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Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

Easy Steps to Thanking & Recognizing Your Volunteers

Free sample volunteer "Thank You" letters & speech outline

What is Volunteer Appreciation?

Volunteer appreciation is the act of thanking your organization’s volunteers and recognizing their contributions to your community.

But it’s more than just saying “thank you” (although this is certainly part of it)! Volunteer appreciation is a series of planned activities that support your overall volunteer management strategy. These activities include recognizing and sharing the impact of your volunteers, giving them gifts, and investing in their futures.

Welcome to our Volunteer Appreciation Guide! Here’s what you’ll learn: 

We’re sharing our research and expertise on building better relationships with your volunteers so that you can find more meaningful ways to thank your volunteers.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Volunteer Thank You Letters and Speech Outline

Show your appreciation with our Volunteer Thank You Letters and Speech Outline

Download our free sample volunteer "Thank You" letters and speech outline to let your volunteers know how much you appreciate them.

 

Why Is Volunteer Appreciation Important to Your Organization?

Doing good feels good, but recognition adds a layer of fulfillment that resonates with everyone, including volunteers. Volunteer managers who implement a well-thought-out volunteer appreciation plan reap numerous benefits. 

Let's explore the multifaceted advantages of recognizing and thanking volunteers:

  • Happiness and Motivation: Recognizing volunteers doesn't just make them happy; it fuels their motivation. A simple thank you can boost morale and keep supporters engaged. Volunteers who feel appreciated are likely to stay committed to their roles.
  • Community Building: Volunteers often seek a sense of community and kinship. Personalized appreciation creates a deeper connection between the volunteer and the organization, fostering a sense of belonging beyond mere participation.
  • Reducing Turnover: Feeling appreciated and knowing their work makes a difference keeps volunteers from quitting. This sense of accomplishment leads to higher retention rates, addressing one of the significant pain points in volunteer management.
  • Performance and Productivity: Happy volunteers take pride in their work, leading to improved results for the community. This alignment with the organization's mission drives better performance and contributes to more effective volunteer appreciation programs.
  • Strategic Alignment and Mission-Driven Results: Volunteers appreciation isn't just about saying thank you; it's about aligning volunteers with the organization's core mission. When volunteers see how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture, they are more likely to invest time and resources, leading to mission-driven results.
  • Feedback Loops and Resource Management: The happier the volunteer, the better the performance. Appreciation opens feedback loops, allowing for adjustments and improvements. This not only enhances cost-efficiency by reducing recruitment expenses but also stimulates valuable word-of-mouth advocacy for the organization.
  • Better Outcomes: Engaged and satisfied volunteers lead to healthier, more robust volunteer programs. Creative ideas for volunteer appreciation can transform a routine acknowledgment into a memorable experience, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the volunteer appreciation program.

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How Volunteer Appreciation Boosts Engagement and Retention

Recognizing volunteers for their time and efforts is a cornerstone of better volunteer engagement and retention. Engaged volunteers are not just active in your organization; they care deeply about program outcomes and keep returning, forming the backbone of many community services.

When volunteers feel appreciated, they're more likely to become lifelong supporters of your cause, leading to increased retention. Conversely, feeling underappreciated can lead to quitting, negatively impacting your program's volunteer retention rate.

According to recent data, as many as 80 percent of nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers to operate.  On average American volunteers, driven by community and purpose, now dedicate nearly 50 hours per year on charitable causes. Combined, this adds up to over 6.9 billion hours from all American volunteers.

Volunteers are instrumental in delivering some of our community's most pressing needs, reaching nearly every corner of the U.S. Without the unifying force that is our volunteers, many essential organizations that communities rely on today would cease to exist.

In other words, we owe our community's volunteers the appreciation they deserve. Volunteer leaders, equipped with creative ideas and strategies, are some of the best people to carry out this vital task.

