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The Ultimate Guide to Volunteer Appreciation

Author: Tatiana Morand
April 29, 2023
🕑 9 min read

Volunteers are essential to the everyday success of most nonprofits and small membership organizations. These supporters devote their time, skills and energy to help run events, serve as board members and deliver critical services in the community.

According to AmeriCorps’ Volunteering and Civic Life in America research, around 60.7 million Americans formally volunteered with organizations between September 2020 and 2021, serving about 4.1 billion hours in total. These numbers effectively capture just how much value volunteers can provide to your organization’s goals and overall success.

To ensure that they’re appreciated for all that they do, it’s essential to have a comprehensive strategy not just for managing volunteers, but for recognizing their impact as well. 

Finding consistent and creative ways to say “thank you” can go a long way toward building a loyal volunteer base and encouraging supporters to keep contributing to your mission for the long term. 

To help your organization maximize its volunteer appreciation efforts, let’s discuss the basics of recognizing your volunteers along with several best practices and ideas.

What is Volunteer Appreciation?

While your organization may certainly appreciate your volunteers’ investment in your mission, it’s all the more important to communicate this appreciation to them frequently and thoughtfully. This will ensure that both returning and new volunteers have a positive experience with your organization and remain enthusiastic to continue their involvement year after year.

Effective volunteer appreciation involves sending volunteer thank-you letters, hosting celebratory events and gifting meaningful items that bring volunteers closer to your organization. 

To hone your volunteer recognition strategy, it’s first important to understand the motivations behind your volunteers’ involvement.

Why Do People Volunteer?

In their annual Industry Insights report on volunteer engagement, Sterling Volunteers and Volunteer Match found that 83% of volunteers considered “making a positive impact in the community” to be their top motivator, while around 20% were interested in building their skill sets. Also, many people choose to volunteer to:

  • Meet and network with other people
  • Find a sense of community
  • Support their friends’ or family members’ interests
  • Make a difference toward a personally relevant cause
  • Fulfill religious obligations or values
  • Discover their strengths and boost self-esteem

These diverse motivations can lead to productive and efficient volunteer teams with individuals of varying strengths, skills and interests. Encourage each of your supporters to fulfill their personal drive to volunteer by understanding and recognizing the value of their contributions.

Why is Volunteer Recognition Important?

By making it a regular priority to demonstrate gratitude for all those who support your mission, you’ll develop a healthy culture of appreciation and recognition within your organization. Just as you need to take the time to value your donors, actively thanking your volunteers will keep them eager to continue their support and to speak positively about your organization to others.

Volunteer appreciation can significantly boost your reach, improve your reputation and make it easier to reach your overall goals. Aim to create a memorable and fulfilling experience for your volunteers from their recruitment to their ongoing engagement. This will build long-lasting relationships that you can count on in the future.

9 Best Practices for Volunteer Appreciation

While your organization’s volunteer appreciation efforts will differ depending on your priorities and resources, it’s important to come up with a detailed strategy that successfully gets the message across. Follow these best practices as a starting point:

  • Prioritize volunteer recognition. Designate someone in your organization to be responsible for the ongoing recognition of your volunteers and sending regular appreciation messages.
  • Say “thank you” often. Develop a schedule for thanking volunteers throughout the year. For instance, be ready to appreciate your volunteers after one of your organization’s events or on a special holiday.
  • Be creative. Vary your recognition efforts, from informal thank-you’s to more formal events, to maximize engagement. The level of your appreciation should depend on the extent of the volunteer’s contribution to your organization.
  • Focus on the individual. Emphasize how their efforts played an important part in your success. Try to include personal details such as their names, interests and specific involvement to make them feel individually valued.
  • Make it prompt. Be sure to appreciate your volunteers in a timely manner to make your gratitude feel more impactful.

Use your organization’s volunteer management software to stay on top of these recognition efforts. Gather relevant information about your volunteers, such as their skills and interests, to segment them for more effective communications and follow-ups.

Volunteer Recognition Planning

To craft an optimized recognition plan for your organization, gather your team and answer the following questions:

  • Who are your volunteers? Consider the characteristics of your typical volunteers. Do they tend to be older or younger? Students or seniors? The more you understand your organization’s volunteers, the better prepared you’ll be to recognize them in ways that matter most.
  • What are the purpose and desired results of your volunteer recognition? For instance, you could be looking to deepen volunteer engagement or attract new support. Make a list of activities that will help achieve these goals to keep everyone on track.
  • What’s your budget? Determining your budget for volunteer recognition upfront will allow you to plan effectively moving forward. That being said, remember that there are ways to meaningfully appreciate volunteers that appeal to all budget sizes.
  • What are some opportunities for recognizing your volunteers? While you’ll definitely want to create a recognition plan for National Volunteer Month in April, brainstorm other key opportunities for expressing your gratitude. This will help you stay connected with volunteers year-round.
  • How will you measure success? Measuring success is vital for keeping track of your organization’s progress and pinpointing areas for improvement to help you meet your goals. Keep an eye on metrics such as volunteer retention rate and the number of hours volunteered to evaluate how well your volunteer recognition efforts are paying off.

Furthermore, show volunteers that you value their efforts and input by sending out surveys that welcome feedback. Before launching your new volunteer recognition strategy, consider asking whether your current volunteers feel valued by your organization. Use their responses to guide your efforts and regularly follow up to make further improvements down the line.

