Your volunteers do great work. They are engaged year-round to further your mission and lend you their skills, support, and resources, and all in their free time.
As a nonprofit, you should treat your volunteers as your employees, mainly because they are doing a lot of the work that an employee would do. They are just as, if not more, important in aiding your daily workload.
In this article we are going to walk you through the best ways to thank your volunteers for all of the hard work, and time, they give to your organization.
We are going to look at a few methods of recognition:
When deciding which methods work best for your nonprofit, there are a few factors to consider: age, length of service, how many hours they have volunteered, and their impact on your organization.
Before we start covering how to thank your volunteers after they are established, consider revising your onboarding process to provide the best welcome experience possible. This will put your organization on the right track to showing your volunteers how much you care.
Social media is a great way to do this because you get to show your appreciation for volunteers while promoting your organization!
Tagging Volunteers in Photos or Posts
The first, and easiest way, to do this is through tagging volunteers in the photos that you post. Most likely you are already using your social media channels to promote your organization, so this tactic requires very little additional effort. Simply take photos of your events, or volunteer days, and tag all of the volunteers featured in the photos, or even all of the volunteers that came out this day.
You should decide who to tag based on your goal for this post. For example, are you aiming to recognize specific volunteers that worked especially hard that day, or do you want to show your appreciation for all of your volunteers that participated?
Pro Tip: Before you tag your volunteers, make sure you have asked them for their consent! In addition, if you are using a photo that someone else has taken, be sure to give the photographer credit. You can do this easily by simply stating "Photo Credit: John Smith" at the end of your post.
Shoutouts and Spotlights
Another great way to acknowledge your volunteers on social media is through shoutouts and spotlights. Instead of making one post with several volunteers, you can pay special attention to one specific volunteer! You can think of it as an "employee of the month" type of recognition - you encourage others to work harder through public recognition of someone doing well.
For a shoutout post, you can choose to do this depending on different factors, such as who has donated the most time, impacted your organization the most, or stepped up a lot recently. The purpose of the shoutout is to make the post exclusively about why you are thankful for them and to showcase their recent accomplishments.
A spotlight is a little bit different, in that the goal is to highlight important information about this person and also share what you appreciate about them. For example, for a volunteer spotlight you might include where they work or go to school, how long they have been with your organization, and something that makes this volunteer unique. We use this technique at AssoConnect to help us welcome new team members!
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your volunteers to get information about them for the spotlight. They will appreciate you asking them for feedback, and it enables them to pick what they want to be shared with your community. It is also an opportunity for you to learn more about your volunteer that you might not have known before.
Pro Tip: make sure to get consent from these individuals before you post their information on your social media accounts! Especially in the case of spotlights, they might want certain information to be validated beforehand.
Keep in mind the social media usage of your volunteers, if they are very active on social media (usually belonging to Gen Y and Z) this is a great tactic to use, if not, then read on to discover other methods to give thanks.
Furthermore, with your especially young volunteers, they might even re-post the pictures you tag them in on their stories! Not only is this a great way to share your mission, but it can also help with your volunteer recruitment.
One of the more popular ways to thank volunteers is through the giving of gifts. We all hold a little place in our hearts for receiving and giving gifts because they serve as a physical representation of how much you mean to someone or something. So, how can your nonprofit show how much your volunteers mean to you?
The most common volunteer gifts are merchandise from your organization, especially event products. This includes things like t-shirts, hats, coffee mugs, calendars, and more! These types of gifts are especially helpful for welcoming new volunteers, so they can sport all of your gear when they come in to work. Keep in mind that this merchandise will not only serve as a gift for your volunteers, but will also enable your them to become brand ambassadors after they leave your organization!
Pro Tip: To take this up a notch, we recommend trying to get a bit more personal when you give out merchandise. For example, if you know you have some eco-conscious volunteers, go for something like a reusable water bottle or a canvas bag.
Low Cost Gifts
Whether you are trying to keep your costs low, or just want to try something different, there are several low cost options to show appreciation for your volunteers. We hesitate to use the word "free" or "no cost" because these gifts will require more time than the average gift would, and your time does have a financial cost.
An economically friendly option to this is to ask local businesses for donations, or to give discounts and/or gift cards to your volunteers. Not only does this support local businesses, but you also get to give a nice gift to your volunteers in the process!
Thankfully, doing this should not take up too much of your time. You will just need to find local businesses that align with your values, and send them an email proposal that explains the idea, how their gift will benefit your nonprofit, and how this donation can benefit them (Example: Maybe your volunteers will start shopping from this store).
Another option that requires no monetary investment is to provide advanced in-house training to your volunteers. What we mean by this is to have one of your staff members, or even another volunteer, train volunteers on a subject they are interested in. This can be in the form of group training or one-on-one. For example, if you have a couple of volunteers interested in learning about graphic design, invite them to come in for training about how to use Photoshop and InDesign.
The last low cost gift we recommend is a service award. If you have never heard of these before, they are awards given based on time volunteered (in hours) or length of service (usually measured in years). They can be anything from a piece of paper to a physical gift, you can decide what works best for your nonprofit! Whichever you decide, volunteers will be happy to receive recognition for the time and effort they have put into your organization.