[VIDEO] Current Trends in Volunteer Engagement: featuring Faiza Venzant, CVA >>

When to Show Appreciation to Your Volunteers

You might be wondering; how to appreciate volunteers, and when exactly is the right time to do so?

The short answer is: volunteer appreciation should be done frequently, in person and in writing. The easiest way to remember to do volunteers appreciation is at each touchpoint in the volunteer journey: 

  • After Signing Up: Send a thank you message after they sign up for an opportunity. While automated thank-you messages were once the norm, a personal touch is now preferred. Consider a handwritten note or a personalized email that reflects genuine gratitude.
  • Before Shifts Begin: Gather volunteers on-site before they begin their shifts, and extend a personal thank-you. This face-to-face interaction can create a connection that resonates more deeply with volunteers.
  • End of Shifts: Bring volunteers together at the end of their shifts and thank them for their time and accomplishments. If you're thanking your virtual or remote volunteers, send an email or text instead. But remember, personalization is critical. Highlight concrete accomplishments from their shift, such as the amount of trash collected or specific moments that were particularly impactful.
  • A Few Days Later: Send an email a few days after a volunteer participates, recognizing their contributions. This follow-up can reinforce the value they've added to your organization and community.
  • Annual Recognition: Throughout the year and after large events, recognize the collective impact of your volunteers. Compile and distribute an annual report that details your volunteers' impact. Consider hosting a volunteer party or a special event that brings everyone together, celebrating the work, camaraderie, and community built among volunteers.
  • Surprise Appreciation: Surprise parties or unexpected tokens of appreciation can add a fun twist to your volunteer appreciation strategy. From hosting a surprise car wash to treating volunteers to a local theater show, these unexpected gestures can boost morale and make volunteers feel like rock stars.
  • Social Media Shoutouts: Use social media to highlight volunteers and their contributions. A tweet or a LinkedIn endorsement can go a long way in making volunteers feel seen and appreciated.
Get this free sample volunteer "Thank You" letters & speech outline

Now that you know why and when to thank your volunteers, you must recognize that the landscape of volunteer appreciation has shifted. People value genuine, heartfelt thanks more than ever. Automated messages and impersonal gestures may fall flat. 

Instead, focus on creating meaningful connections, rewarding individual and collective achievements, and fostering community and belonging among your volunteers. Whether through a personalized note, a surprise party, or a thoughtful social media post, make your volunteers feel valued and integral to your mission. 

After all, volunteer appreciation isn't just a one-time event; it's a continuous process that nurtures and sustains the volunteer community.

 

Volunteer appreciation and when to show appreciation to your volunteers

Volunteer Appreciation Ideas That Make A Difference

As a busy volunteer leader, it might seem like there's hardly enough time to implement another strategy. However, planning out ideas for volunteer appreciation will help volunteer recognition programs create a healthy, supportive environment for their volunteers on how to recognize volunteers.

Let's explore six of the best volunteer appreciation ideas managers can use to recognize the incredible impact of volunteers:

  1. Invest In Your Volunteers
  2. Recognize Your Volunteers
  3. Host a Volunteer Appreciation Event
  4. Celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week
  5. Thank Your Volunteers
  6. Rethink the Usual Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

Let’s explore each of these steps in further detail:

Invest In Your Volunteers

Your volunteers help to improve the lives of those in your community, but what can your organization do to improve the lives of your volunteers? Whether you can help a young volunteer secure their dream school, or give your enthusiastic forward-thinker a voice in your organization, here are some ways to invest in your volunteers and volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits

