Certifying Organizations must follow these steps:

  • Take a short e-course available on the PVSA website. This course must be retaken every 12 months.
  • Fill out and submit the certifying organization application online.
  • Applications are reviewed and processed within 15 business days, and organizations are notified of their status via email.

Finding a Certifying Organization

Currently, there is no public list of local certifying organizations or leadership organizations. Volunteers are encouraged to speak with the organizations they currently volunteer with to determine if they are a Certifying Organization. This guarantees that their service hours can be properly verified and recognized through the PVSA program.

Who can receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA)?

The President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) is designed to honor individuals who demonstrate a significant commitment to volunteer service. To be eligible for this prestigious recognition, volunteers must meet specific criteria:

Eligibility Criteria

  • Recipients must be United States citizens or lawful permanent residents (i.e., green card holders).
  • Individuals must be at least five years old to qualify for the award.
  • For annual Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards, eligible volunteer service must be completed within a 12-month period.
  • For the Lifetime Achievement Award, service hours are accumulated over the recipient’s lifetime.

Qualifying Volunteer Activities

Eligible service consists of unpaid volunteer activities that benefit others. These activities must meet the following criteria:

  • The service should be voluntary and unpaid, providing benefits to the community or individuals in need.
  • Service through programs like the Peace Corps or AmeriCorps, which provide a stipend, can count towards the Lifetime Achievement Award but not for the annual awards (Bronze, Silver, and Gold).
  • Receiving travel stipends, transit or parking passes, membership passes, or expense reimbursements does not disqualify the service from eligibility.

Non-qualifying Volunteer Activities

Certain types of activities do not qualify for the President’s Volunteer Service Award:

  • Donating money does not count as volunteer service.
  • While non-partisan voter registration activities are eligible, political lobbying is not.
  • Activities such as religious instruction, conducting worship services, or proselytizing are not eligible.
  • Volunteer service performed as part of court-ordered community service does not qualify.
  • Serving only family members does not meet the eligibility requirements.

Students volunteering in a public place.

Required Service Hours by Age Group

Age Group Bronze Silver Gold Lifetime Achievement Award
Kids (5–10 years old) 26–49 hours 50–74 hours 75+ hours 4,000+ hours
Teens (11–15) 50–74 hours 75–99 hours 100+ hours 4,000+ hours
Young Adults (16–25) 100–174 hours 175–249 hours 250+ hours 4,000+ hours
Adults (26+) 100–249 hours 250–499 hours 500+ hours 4,000+ hours

How Can Volunteers Accurately Track and Maintain Their Service Hours?

Certifying Organizations (COs) are responsible for maintaining and tracking volunteer hours separately from the process of ordering awards through the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) website. 

These organizations follow a 12-month cycle to accumulate and record volunteer hours. When it’s time to order awards, an administrator from the CO can transfer the volunteer hours from their internal records—often kept in personal spreadsheets—into the PVSA website. This process allows them to verify and submit hours for award consideration based on the organization’s specific 12-month cycle deadline.

It’s important to note that the ROS key, a feature previously used on the old PVSA website, is no longer applicable or available on the new website. Volunteers, on their part, are also expected to keep an accurate log of their hours. 

They must ensure regular communication with their organization’s contact person to report and confirm the hours they have volunteered. This dual tracking by both the volunteer and the CO ensures accuracy and accountability in the award application process.

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What’s the Difference Between Available Volunteer Hours and Certified Volunteer Hours?

“Available hours” are the hours a volunteer accumulates that can be applied toward earning an award. These are essentially the hours yet to be acknowledged officially by a Certifying Organization. On the other hand, “certified hours” are those that have already been acknowledged and used for award issuance. 

Once hours are certified for an annual award (such as bronze, silver, or gold), they cannot be reused for another annual award in subsequent years. However, these hours do count toward the cumulative total of 4,000 hours needed to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Certifying Organizations certify volunteer hours when they order awards, integrating certification with the order process. All volunteers receiving awards through an organization will have their hours certified simultaneously. 

