One of the most effective steps you can take to engage and retain volunteers is to show them your appreciation.

Because your nonprofit’s volunteers choose to serve because they are dedicated to your cause, it can be easy to overlook just how important it is for them to feel like their contributions are valued.

Considering how much time, energy, and effort they put into helping your organization succeed (Independent Sector values the worth of a volunteer hour at $29.95), it is critical that your organization offers gratitude and appreciation in return.

Letting your volunteers know that their contributions are appreciated will work wonders for your volunteer program. When they know that their hard work will be recognized, volunteers:

  • Feel more motivated
  • Develop a deeper connection with the organization
  • Experience greater levels of satisfaction when volunteering
  • Increase productivity and output
  • Experience less burnout and turnover

A Society for Human Resource Management survey found that organizations with recognition programs had higher levels of happiness and retention (89%) and higher levels of engagement (84%) than organizations without a recognition process.

Point blank, nonprofits that don’t adopt methods for volunteer appreciation and/or recognition, are severely limiting the success of their volunteer programs and increasing the risk that their volunteers will spend their time elsewhere.

Many organizations that neglect to recognize their volunteers do so out of oversight or concerns that these efforts will cost a lot of time and money. However, by failing to value their volunteers, they face far more significant losses.

Your nonprofit can show volunteers appreciation without breaking the bank or losing sight of your organization’s cause.

Here are 10 volunteer appreciation tips your nonprofit can use to boost retention:

1. Say “thank you” in person

While it might sound simple, there are many times when volunteers work an entire day without hearing “thank you,” once.

With all the hustle and bustle required to make sure an event runs smoothly, sometimes volunteer coordinators and supervisors are so busy making sure volunteers are where they need to be that they forget to thank them for showing up and making an impact.

To avoid making this mistake, try to have set moments throughout the day to express gratitude to volunteers.

Make it a priority to thank each and every volunteer when they arrive and check-in for their shifts and when they leave to check-out for their shifts. Instruct volunteer coordinators and supervisors to say “thank you for being here” or “thank you for volunteering with us today” any time they meet a new volunteer, answer a volunteer’s questions, send a volunteer to a new area or responsibility, or ask the volunteer for a favor.

This way, no one will get overlooked, and your organization will start to foster a culture of appreciation and gratitude.

2. Provide opportunities for growth

When an employee is doing an incredible job at work and making significant contributions for their company, they are often awarded with a promotion.

While you may not be able to offer a salaried position or a bonus for great performance, providing leadership opportunities or other opportunities for growth within your nonprofit is a great way to show volunteers that you recognize and appreciate their service.

A volunteer who is consistently going above and beyond for your organization may appreciate the opportunity to train new volunteers, supervise certain shifts at an event, or contribute their input for your next volunteer project.

Giving volunteers these “promotions” is a great way to say, “I see your hard work and dedication, I recognize what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing, and you are an important part of this organization.”

3. Create a “Volunteer of the Month” award

Give volunteers a motivational push and honor the volunteers who are making a significant impact for your nonprofit by creating a “Volunteer of the Month” award.

You can give these awards to volunteers using a point system where volunteers can earn points for serving at events, sharing your social media posts, tracking their volunteer hours, or a host of other actions you want to recognize and encourage.

Whether this award is in title only or it comes with a free t-shirt or another sort of prize, your volunteers will feel important when they have the opportunity to earn this award.

4. Highlight a feature volunteer each week

Every week, make a feature volunteer post on your social media accounts. Share a photo of a volunteer serving at an event and give them a short shout out recognizing their unique strengths.

For instance, you could have an Instagram post that says, “Say hi to our greeter, Mary! We love how Mary always has the biggest smile on her face when greeting guests at our events. She makes everyone feel welcome. Keep being a rockstar, Mary!”

Posts like these are quick and easy to create, but they mean the world to volunteers who are passionate about serving with your organization. This is a great way to raise awareness for your organization’s cause and thank your volunteers in one simple action.

5. Send a detailed, year-end appreciation letter

At the end of each year, send a hand-written thank you note to your volunteers thanking them for the work they did during the year.

While this may seem like a lot to manage, you can also use your volunteer force to accomplish this goal. Many nonprofits have volunteer positions just for writing thank you notes to volunteers and donors.

In these appreciation letters, offer a sincere thank you for their hard work and share information like the number of hours they served and the impact of their volunteer hours. Show them exactly how  their efforts over the past calendar year made a difference in the community, and let them know that your organization would not have been as successful without their help.

Your thoughtfulness and appreciation in these letters will go a long way towards retaining your volunteers.

6. Hold volunteer appreciation events

A Saturday barbecue, a gathering at a local brewery, or a night of bowling are fun ways to express appreciation, get to know your volunteers, and help your volunteers feel connected to your organization.

Aim to throw at least one volunteer appreciation event each year where volunteers get to socialize with one another and know that your organization values them enough to set up a gathering just to say thank you.

During these events, feel free to make speeches recognizing the collective efforts of the group or provide thank you notes.

7. Give them free food

After a long day of volunteering, nothing feels as good as unwinding with cold drinks and hot pizza. 

Offering a volunteer appreciation lunch or dessert is a great way to let your volunteers know that you appreciate the work they put in during the day.

If you have an event that starts early in the morning, bring coffee and donuts for everyone. If you have an event that takes place outside in the cold, offer free hot chocolate.

Providing free food for volunteers is a small gesture that will make them feel appreciated.

8. Recognize their birthday and anniversary

Volunteers will be more likely to engage with your organization when they know they are more than just a number or a source of free labor.

One way to show your volunteers that you appreciate them and care about them as people is to send thoughtful messages on their birthday and on the anniversary of the first day they started volunteering with your organization.

When you gain new volunteers, use resources like volunteer management software to store their birthday information and send out a birthday email when the day comes around. Keep track of the day they sign up to volunteer for your organization and send a happy anniversary message thanking them for continuing to serve with your nonprofit.

These small gestures can make a major difference when it comes to volunteer satisfaction.

9. Create a volunteer page on your website

Show existing and prospective volunteers that you care about your volunteer program by creating a dedicated volunteer page on your website.

This page should have the information potential volunteers need to start working with your organization, but it should also have a section expressing gratitude for your volunteers, a section featuring individual volunteers or groups of volunteers, and statistics about how your volunteers are making an impact.

10. Give out free gifts from your nonprofit

Everyone likes receiving free lanyards, t-shirts, hats, and other swag. Giving out free gifts from your nonprofit will make volunteers feel a connection with your organization as they wear their merch while also making them feel like your nonprofit values their contributions.

Using volunteer management software to show volunteer appreciation

Many of the volunteer appreciation tips above will be easier to execute with the help of volunteer management software.

The right volunteer management software solution will help you create and store detailed volunteer profiles and set up automatic messages so you can send birthday and anniversary notes without any headache. 

These software solutions will also allow you to keep track of volunteer hours and other critical information you can use when sending out end of the year appreciation letters, creating a volunteer page on your website, or tracking points for a volunteer award or reward system.

You can even use volunteer management software to automatically send thank you emails to volunteers a set amount of time after they finish volunteering at one of your events.

Learn more about how Civic Champ’s volunteer management software can help you improve your volunteer program and show volunteer appreciation when you visit our website.

About the Author:
Geng Wang
As CEO of Civic Champs, I lead our team of passionate change leaders to create technology solutions to create a seamless and rewarding volunteering experience for both volunteers and service organizations.