Pro Tip: Consider giving gifts that correspond to how much time the volunteer has committed. If a volunteer has been with your nonprofit for over 5 years, be sure to give them something more heartfelt than the gift a first-day volunteer gets!
Keep in mind that whatever form of gift you decide to give, your volunteer will feel appreciated just because you took the time to give it to them.
One of the best things you can do to thank your volunteers is to make small gestures that show you care about them and are grateful for the time they dedicate to your nonprofit. While grand gestures are always well received, they also have a high price tag, either in time or cost, that go along with them, and won’t create the personal connection that these daily actions will. To make these even better, these things will cost you very little, and sometimes only time.
Bring Coffee and Tea to Events
This is one of the most common gestures that nonprofits do for their volunteers, but it should not be overlooked!
Oftentimes your volunteers are individuals that work or go to school full time and are dedicating their day off to help your organization. One thing to show them that you know how tired they are, and are thankful that they made an extra effort to come help you, is to provide them with a little bit of energy to keep them going.
Writing a Recommendation
If you have a lot of younger volunteers in high school or college, a nice way to show them that you care about them (and their future) is to provide them with a recommendation.
Even if your young volunteers are still in middle school, and haven’t even thought about asking for a recommendation, you should offer it to them! Of course this is specific to those volunteers that donated a large amount of their time, and have really helped your organization.
Adding personal information to each recommendation will really make your recommendation stand out. Your volunteers will feel appreciated, and like they made a difference in your organization.
Recognize Volunteers Leaving Your Organization
Another way you can celebrate the future of your volunteers is to recognize them when they are leaving your organization. This can be in the form of an event for your long-term volunteers, or a social media shoutout to the ones that have finished their hour requirements.
Pro Tip: Ask for your volunteer’s feedback when they are leaving. This can help you to ensure your volunteer experience is the best it can be, while also making the volunteer feel like their voice is heard!
Have a Genuine Interest in Your Volunteers
This is by far the easiest way to thank your volunteers! If you can make an effort on a daily basis to get to know them, this will make them feel heard and appreciated. To start with, you can ask people how they are doing, what exciting things they have done in the past week, or what they are looking forward to in the next couple of weeks.
Not only will getting to know your volunteers help them feel recognized, but it will also help you to manage their volunteer time better. For example, if you know that one of your volunteers is running a 5k two days before they volunteer, you might want to assign them an activity with low physical requirements.
Pro Tip: When you are first getting to know your volunteer stick to uplifting topics. It can be hard to share personal information, and can make it seem like you are prying. To make them even more comfortable, you can share something about yourself first.
Notice Who is Working Extra Hard
Make sure that your team is taking the time at events to note who is working extra hard that day and at the end of the month, check to see if you have any recurring names. If you do, be sure to recognize these people!
Pro Tip: Giving public recognition to someone can make those around them strive to do good as well. This is a tactic used frequently by school teachers, but it works with adults just as well! You get a happy volunteer and an increase in productivity all with one comment.
Say Thank You
We know that this one is a bit obvious, but it can be easily neglected and it is the most impactful thing you can do to show your appreciation.
Simply taking the time to give a heartfelt thank you can make a world of difference to your volunteers! Other than simply saying thank you after each time they volunteer, there are a few ways you can do it:
Send a Card
Who doesn’t enjoy getting mail that is not just bills? Instead of sending an email thank you, opt for snail mail! These are tiny details, but your volunteer will feel appreciated and notice the extra effort that you put in.
Say it In Person
If you notice someone working extra hard, doing something really well, or simply want to acknowledge them for showing up, be sure to say something to them! Your volunteer will be happy to hear that what they are doing is helpful to your organization.
Make a Call
If your organization is one that the volunteers don’t have frequent contact with staff members, it might be nice to give them a personal call to thank them for their time. This will help connect your organization to a face, and make the volunteer feel even more impactful!
Beneficiary Video or Note
Speaking of impact, nothing shows an impact better than hearing from a beneficiary. Although you do still need to have a member of your nonprofit reach out to your volunteers to say thank you, this can be a nice way to boost the thanks even more.
A yearly event for volunteers can be a great way to say thank you to all of your volunteers, and take the time to include a few of the suggestions above, such as the service awards or recognizing specific volunteers. To make even more of a connection, invite your volunteers to bring their families.
On Your Website
Dedicating a special area on your website to thank your volunteers can not only make your volunteers feel special, but it will also help to show potential volunteers how much you care. You can either do this as a blanket statement to all volunteers, or make it specific to certain individuals.
Volunteer of the Month Board
You are probably familiar with this concept, essentially you are recognizing one outstanding volunteer each month, and making it public for the entire team to see. The volunteer will feel honored to receive this recognition, and you might consider adding a little gift to go along with it!
While all of these are great ways to say thank you to your volunteers, they don’t mean near as much without making it personal. When you are communicating your appreciation to volunteers try to be as specific as possible! If you don’t have the specifics, ask someone who has worked with them closely to help you out. It will make all the difference.
We hope this article helped you to understand how to thank your volunteers! For more info on how to manage your volunteers, see our detailed guide.
AssoConnect is trusted by over 15,000 nonprofit’s to help them run their organizations on a daily basis. See if it could work for you with a free 30 day trial!