To certify hours and place an award order, Certifying Organizations might require additional information from volunteers to verify their eligibility and confirm their completed service hours. The PVSA entrusts these organizations to manage certification in a way that suits their specific operational needs and respects their decisions regarding volunteer eligibility.

President’s Volunteer Service Award Packages

The President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) offers a range of recognition packages to honor the dedication and achievements of volunteers. Certifying Organizations have the flexibility to choose from various award elements to best celebrate their volunteers’ contributions. 

Award Elements

The PVSA packages include a variety of elements designed to provide meaningful recognition:

  • Recipients can receive an official President’s Volunteer Service Award pin, coin, or medallion.
  • Personalized Certificate of Achievement: Each award package includes a customized certificate of achievement.
  • Presidential Congratulatory Letter: A letter signed by President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. accompanies the award, congratulating the recipient on their service.

Annual Awards: Bronze, Silver, and Gold Packages

For the annual Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards, the packages include:

  • Customized Certificate
  • Choice of Pin, Coin, or Medallion
  • Congratulatory Letter from the President

View of hands placed on top of each other.

Pricing for Annual Awards

  • Certificate Only: $6.25
  • Certificate + Pin: $10.00
  • Certificate + Coin: $11.75
  • Certificate + Medallion: $12.25

Lifetime Achievement Award Package

The Lifetime Achievement Award package is specially designed to honor those who have dedicated extensive time to volunteer service over their lifetimes. The package includes:

  • Enlarged, Personalized Certificate
  • Congratulatory Letter from the President

Pricing for Lifetime Achievement Award

  • Certificate Package: $6.75
  • Certificate Package with Pin: $12.00
  • Certificate Package with Coin: $13.00

Optional Add-On

  • Padfolio with Stamp: $14.50
  • Individual Pricing for Pins, Coins, and Medallions
  • Bronze, Silver, and Gold Pins: $4.75
  • Bronze, Silver, and Gold Coins: $7.00
  • Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medallions: $7.50
  • Lifetime Pins: $6.50
  • Lifetime Coins: $8.00

a female student at a summer job

Volunteering Opportunities at Americorps

AmeriCorps invites individuals across the nation to engage actively in their communities and create positive, constructive action. The program emphasizes the importance of volunteers, who are crucial to the economic and social well-being of the nation. These dedicated individuals serve as the backbone of schools, shelters, hospitals, and various civic, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations across the country. By donating their time and efforts, volunteers significantly enhance community life and support the most vulnerable.

AmeriCorps offers volunteer opportunities, available year-round, to accommodate different schedules—whether it’s an hour, a day, or more extensive commitments. The initiative encourages everyone to make service a fundamental part of their goals and to make a tangible difference in their neighborhoods.

The program highlights two National Days of Service—the MLK Day and the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. These days inspire thousands to integrate volunteering into their lifestyle, creating an immeasurable positive impact in local communities. 

  • Commit to Volunteer on MLK Day

On MLK Day, AmeriCorps promotes building a “Beloved Community” through unity, service, and transformation. This day, designated as a National Day of Service, calls on Americans to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy by advancing a more just and equitable society. Volunteers participate in various projects aimed at bridging divides, healing wounds, and fostering sustainable changes that benefit communities for years to come.

AmeriCorps champions the idea that true citizenship involves taking an active role in improving one’s community. Volunteers can engage in numerous activities, such as cleaning public spaces, mentoring young people, or assisting those facing food insecurity. This commitment not only honors Dr. King’s legacy of social justice and equity but also reinvigorates the community spirit, encouraging a continuous cycle of service and improvement.

  • September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance 

More than two decades have passed since the tragic events of September 11, and the spirit of remembrance and service continues to thrive through the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. 

This national observance encourages Americans of all ages and backgrounds to honor the sacrifices made on that fateful day. It is a day to remember the heroes, armed forces, first responders, and countless others who dedicated themselves to defending the nation’s freedom.

Each year on September 11, AmeriCorps invites community members to come together and lead service projects that not only commemorate those lost but also foster unity and bridge community divides. 

The upcoming 9/11 Day of Service, scheduled for Wednesday, September 11, 2024, presents an opportunity for individuals and groups to engage in meaningful activities that create lasting impacts in their communities.