  • Leadership Opportunities - Invite your superstar volunteers to serve in leadership roles. For a more inclusive approach, consider creating roles catering to various cultural backgrounds, such as hosting multicultural events or training in different languages. Also, offer opportunities tailored to those with different abilities, like accessible leadership training programs or mentorship from leaders who have overcome similar challenges.
  • Community Ambassadors - Invite your veteran volunteers to serve as community ambassadors. Use their passion for your cause by sending them to diverse community events, where they can connect with different cultural groups and promote inclusivity within your organization.
  • Career Training - Have a team of your high school volunteers assist with your social media and marketing efforts, focusing on platforms that engage different age groups and cultural communities. Invite retired professionals to mentor fellow volunteers, sharing their expertise across various fields and backgrounds.
  • Regular Updates - Capitalize on technology like newsletters, apps, or social media to keep volunteers engaged. For example, create a volunteer community on a platform like Slack, where remote and virtual volunteers can connect, share experiences, and receive updates.
  • Investing in Yourself - Reflect on the systems your volunteers interact with. Is your website accessible to those with visual impairments? Are opportunities easy to find for those with limited tech skills? Investing in inclusive technology and processes will make the experience more enjoyable for all volunteers.
  • Gifts - Consider eco-friendly gifts like reusable water bottles or bags made from recycled materials. Ensure that gifts align with nonprofit regulations, such as adhering to a specific value limit or disclosing gifts for tax purposes.

Volunteer Appreciation best ways to invest in your volunteers

Download a free speech outline and thank you letter template →

Volunteer Recognition

Every day, people choose to dedicate their time and skills to help your organization. While volunteer appreciation is about showing your volunteers you care about them, volunteer recognition is about acknowledging and acknowledging their achievements and impact on your organization.

Recognizing each volunteer’s contributions is more involved than thanking them for their time; it requires you and your team to understand who your volunteers are and how their actions support the collective movement. The recommendations below are simple yet powerful ways to acknowledge the contributions of your core volunteer base through planning a volunteer appreciation event.

Create a “Volunteer of the Month” Feature 

Recognize your most active volunteers each month with a “Volunteer of the Month” award. You’ll acknowledge their dedication and even invite a bit of light-hearted competition. Feature your monthly volunteers on your website, your newsletter, and social media accounts. 

Tell Their Story

Maybe one of your loyal volunteers has never missed a week, or another has been with your volunteer appreciation program since its start. There are many ways to thank volunteers whose stories deserve to be told. 

Interview your special volunteers, write about why they’re important to your community, and pitch the story to the local newspaper or share it on your website. Good deeds are contagious, and volunteer recognition stories are sure to inspire others.

Master the Volunteer Recognition Letter

The recognition letter differs slightly from the volunteer thank you letter. Instead of simply thanking them for their time (which should still happen often), you recognize your volunteers' specific impact. 

So, for example, at the end of the year, write a letter detailing the number of hours contributed by an individual or group of volunteers and the specific impact they had on your community. 

This letter aims to show your volunteers that their efforts have real, powerful outcomes and that your organization is tracking these outcomes. 

Volunteers can also use this letter as supporting evidence for college applications, resumes, and employee grant programs.

Recognize Young Volunteers

Encourage the next generation of engaged citizens by recognizing the outstanding efforts of your youngest volunteers. So, why not recognize busy school children and teens at school? 

Present them with an award at an assembly or a school-wide awards ceremony and invite their teachers and parents to join. You can even encourage their peers to take part. 

Alternatively, present a “Young Changemakers Award” on your website or social media alongside your “Volunteer of the Month” spotlight. 

Track Their Hours 

The best recognition is personal and specific to each volunteer. Imagine being able to thank each volunteer based on their unique contributions, such as the number of hours served or activities attended!

It is possible to track each volunteer’s hours and participation history with the right tools. One of the best ways to ensure you have the information you need to recognize your volunteers is to use volunteer management software to track their activity. Many systems can help you match volunteers to opportunities, communicate your appreciation, and even gamify the volunteer experience through digital awards and badges.

Host a Volunteer Appreciation Event or Celebration

As a hardworking volunteer manager, you understand the value of going the extra mile. A special night out is that special touch that lets volunteers know you see them. So how to celebrate volunteers?

