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.
Showing your appreciation doesn't have to break the bank. Below, we've assembled a rich selection of cost-effective ways to convey your gratitude. But first, let's get into the importance of volunteer appreciation and how to set a reasonable budget for it.
UNDERSTANDING THE VALUE OF VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION
Volunteers donate their time and effort without expecting anything in return. Still, they get satisfaction and purpose from knowing that their efforts matter and contribute positively to your cause. Expressing gratitude is an inexpensive yet valuable way to validate their contributions and keep them involved.
It’s crucial to make volunteers feel cherished so that they don't switch to other organizations that show more appreciation. The quality and frequency of your appreciation gestures can significantly impact your volunteer retention rate.
18 COST-EFFECTIVE WAYS TO SHOW VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION
- Send a Detailed End-of-year 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 ( If your organization uses volunteer hour tracking software you can generate a report with this information). 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.
- Personal Phone Calls or Text Messages: Personal communication is always appreciated. A simple message acknowledging their work can make a big difference.
- Recognition Awards: Quarterly or annual awards can honor volunteers who've made remarkable contributions. Prizes don't have to be extravagant; sometimes, a simple badge of honor is enough.
- Social Media Recognition: Spotlighting volunteers on your social media platforms can be an effective way to show public appreciation. 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.
- Merchandise Gifts: Distributing branded merchandise such as shirts, pens, or tote bags is a popular method of expressing gratitude while also promoting your organization.
- Gift Cards: Gift cards allow volunteers to choose their own treats. Collaborating with local businesses to provide these can also benefit your organization and the local economy.
- Exclusive Access at Events: Offering exclusive access or perks at your events can give volunteers unique experiences they'll remember and value.
- Donations in their Honor: Show support for your volunteers' other interests by making a donation in their name to a cause they support.
- Tickets to Local Events: Providing access to local cultural or sports events is a fantastic way to show appreciation.
- Flowers or Plants: A bouquet of flowers or a long-lasting plant delivered to a volunteer's home or workplace is a lovely gesture.
- Lunch With a Leader: Invite your volunteers to lunch with a leader from your organization. This not only shows appreciation but also provides an opportunity for direct communication and feedback.
- LinkedIn Recommendations: Offering to provide LinkedIn recommendations and endorsements can aid volunteers in their professional development and career growth.
- Surprise Parties: Organize surprise gatherings to celebrate your volunteers. This could include awards, games, and refreshments to honor their commitment.
- Volunteer Outings: Schedule outings where you can spend quality time with your volunteers in a casual setting. This could be a team dinner, a game night, or even a group class.
- Educational Opportunities: Providing training or educational opportunities related to their volunteering role can help volunteers develop useful skills.
- Designated Parking Spots: Reserved parking spots can offer volunteers a tangible and practical symbol of your appreciation for their commitment.
- Career Building Opportunities: Show appreciation by offering opportunities for networking, job shadowing, or mentorship. This not only rewards their current efforts but also contributes to their future success.
- Job Offers: If you have job openings, consider your volunteer pool. If they're a good fit, they already understand and are committed to your mission.
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.
BUDGETING FOR VOLUNTEER APPRECIATION
Effective volunteer appreciation strategies should always consider the organization's budget. The goal is not necessarily to minimize expenses but rather to maximize impact and create meaningful experiences within your financial limits. Here are some strategies to guide your volunteer appreciation budgeting process:
- Plan Ahead: Budgeting for volunteer appreciation begins with forward-thinking planning. Determine the frequency of your appreciation activities and estimate their costs. This helps avoid surprise expenses and allows you to strategically spread out your appreciation efforts throughout the year.
- Cost-Efficient Appreciation Ideas: Many of the appreciation ideas mentioned above are cost-effective. Handwritten notes, personal phone calls, and social media recognition are virtually free, requiring just a bit of time and thoughtfulness. Meanwhile, merchandise gifts, gift cards, or tickets to local events can be purchased in bulk or at a discount to reduce costs.
- Partner with Local Businesses: Engaging with local businesses can serve multiple purposes. For instance, you might secure discounts on gift cards or event tickets for your volunteers, thereby providing appreciation while stimulating the local economy. In return, businesses gain promotion and potential customers from your organization's network.
- Leverage Online Platforms: Technology can be a powerful tool for showing appreciation. LinkedIn recommendations, virtual meet-ups, and online educational opportunities can all be cost-effective ways to appreciate volunteers. These methods often save both money and time, while also enabling remote and international volunteers to participate.
- Recycle and Repurpose: Think about ways you can repurpose or recycle materials already at your disposal. For instance, an unused room could be transformed into a dedicated community spot for volunteers, or surplus branded merchandise could be given as thank-you gifts.
- Volunteer Input: Engage volunteers in the budgeting process. They can provide valuable input about the types of appreciation they value most, helping you allocate your budget more effectively. Plus, their involvement in the process can foster a greater sense of commitment and belonging.
- In-Kind Donations: Consider asking supporters for in-kind donations as a form of volunteer appreciation. These could include items for awards, materials for appreciation events, or even services like professional development workshops.
- Track and Evaluate: Keep a record of the costs and effects of your appreciation efforts. Tracking the outcomes can help you understand which forms of appreciation are most effective and which might not be worth the expense. This information will be invaluable when it comes time to plan and budget for future appreciation activities.
The goal of volunteer appreciation is to make your volunteers feel valued, not to drain your resources. But if you plan ahead and take a strategic approach to budgeting you can make every dollar count and ensure your volunteers know just how much they are appreciated.
HOW OFTEN TO SAY THANKS TO VOLUNTEERS?
Deciding when to thank volunteers depends on your group, the type of volunteer work, and what you can afford. You want to get it just right: not too much, not too little.
Here's how you might use some of our earlier ideas to help with timing:
- Notes & Phone Calls: A simple rule might be to send a note or make a call once a year on the volunteer's start date, or when they finish a big task. You could also schedule calls every few months.
- Public Praise: Give a shout out to volunteers in newsletters, on your website, or on social media. Try to do this often, maybe every month or week.
- Gifts & Treats: Save these for special occasions like yearly thank-you events, or when a volunteer does something extra special. To save money, you could give bigger rewards to volunteers who give more time or have a bigger impact.
- Learning Chances: Give these as a special thank-you to volunteers who stay for a long time. You might have a learning event every few months, if you can afford it. Or let volunteers use online learning sites if that's cheaper.
- Thank-You Events: Big events might only happen once or twice a year, but small get-togethers or online meetings can happen more often. These are good ways to build a team spirit and say thank you regularly.
- LinkedIn Recommendations: Offer these after a volunteer has been with you for a while or finishes a big task.
In the end, what matters most is that your volunteers feel like their hard work matters. By mixing up your thank-yous and saying it often, you'll make your volunteers feel special and important.
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.
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.