Fresh and Creative Ways to Thank Your Volunteers

A Great Volunteer Is Worth More Than You Think

Happy volunteers near delivery van.
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Could a Volunteer Be a Major Donor?

When a charity receives a gift of say, $25,000 or more, that’s considered a major contribution. But what about the volunteer who gives over one thousand hours of personal time to a nonprofit? What’s the value of that?

According to Independent Sector, the estimated value of volunteer time for 2017 was $24.14  per hour. For many devoted volunteers, that could amount to a $25,000 gift in a year or over a lifetime.

Just as donors deserve recognition for their generosity, volunteers do as well. And it’s not the cost of the recognition that matters. It’s the genuineness of those gestures that count the most.

So how can you express genuine appreciation to your volunteers? Remember, recognition should be frequent and appropriate for the amount of donated time, the volunteer’s age, longevity with your organization, and his or her unique personality.

Volunteers Enjoy Acts of Gratitude, Not Expensive Objects

Honestly, most volunteers don't want to be lavished with praise. Their reward is in the giving of their time and sharing of their talents. 

Nevertheless, volunteers might start to feel unappreciated if you do nothing to recognize them. Also, potential volunteers will be charmed by how you treat volunteers and be more willing to put their hands up the next time a call for helpers goes out.

Although there are countless ways to say thanks, it’s up to you to keep your gratitude fresh and creative.

Here's a sampling of ways to recognize volunteers that you can incorporate into your menu of kudos:

  1. Host a cruise. Volunteers at St. Anthony’s (St. Petersburg, FL), were treated to a wonderful cruise that was videotaped and put on YouTube. Florida makes a great jumping off point for a short cruise and St. Anthony's took advantage of a deal. If that doesn't work for you, consider a fun weekend to a nearby attraction or field trip to a museum or performance.
  2. Make it a surprise. Catch a volunteer in the act of volunteering by having his/her friends and family and fellow volunteers show up for a spontaneous celebration.
  3. Ask for the mayor’s involvement. Get your city’s mayor to bestow some special proclamation for your top volunteer (or volunteers).
  4. Capture the moment. Have a photo booth at your volunteer appreciation event, like that of Mary Immaculate Hospital (Newport News, VA), to capture fun images of your volunteers celebrating.
  5. Send a letter of thanks and recognition to the volunteer’s employer. This is an excellent way to say thanks to the working volunteer, especially when some of the donated time has been during regular business hours, courtesy of the employer. It also speaks to the volunteer’s integrity and work ethic.
  6. Do something sweet for the volunteer’s family. Give them tickets to an amusement park or a sporting event. After all, when one member of the family volunteers for you, he can’t be with the family.  So the family is making a contribution as well.
  7. Put appreciation event photos on your website and post them on your social media. Check out these examples from  Cane Creek Farm (Cumming, GA). 
  8. Share a gift of love. Ask those served by your nonprofit, such as kids or students, to make personal gifts. Items like artwork, photography, poems, and a journal always please and reward treasured volunteers.
  9. VIP parking. It may not sound like much, but on a large campus or an urban location, a special parking spot can be the equivalent of a gold watch! Reserve a particular portion of your parking lot for your most dedicated volunteers or have a handy location earmarked for your volunteer of the month.
  10. Send handwritten notes of appreciation. In these days of email, texting and cell phones, handwritten notes, sent through the mail, have become rare. So when it happens, it’s noticed and appreciated.
  11. Say thanks with a volunteer hall of fame. One educational organization for retired folks posts photos of current volunteers who have taught classes in the reception area. Then, at the annual holiday party, they introduce each volunteer and give them a souvenir.
  12. Host an event for the families of your volunteers. Try a picnic, a bowling party, hot air balloon ride, an ice cream social or some other fun-filled day.
  13. Host a “this is your life” event. Design a special recognition event for a retiring volunteer. Invite fellow volunteers, the volunteer’s family, friends, and associates as well as your staff. Stage brief skits that re-enact milestone events from the volunteer’s life.
  14. Create a scrapbook. Have staff and clients write comments and quotes about the difference volunteers make and have these printed in a booklet and mailed out. Or share them at a recognition event. Include photos and brief descriptions of past volunteer projects.

Always keep in mind what makes volunteers happy. A meaningful task and appreciation for doing it well are all it takes.