While hosting the typical volunteer banquet can be tempting, try switching it up with these updated volunteer appreciation events: 

  • Switch Up Your Venue - Instead of a banquet hall, hire a trendy cafe or brewery. Local hangouts can offer good food and drink and a relaxing atmosphere to get to know fellow volunteers and share ideas. Plus, you’ll support independent businesses in your community!
  • Invite a Speaker Who Knows Your Volunteers - The volunteer appreciation speech is a banquet institution. Oftentimes, we invite city officials or board members to deliver a speech. Instead, consider the community members your program works with to share their stories. For example, ask a parent to speak about the profound difference your volunteer tutor made in their child’s education. Stories like these can touch on how volunteers have helped improve the community more directly, which will mean much more to your supporters.

    Get resources to help you write your next speech- Download Now

  • Add Personal Touches - If you work with children or the elderly, invite them to make decorations for your appreciation event. Invite children to perform a song or write and deliver original volunteer appreciation poems. These details are sure to make your next event a memorable one.
  • Opt for Small Gatherings - Big banquets are expensive and may not excite all your volunteers. Instead, invite volunteers to join you for various small gatherings of appreciation, like an afternoon tea, guest speaker, pizza party, or movie night. You can spend more time getting to know each of your volunteers in smaller groups without the stress of managing a larger ordeal.
  • Surprise Your Volunteers - People love surprises big and small. A surprise lunch, a small gift, or even a birthday bash is a nice way to show your volunteers you appreciate all their hard work.
  • Leave Them With a Few Words - Whether you say it in person or in writing, wrap up your appreciation event or gathering with a personal thank you from those involved in managing your volunteer appreciation program. Don’t worry, we’ve put together a few examples of words that inspire us below and may inspire your volunteers, too!
  • Volunteer Appreciation Themes - Create a fun, themed event to show volunteers your care. Try clever themes like “Volunteer Superheroes,” complete with a superhero photo booth and treats. Or, a “Thanks for helping us grow” party with flower and garden decorations. 

Volunteer appreciation and how to host a volunteer appreciation event or celebration

Volunteer Appreciation Quotes That Inspire:

Find the volunteer appreciation quotes that speak to you and to your volunteers: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

– Margaret Mead

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

– Martin Luther King Jr.

“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” 

– Aesop

“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” 

– Mother Teresa

Want more volunteer quotes? See our list of the most effective words to share.

Download our free thank you letter & speech templates

Celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Week

National Volunteer Week is a national holiday honoring and recognizing the contributions of volunteers to our communities. 

The holiday is observed by nonprofits, community associations, volunteers, and communities across the country, usually around the second week of April. International Volunteer Day tends to align with the first Sunday in December.

Volunteer holidays can offer a marketing opportunity to engage supporters and boost participation, but National Volunteer Week is also a wonderful chance to show your appreciation and thank your volunteers.

In fact, some organizations choose to plan their own annual Volunteer Appreciation Week or Volunteer Appreciation Day as a special way to recognize the achievements of their volunteers in a volunteer appreciation program. So how should you give thanks to your volunteers?

Here are a few ways to recognize volunteers in Volunteer Appreciation Week:

  • Promote a Special Initiative - Create and promote a special volunteer appreciation week initiative or selection of opportunities. Invite volunteers to bring along family and friends to participate–the more helping hands, the merrier! Keep track of all volunteer hours and impact during this time so that you can show your appreciation for all their hard work during Volunteer Appreciation Week! Make it an annual occurrence to give your volunteers something to look forward to each year. 
  • Host a Weekend of Fun - Invite volunteers, their families, and friends to join you and other community associations for an outdoor festival of food, games, and doing good. Set up booths to raise awareness of programs and causes in your community. Make it a community-wide event and charge a small admission fee or ask for a donation to fundraise for your organization (volunteers get in free!).
  • Host a Series of Appreciation Events - Each day of Volunteer Appreciation week, host a gathering or activity (like a movie night or guest speaker series) to celebrate your volunteers the whole week through. You can even incorporate some of our volunteer appreciation event ideas!

