Volunteers are the secret weapon of every nonprofit. Their support, expertise, and effort help you accomplish your fundraising goals consistently. And, just when you thought you’d have to work extra long hours to pull off a major campaign, volunteers are there to execute tasks like magic.
That’s why learning how to express gratitude for volunteers should be a priority for your organization. In this guide, we’ll break down why volunteer appreciation matters and provide some ideas and tips for your nonprofit to say thank you in a way that counts. Here’s an overview:
Keep in mind that volunteer appreciation should be tailored to each volunteer’s journey from their first opportunity to serve to their tenth year on the job. Your organization should show gratitude to each volunteer in a way that recognizes their individual contributions.
That said, let’s dive in!
Why Volunteer Appreciation Matters
You probably instinctively know that expressing appreciation is important, but do you know exactly how essential it is? To put it into perspective, the value of volunteers is estimated to be worth $31.80 per hour. They give their time and energy without the expectation of a reward or recognition.
Although volunteers don’t expect a monetary reward for their time, showing your appreciation can translate into tangible organizational benefits, such as:
- Motivation and retention: Volunteers who feel appreciated for their efforts are also more likely to feel motivated to take your nonprofit goals to the next level. Plus, volunteers will stick with a nonprofit that takes special care to express their gratitude.
- Community building: When all volunteers feel appreciated, it creates a sense of community bonding in addition to a positive work environment that enables them to deepen their relationships with each other and with your organization.
- Increased productivity and quality of work: Volunteers who do not feel appreciated will get discouraged easily. Don’t let that happen! Instead, show your appreciation for their effort genuinely and often.
- Positive brand reputation: Nonprofits that actively express gratitude for all members of their team, including their volunteers carry a positive brand identity and culture that will make them more attractive to prospective volunteers, donors, and partners.
- Time and cost efficiency: It takes a lot of time and effort to source and train new volunteers. Incentivize existing volunteers by showing your appreciation for their contributions.
The last point bears emphasizing as successful volunteer recruitment takes informed strategies and time to execute. Therefore, how you treat and maintain your current volunteer base can determine how much additional thought you’ll need to place into volunteer acquisition.
Think about it this way–your volunteers are a combination of employees and donors. They give their time and talents to carry out your organization’s work. Taking time to recognize them will incentivize them to come back again and again.
Types of Volunteer Appreciation
It can be helpful to break down volunteer appreciation into specified types to create a varied appreciation strategy and make the most of your budget and volunteer preferences. For example, some volunteers would rather have a fun night of celebration while others would go for a simple gift and thank you note.
Below is a diagram that separates volunteer appreciation types to consider:
Refer to your existing volunteer base to narrow down your strategies. If you have an influx of new volunteers, for instance, consider hosting a volunteer appreciation event to welcome them to your organization. On the other hand, if you have a few dedicated volunteers interested in advancing a career in the nonprofit sector, you might offer a skills development workshop.
Let’s discover each of these volunteer appreciation strategies in more detail!
Personalized Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
- Thank You Notes
Want to know a secret? Thank-you notes will never go out of style. That’s because thank-you notes are individual in nature, and when they come from your nonprofit CFO (or another nonprofit leader), so they indicate sincere appreciation.
These don’t have to be lengthy either! In fact, you can use digital tools like eCards to customize your message and send it to volunteer inboxes in a flash. Just make sure to personalize your note by addressing volunteers by name and thanking them for individual contributions to make sure the note gets read.
1. Milestone Moments
Regularly update your volunteer constituent relationship management system (CRM) with volunteer information like volunteer history, birthdays, and interests. That way, you can keep track of milestone moments in your volunteers’ lives and use those opportunities to celebrate them for their efforts.
Birthdays, volunteer anniversaries, and new job opportunities are all great times to say “You’re awesome and we are so thankful to have you on our volunteer team”. eCards work well to make sure your volunteer receives a birthday wish on their special day straight to their inbox.
3. Phone Calls
Part of expressing appreciation involves establishing a relationship with volunteers. Consider picking up the phone to call volunteers and invite them to an upcoming appreciation event, or just to call and check in with them.
