Volunteer Appreciation: Eight Ways to Say Thank You

Amy Schiffman
December 14, 2018

Recently, we launched a December blog series focused on the “care and feeding” of your team.  We began with staff appreciation and discussed the myriad of ways in which you can express gratitude to employees and colleagues. I also promised to cover volunteer and donor appreciation before the new year, so this week’s topic is all about the volunteer. 

Volunteers often feel underappreciated by the organizations to whom they often devote countless hours, so ensuring that you have a plan to recognize and honor their hard work throughout the year is important. The holiday season is a great time to launch a new volunteer appreciation program,or even just to add a few opportunities to your existing program.  I’ve generated a list of eight ideas for you to ponder (and this week’s freebie offers even more possibilities):

  1. Here’s a no-brainer: holiday cards. Be sure you are sending them to all of your volunteers and hand sign if possible! They should include a note about how much you appreciate their time and dedication – make them personal.
  2. Small gifts: volunteers are sensitive to how much money is spent on them (versus going directly to program), so don’t go crazy. A small token of your appreciation can be appropriate. Think about a photo frame that holds a picture of them volunteering and include a nice note. Food items work too!
  3. Volunteer appreciation events: we love these! Yes, they require a budget, but ask a board member, or the board as a whole, to sponsor. These types of events can be produced inexpensively and creatively. Think wine and cheese (get the wine donated), breakfast (bagels are cheap), or a lunch (ask the caterer to donate).Recognize volunteers as a group, or award individual volunteers with honors and customized thank you’s.  
  4. Worlds can collide: invite clients and volunteers to celebrate the holidays together. For some nonprofits this is not achievable, but for others, it might be the most exciting event of the year. Think about a project volunteers and clients can complete together in a short amount of time (baking, building,painting, even cleaning up a playground). Or just make it a fun holiday party with music and cheer.
  5. For organizations with volunteers who solicit donations, invite your volunteers to an end of campaign celebration. Provide lunch, breakfast, dinner or snacks.Remember to connect the dots by spending time during your public comments talking about gift impact – remind volunteers where the dollars go and what they have helped the organization to achieve this year. It is important to celebrate success and pay tribute to the lay partners who helped get you there.
  6. Another easy one: phone calls from board members. Think about stopping your board meeting 5 minutes before the end and asking members to take out their cellphones and make thank you calls to volunteers. Be sure your call lists are ready in advance and prepare a short script for the board to use. They will be amazed by how excited volunteers get about these kinds of calls – no one expects them. 
  7. Good and welfare: start your board and committee meetings with a few minutes of praise, recognizing the efforts of members and/or volunteers. Call attention to those who have gone above and beyond. Remember to mention life cycle events and exciting news about volunteers’ lives during the meetings.
  8. A final reminder: say thank you every single time a volunteer shows up for a meeting,event or activity. I am in meetings almost every day after which organizations forget to thank their volunteers for attending. Because we rely so heavily on our lay partners, we often take their presence and participation for granted.Be the organization who is not guilty of stingy thanking!

Don’t forget – volunteer appreciation is not a once per year endeavor. Put together your program and then create a calendar, documenting the steps you must take to do this consistently. After all, we know that engaged volunteers become more generous donors (check out the Tarnside Curve*). Join us next week for the third part in our gratitude series focused on donor appreciation. See you then!