Organizations and individuals looking to contribute can publicize their volunteer opportunities by adding them to the AmeriCorps Volunteer Search. To secure visibility in search results specifically for the 9/11 Day, AmeriCorps advises including the hashtag #911 in the title of the project. Interested parties can create a free project listing on platforms like Idealist, JustServe, or VolunteerMatch. This inclusion will enable anyone searching for 9/11 Day volunteer opportunities on the AmeriCorps site to find and participate in these projects, helping to continue the legacy of service and remembrance on this significant day.

A woman standing next to plants in a green house.

Benefits of Receiving the President’s Volunteer Service Award

The President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) offers benefits that extend beyond mere recognition. Here’s a look at the multifaceted advantages of earning this prestigious award:

Impact on College Applications and Career Opportunities

For students, the PVSA can enhance college applications by showcasing their commitment to community service, a trait highly valued by many admissions offices. It demonstrates the student’s initiative, leadership, and dedication to social causes, making them more attractive to potential colleges and universities. 

Furthermore, in the professional realm, having the PVSA on a resume can distinguish a job applicant from others. It signals to employers that the individual possesses a strong work ethic, leadership qualities, and a proven commitment to community improvement.

Recognition and Prestige

Receiving the PVSA serves as a formal acknowledgment of a volunteer’s dedication and effort. It is a symbol of commitment and civic responsibility recognized nationwide. Volunteers who receive this award gain a sense of accomplishment and national recognition for their service. This accolade sets recipients apart as individuals who have made significant contributions to their communities.

Personal and Community Benefits

Beyond the accolades, the process of earning the PVSA encourages personal growth and development. Volunteers often experience increased self-esteem, develop new skills, and gain a broader perspective on societal issues. 

The act of volunteering itself has a deeper connection to the community and helps build a network of like-minded individuals driven by similar values. The community also benefits as these dedicated volunteers address critical local needs, whether it’s by mentoring youth, supporting elderly residents, cleaning up public spaces, or engaging in other impactful activities.

The President’s Volunteer Service Award recognizes the hard work and achievements of dedicated volunteers and helps pave the way for future opportunities in education and career, while enriching personal development and contributing positively to community welfare.

A group of college friends around an outdoor table.

Final Thoughts

Achieving the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA) is a commendable goal that reflects significant dedication to service and community improvement. This award is a recognition of the volunteer hours committed and a prestigious acknowledgment of the volunteer’s impact on society and personal growth.

The PVSA is an inspiration for others to engage in volunteerism, highlighting the personal satisfaction and the broader community benefits that arise from such service. Volunteers contribute to resolving pressing challenges but also develop skills, build networks, and promote a sense of accomplishment and belonging.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA)?

The President’s Volunteer Service Award is a national honor that recognizes significant volunteer contributions. Established in 2003, the PVSA honors individuals who have dedicated their time and efforts to helping others and strengthening their communities. It showcases the impact and importance of volunteerism in building a cohesive society.

2. How can I qualify for the PVSA?

To qualify for the PVSA, you need to accumulate a specified number of volunteer hours within a 12-month period or over a lifetime for the Lifetime Achievement Award. These hours must be verified by a Certifying Organization (CO), which is authorized to certify and submit your volunteer hours for recognition.

3. Who can certify my volunteer hours for the PVSA?

Only authorized Certifying Organizations can certify your volunteer hours for the PVSA. These organizations include nonprofits, schools, government agencies, and other entities that have officially registered with the PVSA program. You should ensure that the organization where you volunteer is a registered CO or encourage them to become one.

4. Can I combine volunteer hours from different organizations for the PVSA?

Yes, you can combine volunteer hours from different organizations to qualify for the PVSA, as long as all hours are certified by a registered Certifying Organization. This flexibility allows volunteers to engage with multiple causes and projects while accumulating the necessary hours for the award.

5. What are the benefits of receiving the PVSA?

Receiving the PVSA offers recognition and prestige, enhancing your resume and college applications, and demonstrates your commitment to community service. It also provides personal growth opportunities, helps build your network, and highlights the impact of your contributions to community well-being and development.

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