Your volunteers are helpful, dedicated, and demonstrate a strong commitment to your nonprofit. So, are you showing them your appreciation? Without expressing your gratitude for generously sharing their time, these individuals – who are the heart and soul of many nonprofits – may not feel engaged with your organization, and may find another place to offer their time. You don’t want to lose these unsung heroes? Enter: Volunteer Appreciation!
What is Volunteer Appreciation?
Volunteer appreciation is the expression of your gratitude to the heroes behind a nonprofit. They aren’t paid for their work, but they still dedicate plenty of their time to help with duties and details, as well as spreading the word about your organization. While they don’t have to show up, they do regardless. For this, you must reward their efforts.
The Impact of Volunteer Appreciation
Volunteers are vital to every nonprofit. The Corporation of National and Community Service reported in 2018 that more than 77 million adults volunteered, accumulating 6.9 billion hours.
Many nonprofits would be unable to function or provide vital services without their support. And if they feel valued, they’ll continue to show up at the office, at events, at the warehouse, and anywhere else you may need them.
Volunteer appreciation gifts can be crucial to keep them coming back. Happy volunteers will also share your mission in their communities, and share your work with friends and family, thus building your network with potential volunteers, employees, and donors.
There are many ways to express gratitude to your volunteers. But if you truly want to keep your volunteers coming back again and again, you must stand out and offer original forms of recognition that other nonprofits do not provide.
25 Amazing Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
On A Weekly Basis
1. Volunteer of the Week
Everyone likes to feel cherished and that their hard work furthers your mission. Help your employees to recognize your volunteers’ impact and highlight one volunteer each week. You don’t have to play favorites—rather, choose one individual and note their achievements. Do this until you’ve featured every volunteer, then randomize again. Highlighting specific accolades does wonder for self-esteem.
Pro Tip: Creating badges of honor or rewards can increase volunteers’ chances of going above and beyond. Consider customizing each reward to the volunteer’s accomplishments.
Put your volunteers’ names in a bag and host a weekly raffle. It doesn’t have to be anything major—think a $10 gift card to Starbucks or Target, an agency t-shirt, or chocolate. It makes volunteers feel appreciated, while also giving them a dose of fun.
Another way to play: have employees and/or volunteers write notes about one another on a cork board, collect the notes at the end of the week, and pull from a hat. The more notes with names on them, the better the chances.
On A Monthly Basis
3. Email Campaign
While most volunteers remain behind the scenes, it’s crucial to appreciate them for all they do. Volunteers will feel excited to be mentioned, and newsletter subscribers will receive the chance to see who helps out. If you have many volunteers, you can send out a monthly email featuring a certain number of individuals.
For example, those who sign up for Animal Hope & Wellness Foundation’s mailing list receive specific emails asking for volunteers. These emails ask for office shifts, events, and necessary travel accommodations.
Volunteers carry organizations, so bring them to the forefront of an email campaign. For these campaigns, target fellow and potential volunteers–people always love to see themselves mentioned and thanked. Nonprofits can also add information about volunteering, programs, and any other initiatives the organization currently is pursuing and needing volunteers for.
Pro Tip: Feature photos of the volunteers in action–posed shots may look pretty, but seeing volunteers out in the field has a greater impact. You can also have them give a few words about their experience at your nonprofit.
4. Bring It to the Board
Board members should also be aware of any stand-out volunteers. You can also invite a few volunteers to board meetings to voice any suggestions they might have to better the nonprofit and its output—an outside view is always useful. The board will also receive the opportunity to listen to and acknowledge those who are giving their time to the organization.
5. Swag Bags
Consolidate all of the promotional supplies you have (stickers, shirts, flyers, etc.) and create gift bags for all of your volunteers. They’ll be repping your nonprofit while off the job—everyone can use a pair of sunglasses—and further your mission without even trying. You can also give out exclusive items, like water bottles and tech accessories, with your nonprofit’s name or logo on them.
6. Movie Nights
Choose three movies and take an anonymous vote for which one to watch. The most popular one can be shown at the office for a monthly movie night. Make sure to bring the microwave popcorn, and always let volunteers know in advance: scary movie junkies may like The Purge, but that doesn’t mean certain people won’t want to hide under the blankets the entire time. If shelter in place orders are still in place, host a movie night via Zoom, where you can all watch together online. Try using GAZE, Netflix Party, or Metastream. Creating a comfortable and informal environment for your volunteers will also encourage them to volunteer more and they will continue to offer their support as they feel welcome and rewarded for their time.
On a Yearly Basis
7. Awards Ceremony
Here’s the best part about an awards ceremony – it doesn’t have to be a competition. Rather, create superlatives for all volunteers and award them individually based on their role within the organization. You’ll be the cool nonprofit that pays attention to each volunteer’s strengths, which in turn makes volunteers feel that their efforts are valued. Consider awarding past volunteers as well–the recognition may convince them to come back and volunteer again. And keep in mind: happy volunteers = consistent volunteers.
8. Group Outings
Is there a minor league baseball team near you? What about the concert? Scour (affordable) events nearby and splurge a little bit on a group outing. It’s a way to form camaraderie between volunteers, and it also gives them access to you and your employees. It fosters and encourages connection, and they won’t see you as an unapproachable or distant volunteer supervisor. Consider taking a poll of what employees most enjoy doing, and then make a list of different outings based on the responses.
9. Holiday Highlights
You most likely already send out a holiday card/newsletter to donors, those whom you have helped through the nonprofit, and fellow staff and volunteers. For your next holiday reach-out, include a picture of volunteers together. If you don’t have any photos of everyone together in one place, create a collage of action shots from preparation to execution of events. A nonprofit can’t run without its volunteers—demonstrate that to all who support you.