Ask them how their kids are, what their favorite hobbies are, and if they saw the big game. Keep your conversation casual and genuine, and remember volunteers are people too, so they don’t expect perfectly curated conversations.
Volunteer Appreciation Gift Ideas
4. Goodie Bag
Goodie bags aren’t just for party favors—they make great volunteer appreciation gifts! Consider having these on hand for new volunteers to welcome them to your organization upon their first volunteer experience with you. This will allow them to leave the experience feeling seen and valued even for just a couple of hours of help.
You can fill your volunteer appreciation goodie bag with:
- Branded nonprofit merchandise
- Events Calendar
- Nonprofit impact fact sheet
- Newsletter information
Offering books is a fantastic way to cultivate a community of volunteers. Your nonprofit volunteers can even start a book club together to read about topics that interest you. Send out a survey to gauge interest and take note of your volunteer’s top reads.
Store this information away and consider sending volunteers a copy of a book by their favorite author on their birthday or as a spontaneous thank you!
6. Gift Baskets
A little more comprehensive than goodie bags, gift baskets are an optimal choice for long-term volunteers. Especially once you’ve established a relationship with them, you can offer them a customized gift basket that suits their interests.
For instance, you might have a volunteer who likes to cook or garden in their free time. Think about offering them a basket of recipes, utensils, cookbooks, and ingredients as a thank you. Or, send them seeds and gardening tools for their vegetable garden.
Along the same lines, flowers are a fabulous gift for volunteers of all ages and histories with your nonprofit. They make for an excellent addition to your customized thank-you note, book set, or as a stand-alone bouquet of vibrant colors.
Flowers can also say “We’re thinking of you” whenever volunteers are experiencing tough times in their lives. Keep them on hand and know that if you’re not sure what to send, flowers make for a great gift.
8. Skincare Subscriptions
Sunscreen, moisturizers, face masks—you name it, there’s a skincare product out there for everyone. Send your hardworking volunteers a spa kit of all their favorite skincare products as a way to say thank you.
Research volunteers’ favorite skincare brands online and consider offering them a discount or subscription of their choice. That way, they can select the product they’ve been most desiring.
Another highly customizable appreciation idea, tickets are a fabulous way to send your volunteers on a night out. Look for upcoming community events like festivals or concerts that align with your volunteers’ interests.
You can also plan for upcoming sporting events and maybe even craft a gift basket of their favorite team’s swag for them to wear to the championship game.
Volunteer Appreciation Event Ideas
10. Luncheon or Dinner
Host a casual luncheon or formal dinner to celebrate your volunteers. You can opt for a seasonal theme like a Friendsgiving to invite volunteers and their entire families to feel welcomed by your organization.
Select a restaurant and invite volunteers to RSVP in advance to secure their spot. For a more formal flair, encourage your nonprofit leader to make a toast thanking volunteers for their dedication.
11. Virtual Happy Hour
Send a virtual happy hour kit to your tight-knit, retained volunteers. You can stock the box with gourmet goodies like wine and cheese pairings or chocolate desserts. Simply, ask volunteers to RSVP and send them a kit before your virtual event.
Plan out your virtual happy hour with exciting, team-building games everyone will enjoy participating in. You can go for a virtual murder mystery or trivia game to excite your volunteers. If you’re not sure where to start, research online games for teams and send out a poll to see what sort of activities your volunteers are interested in.
12. Surprise Party
Catch your volunteers off-guard with a surprise party! Schedule a routine volunteer task and decorate your office ahead of time to prepare for their arrival. Make sure as many of your staff and other volunteers are there as possible to make them feel celebrated.
Keep the party on a need-to-know basis so word does not get out too quickly. Then, leading up to the party stock up on snacks drinks, and even board games to make the day extra fun!
Volunteer Appreciation Ideas for Professional Growth
13. Training and Workshops
Show your thanks by inviting volunteers to join a workshop or training session to learn more about the nonprofit industry and how your organization fits in. For instance, if your nonprofit CFO performs a lot of speeches to raise support and awareness, you might invite your volunteers to a public speaking workshop led by them.