Thanking Volunteers

Honoring volunteers extends beyond mere gestures. It's a sincere acknowledgment of their hard work and dedication. Make it a point to personally thank them after each event or, if not possible, compose a thank you note that correlates their specific traits with the cause.

This year, we're moving from volunteer appreciation certificates to handwritten letters that focus on individual traits like skill development or the ability to make everyone feel welcome. 

Do your volunteers bring a smile or bake delicious cookies for events? Acknowledge these acts, as they enhance your mission.

Don't just thank—connect their actions with the broader goal. Highlight how their creativity and dedication contribute to community building and further the cause. Volunteer recognition should feel personal and specific, connecting gratitude with the impact on the cause. These ideas offer actionable ways to recognize and thank your volunteers.

Are you ready to download our thank you letters and speech templates and show heartfelt appreciation with tangible solutions that inspire and motivate your volunteers?

Click below to access proven tools that enhance connection, foster gratitude, and encourage volunteer engagement.

FREE DOWNLOAD: Free thank you letter and speech outlines

Rethink the Usual Volunteer Appreciation Ideas

Gifts are a simple way to say “thank you.” When selected thoughtfully, tokens of appreciation can be more personal than the generic volunteer certificate we see often. While mugs, pens, and t-shirts are also nice, your volunteers’ cupboards and drawers are probably overflowing with items like these by now! Instead, give your volunteers something a bit more thoughtful. 

Give these thoughtful yet inexpensive volunteer appreciation gifts a try:

  • Volunteer Program Photos - Put together a yearbook or collection of photos of your volunteers at work, your services (like before and after pictures of a park you improved), and those your program serves. Your volunteers can reflect fondly upon their experiences with your program and the smiling faces of the community members they work with.
  • Letters from Your Community - The best volunteer letter of appreciation comes from clients and community members. Volunteers love to see that their work is making a difference in the lives of others. If they can, invite community members to write or dictate letters to the volunteers who have made a difference in their lives. 
  • Handmade Cards for Volunteers - Handmade cards from the community members you work with are a special thank-you gift for volunteers. Plus, the creative time can be fun, even therapeutic, for service recipients. 
  • Spend Time With Your Volunteers - Some of your volunteers truly cherish the time spent with your organization and other volunteers. You provide a safe place to build relationships, share thoughts, and feel involved in a community. Therefore, giving the gift of your time to your regular volunteers can be more important than you realize. Listen to their concerns and suggestions, highlight their personal successes at home or school, invite them for coffee, or promote their ideas in your organization.
  • Tasteful “Consumables” - Have a favorite coffee roaster in town? Do you love sharing gourmet chocolates or tasty treats from your local bakery? Consumables and gift cards don’t collect dust, and you’ll support other local businesses by giving volunteers a sweet gift that they can enjoy with family and friends.
  • Community Recipe Book - Good food is meant to be shared. Have community members or other volunteers bring a favorite family recipe to share. Compile them in a book as a warm, meaningful thank you. The community recipe book is a church volunteer appreciation staple, but they also make for great gifts for all!
  • Tickets or Gift Cards - Lately, we’re really into giving experiences as gifts. Why not thank your volunteers with the gift of a memorable night out? Ask local productions, museums, and restaurants to donate a pair of tickets or gift cards to a show or dining experience. Bonus: include child care if you’re giving away an experience to busy parents!

Volunteer appreciation and how to rethink the usual volunteer appreciation ideas

There are lots of ways to thank your volunteers through gift-giving. Check out more volunteer gift ideas here. 

These tips and strategies are about adding personal touches to make your volunteers feel genuinely valued. We know volunteer managers like you may see hundreds of faces each year. But even a smile, a site visit, or a quick chat goes a long way.

Don't forget your free download - Show your appreciation with our Volunteer Thank You Letters and Speech Outline

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