10. Picture Book
Make sure you keep a camera around during events and the office because a picture book is a perfect way to commemorate your nonprofit’s successes over the course of a year. Feature pictures of volunteers in-office, at events, and at outings—they will get to see what you and the team have accomplished in only 365 days. In the COVID-19 era, ask volunteers to take selfies of their activities and to share them with you for posting.
11. Transportation Stipend
Transportation stipends are perfect for volunteers who travel for your events. Consider paying for bus fares or a portion of gas to help them travel to the destination. These volunteers are coming without pay—take care of them in this way to encourage them to continue helping out. These will be even more effective for events that are further away from your headquarters.
12. Happy Hours
Everyone needs a break, so once shelter in place requirements are removed, consider hosting happy hours at local restaurants. Everyone likes to let loose following a large event, so book a reservation (or room) to lift everyone’s spirits. Bonus: carpooling to these gatherings can help to foster connections between friends and familiar faces, while also encouraging volunteers to get to know others they may not have crossed paths with.
13. Snacks at Morning Events
Early morning? Save the sleepy by bringing coffee and pastries. For those rushing out the door or traveling for a long period of time, the sight of baked goods and caffeine will be a dream. Bring extra snacks to boost blood sugars throughout the day, but really, don’t skimp out on breakfast—it’s the most important meal of the day, after all.
14. Thank You Letters
Emails, phone calls, and verbal “thanks” are all common. And while it may be easier to copy and paste into an email, handwritten notes are a simple way to go the extra mile. If you have tens or hundreds of volunteers, even a handwritten signature with their name has a greater effect on volunteers.
15. Write Letters of Recommendation
Letters of recommendation don’t need to be long and tedious, but they can be extremely helpful for volunteers looking to find a job. Highlight their strengths, accomplishments, and any anecdotes that emphasize their abilities. Many companies look for those who work as volunteers for other nonprofits.
16. Honor the Years
Have you had a volunteer working for you for years? Honor their commitment. A card with signatures from every employee acknowledging their hard work, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, or a small present relevant to a part of your company is a perfect way of expressing your gratitude for their dedication.
17. Videos from Clients
If your volunteers are helping clients directly, ask for videos from the clients thanking the volunteers for their help. While it’s always nice to have praise come from you and your employees, videos from clients will have a large impact as well. Everybody wants their work to have a purpose, and these messages will boost volunteer morale.
18. Reach Out to Their Employers
If you know your volunteer has a job, make a point to reach out to their employer. Employers enjoy hearing feedback about their employees, and you taking time out of your day to personally commend your volunteer is beyond useful. Try to reach out following a great event, or should your volunteer go the extra mile for your nonprofit.
19. Career Training
Volunteering is the best way to learn the ins and outs of a nonprofit, but insight from you and your employees can be a diamond in the rough. Go to a deeper level when asking for help and explain what your process was: how you thought up, created, and executed your idea. This sense of insight is invaluable, as it can lead to transferable skills—extremely important to those looking to find a job that pays (without ending their volunteer work, of course).
20. Follow the Leader
Volunteers often learn plenty when they join a nonprofit. But if they want to move up, consider adding leadership opportunities for them. Volunteers who have been with you for a long time can train new volunteers, take on more responsibilities, and lead events so you avoid stretching yourself too thin. It will be nice to have one less stressful item on your to-do list when you have people you trust covering for you.
21. Invite Inspiration
Organize formal, internal events and hire or invite speakers to come and give a talk. Bring an expert in and dive into more detail about how important the work they’re doing is. Or, invite a well-known, inspirational speaker to boost company morale, encourage volunteers to continue working with the organization, and uplift spirits during the more-stressful times.
22. Celebrate Birthdays
If someone’s birthday is coming up, write a personal card thanking them for their efforts. You can turn it into a potluck—have each person celebrating bring refreshments, appetizers, and snacks. For a lunch celebration, order a neutral food, like pizza. And, most importantly: don’t forget the cake.
23. Engage Outside of the Office
Volunteers are people too, with their own lives, families, and commitments. That’s why it’s important to treat them as multi-faceted humans. Just because they donate time does not mean they don’t have other priorities. Get to know them on a personal level and ask them questions about themselves. This sense of care and interest will stand out from other companies that stick to a solely professional level.
24. Open Door Policy
Encourage volunteers to come to you if they need to. Whether it’s to point out an obstacle, ask a question, or simply have a chat, open-door policies are positive for the entire team. Appearing closed-off may make volunteers hesitate to talk to you and refrain from giving input and feedback. Express that everyone’s suggestions are valid—and follow through with it when a volunteer comes to you.
25. National Volunteer Week
If some of the aforementioned points aren’t possible monthly, choose National Volunteer Week is the time to express your gratitude to your volunteers. If you don’t have any events, this week is the perfect time to recognize your volunteers and celebrate milestones, birthdays, and the overall success of the organization—with many thanks to them. Happy volunteers will stick around; by honoring them, you’re demonstrating a form of loyalty to them which will very likely be reciprocated.
We’ve listed 25 ideas, but consider what your nonprofit does and your volunteers’ positive effect to generate additional personalized ways to appreciate these organizational heroes. It can be helpful to discuss your ideas with your board, as they may have their own suggestions and ways to engage your volunteers.
Appreciating your volunteers helps to keep your organization afloat by enticing them to come back. Should you need extra volunteers for an event or project, past volunteers will be happy to return and help, as you have shown that you value them and the time they give to your nonprofit.
Overall, consider your volunteers as the backbone of the team. They work on the little details and aid the greater ones to help you achieve your goals. Most importantly, they show up; the least you can do is show up for them, too.
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