Volunteer Recognition Ideas

There are so many ways to appreciate your volunteers. Your volunteer recognition plan should account for both levels of volunteer recognition to achieve the greatest results: formal and informal.

While formal recognition involves planning in advance and typically includes scheduled activities that occur annually, informal recognition is much more personal and spontaneous. Your volunteers may prefer one type over the other, so keep that in mind as you start planning.

Regardless of how you’re recognizing your volunteers, be sure to say “thank you” and emphasize the impact of their work. Remind them that they’re making an important difference in helping your organization fulfill its mission. As you begin identifying ways to appreciate your volunteers, get inspired with these popular formal and informal ideas for volunteer recognition:

Formal Recognition Ideas

Use your volunteer recognition plan and volunteer profiles to guide you in determining which of these ideas can best be incorporated into your organization’s annual activities.

  • Send birthday and holiday cards. Always include volunteers in your holiday card mailings and keep track of birthdays for an impactful opportunity to reach out and show your appreciation. Increase efficiency and broaden your organization’s reach by opting to send holiday and birthday eCards instead of mailing physical ones.
  • Publicly recognize your volunteers. Make time to acknowledge and appreciate your volunteers’ efforts in your event and other activity plans. This gives them the recognition they deserve while motivating all attendees who are there in support of your purpose.
  • Organize volunteer appreciation events. Host exclusive events just to celebrate your volunteers and their investment in your organization. Maximize attendance by considering formats such as virtual or hybrid to alleviate your guests from any travel or babysitting costs.
  • Send impact reports. Consider crafting a dedicated volunteer report that compiles important stories, visuals and feedback associated with your volunteers and their impact on your organization. This is a wonderful way to highlight the important role that these supporters play in furthering your purpose.
  • Organize a thank-a-thon. Enlist your staff members to connect directly with your volunteers by setting aside a couple of hours to call and personally thank them. This is a thoughtful way to brighten their day and make them feel genuinely valued by your organization.
  • Offer discounts and perks. Leverage or build corporate partnerships that will allow you to offer rewards to your volunteers, such as free tickets to an event or discounted admission prices to a museum.
  • Spotlight volunteers on social media. Feathr’s guide to creating a nonprofit social media strategy emphasizes the importance of creating a social media content calendar that supports your organization’s goals. Be sure to factor in volunteer recognition by sharing content featuring your dedicated volunteers and their impact.
  • Celebrate volunteers on your website. Establish volunteers as vital contributors to your organization’s success by creating a page on your website dedicated to showcasing your volunteers and how they contribute to your mission. For instance, you can post a “Volunteer of the Month” regularly to inspire others.
  • Create a volunteer thank-you video. A thank-you video can be a powerful way to express gratitude to your volunteers, showing that you put time and thought into appreciating their efforts. Bring a smile to their faces by featuring clips of your staff and beneficiaries thanking volunteers for their impact in the video.

No matter which ideas you choose, the key to effectively recognizing your donors is learning what draws them to your organization and reinforcing that connection. Help them understand just how important they are to your everyday success.

Informal Recognition

While it’s essential to have organized plans in place to thank your volunteers, incorporating some informal recognition practices throughout the year will maximize your results. For instance, don’t forget to:

  • Be available for feedback and questions. Make sure your volunteers have plenty of opportunities to share their experiences, provide feedback and get their questions answered with your organization.
  • Create name badges for volunteers to help them feel like part of the team.
  • Offer thank-you gift cards. Presenting a $5 gift card to a local coffee shop or store can be a quick and cost-effective way to appreciate an individual volunteer.
  • Provide ways for volunteers to recognize one another. According to eCardWidget’s peer-to-peer recognition guide, peer recognition can be just as effective for boosting morale, results and teamwork. Offer volunteers ways to easily acknowledge one another for their good work through eCards or social media shoutouts.

By consistently incorporating these practices into your organization’s volunteer engagement and communications efforts, your staff will soon be effortlessly cultivating stronger relationships with your supporters that will stand the test of time.

Gift Ideas for Volunteer Appreciation

Meaningful gifts can be another effective and long-lasting way to demonstrate your appreciation to volunteers. With your organization’s budget in mind, review your volunteers’ demographics and interests to determine which types of gifts will be most impactful. Some thoughtful and creative gifts to consider include:

  • Books for learning new skills
  • Exclusive training opportunities
  • Seasonal items, such as hats or mittens
  • Branded merchandise for volunteers, such as clipboards or lanyards
  • Tickets to local events or experiences
  • Photo albums
  • Gift baskets
  • Transportation passes or gas cards for traveling to service sites

Additionally, look into some corporate gifting solutions that may fulfill your volunteer gifting needs. These companies make it easy to brand and send items to strengthen your organization’s relationships.

The Impact of Appreciating Volunteers

Volunteers are at the heart of so many nonprofit organizations. Keep them centered in your appreciation efforts to retain their support and involvement with your mission. Developing a strong, year-round volunteer recognition plan ensures that those who give their time to your organization feel appreciated in return.

By nurturing your nonprofit-volunteer connections, you may even encourage them to deepen their engagement by becoming donors or involving those from their personal networks to support your organization. This leads to lasting support and a stronger organization for years to come.

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