While there, volunteers can pick up marketable skills they can add to their resumes or use as a resource to practice their interviewing skills.
14. LinkedIn Endorsements
Some of your volunteers are most likely working professionals who need to maintain effective connections to progress their careers. Thank them by endorsing them on LinkedIn to increase their credibility and legitimacy.
Consider offering to be a reference for volunteers who might be new to the job market. As younger volunteers may be in need of more professional backing, your voice can be a deciding factor in whether or not they get their first position.
15. Job Offer
For volunteers that you’ve retained over multiple years, you might consider giving them a job offer that aligns with their skills and interests. For example, if you have one volunteer who is gifted at training new volunteers, you might offer them the position of chief volunteer coordinator to keep your operations running smoothly.
Job offers can be especially meaningful for folks who feel especially connected to your mission. They indicate that your organization recognizes your volunteer’s commitment and wants to reward it with an official position.
Volunteer Appreciation Do’s and Don’ts
There are a few best practices when it comes to volunteer appreciation that will make your efforts go a bit further. Here are some best practices to consider and pitfalls to avoid:
Volunteer Appreciation Dos
- Make your appreciation prompt. The sooner you show your appreciation, the better. Emails, eCards, and thank you notes are great alternatives for speedy thank yous while volunteer appreciation events work well as grander, less frequent appreciation gestures.
- Thank volunteers often. Similarly, be sure to thank volunteers often, especially those who have been with your organization for a long while. Doing this will remind them that their hard work is not overlooked.
- Personalize your appreciation. Get to know your volunteers and select appreciation ideas that best suit them. Use bigger appreciation events and surveys to narrow down their interests and find a gift or experience that indicates your organization values them as an individual.
- Budget for appreciation. It can be easy to get carried away executing appreciation ideas. Take time before your organization gets busy to select budget-friendly, meaningful ideas for new and long-term supporters. Sometimes, a thoughtful thank you letter is exactly what your volunteer wants.
- Plan for two-way communication. Part of showing your appreciation is opening up the door for two-way communication. Give your volunteers time to talk or express their concerns, and do your best to improve any inconvenience that may be detracting from their overall volunteer experience.
Volunteer Appreciation Don’ts
- Overthink it. Volunteers are just people. They want to feel appreciated just like everyone else. Get to know them for them and select an appreciation idea that best suits their history with your nonprofit, interests, and meets your budget goals.
- Assume a one-size-fits-all approach. Having standard appreciation ideas is great, but don’t be afraid to shake things up every once in a while. For instance, if your organization is posting volunteer shoutouts on social media maybe opt for an in-person event for everyone to take a digital break.
- Neglect feedback. Volunteers have a unique perspective of your nonprofit, so provide them with opportunities to share how they’d change or adapt your program to acquire more supporters or increase efficiency.
- Appreciate only at the end. Showing appreciation following major events is great, but it’s better to express gratitude throughout the year. This goes back to motivating volunteers and making them feel valued even before the work is done.
- Overlook small gestures. Not every appreciation gesture needs to be grand (although those can be fun). Instead, look for little ways you can give back like picking up the phone or sending delivery service from their favorite restaurant.
Cultivating your volunteer relationships is about finding regular ways to say thank you in a form that is appropriate for both your organization and volunteer base. As your volunteers increase, be sure to update your strategies, so that both new and returning volunteers feel valued for their contributions.
Are interested in discovering more ways to express gratitude? Check out our guides below for additional strategies and tips:
- How to Thank Donors: Sincere Ideas To Win Donors’ Hearts. Build lasting relationships with your nonprofit’s greatest contributors by learning how to effectively acknowledge their support.
- Charity eCards for Your Nonprofit: A Comprehensive Guide. Learn the basics of how to use charity ecards to fuel your mission, thank your volunteers, and express gratitude to your donors.
- 9 Volunteer Thank You Samples to Show Your Appreciation. Not sure how to write your volunteer thank you letter? Look no further than this guide to make sure your structure is just right.