Tips for Recognizing your Volunteers

National Volunteer Week, an annual event in April, is a time for recognizing, celebrating and thanking individuals associated with your nonprofit association for their outstanding contributions as volunteers. It is an opportunity to honor these individuals who dedicate themselves to taking action, solving problems and accomplishing extraordinary things through volunteer service. Finally, it is a time to remember that we have the fortitude to meet our challenges and accomplish our goals by working together.

Taking the time to recognize volunteers is essential for retaining existing volunteers and recruiting new ones. Whether with words highlighting the impact of a volunteer’s contribution or giving a small personalized token of appreciation, a customized and sincere thank you goes a long way in building lasting volunteer relationships.

While many nonprofits would like to show appreciation to their volunteers by hosting annual dinners or giving beautiful gifts, many do not have the available resources to do so. Therefore, in honor of National Volunteer Week, consider these low or no-cost ways to recognizing your volunteers that will show sincere gratitude to those volunteers who help your organization fulfill its mission:

  • Post photos of your volunteers (or photos taken by the volunteers themselves!) in action serving others
  • Hold a photo or video contest among volunteers that will help build a sense of camaraderie and fun!
  • Feature volunteer stories or “shout outs” on your blog, website, Facebook, newsletter or other external communication to your community
  • Honor volunteers with a variety of awards that will highlight their dedication to your cause, such as:
    • Volunteer of the Year
    • Most Inspirational Volunteer
    • Most Enthusiastic Volunteer
    • Most Perseverance as a Volunteer
  • Provide volunteers with small tokens of gratitude or gift cards; these can be acquired by asking local vendors for small donations – most companies are happy to contribute when asked!
  • Redeem corporate credit card reward points for gift cards, travel vouchers, gift certificates for local restaurants, etc. to give to volunteers
  • Provide food and/or beverages for volunteers, when appropriate, during events; a boxed lunch or ice cream on a summer day or hot chocolate or a cup of soup during the winter would be quite appreciated!
  • Agency-wide email signatures – Have every person in your organization include a line in his or her email signature to show appreciation like, “[Nonprofit name] could not fulfill our mission without the help and support of our terrific volunteers. Thank you!”
  • Have a “Superstar Wall” or “Wall of Fame” in your office where pictures and names of your volunteers are posted for everyone to see; include a banner that reads “We couldn’t do it without our Superstar Volunteers!”
  • Send volunteers birthday or anniversary greeting or postcards
  • Send simple, handwritten thank you notes to volunteers
  • Mail a signed letter from your Executive Director or Board Chair to volunteers
  • Celebrate milestones in volunteers’ hours of service. It doesn’t need to be only major milestones, encourage new volunteers by recognizing small milestones, too. Something as simple as a thank you card for the first 5 hours of service makes for a nice recognition of their efforts!
  • Place an ad in the local newspaper or online or even post to your own website, listing volunteers and thanking them for their service for the year
  • Recognize volunteers at your annual meeting or gala with a formal thank you at the podium, mention and picture in the program, complementary attendance at a gala event, etc.

Do you have some favorite ideas for recognizing your volunteers? If so, please share them here!

Note: National Volunteer Week was established in 1974 and is spearheaded by Points of Light, the world’s largest organization dedicated to volunteer service


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One Comment

  1. Speaking about recruiting and retaining volunteers, this brings two things to mind for me. First, consider recruiting families to volunteer for an organization or an event together! I know of several families who spend certain times throughout the year volunteering for a cause as a team. Besides the family time they spend working together to help others, it increases the volunteering power of the agency several times over by bringing a small group of volunteers rather than just one individual.

    Second, consider contacting local high schools or colleges in your agency’s area. Quite often, students are required to fulfill service hours within the community and would be terrific additions to your volunteer roster. Not only does this instill the importance of giving back to these young adults, it can be the first step in building a lifelong desire to volunteer and to help those in need.

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