Volunteers are the backbone of nonprofits’ long-term health and sustainability. Without them, organizations likely wouldn’t be able to accomplish their fundraising goals.
Learning how to source and retain consistent volunteers is essential to the success of your nonprofit. Frequently showing appreciation for these loyal supporters keeps them engaged and gives them purpose.
Fortunately, you can show appreciation for your incredible volunteers without spending a fortune. Below, we’ve compiled our favorite volunteer appreciation ideas, and most of them cost little to nothing to implement. But before we dive in, let’s break down why volunteer appreciation matters and how to effectively budget for it.
Why Volunteer Appreciation Matters
Volunteers give their time and energy with little thought of reward, but a positive experience (and a bit of recognition) plays a significant part in getting them to return. Head nods, handshakes, and words of gratitude can go a long way.
People don’t need payment to volunteer. However, they want to feel important and know that what they do makes a difference. This feeling of validation can come from the volunteering experiences themselves or when your nonprofit goes the extra mile to show sincere appreciation before, during, and after the experience has concluded.
Show your volunteers that you value their contributions so they don’t leave to spend their time with a nonprofit that does. Appreciation can make a significant impact on your volunteer retention rate.
19 Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
1. Thank You Letters
Write handwritten stewardship thank you letters to your volunteers. Sure, this could take time if you have a large group of loyal supporters, but its impact will be worth every minute.
Your notes don’t have to be long. Just be sure to include a personal touch that makes each individual feel seen and recognized for their volunteer service. Plus, personalizing your thank you card increases the chances it’ll get read.
2. Phone Calls or Text Messages
Make phone calls and send text messages to your volunteers to express your appreciation. Having these come from a board member or executive leader could mean a lot to your supporters.
Knowing that Millennials and Gen Z volunteers likely won’t answer a phone call, consider sending them a text message instead. Keep it short and sweet, but prove that you know them by addressing them by name and specifically recognizing their contributions.
You could also use this opportunity to collect feedback about their volunteer experience and gauge their interest in volunteering again. Start a friendly conversation, ask what interests them, and see if you can find the perfect fit.
3. Recognition Awards
Give out recognition awards quarterly or annually to recognize volunteers that have gone the extra mile for their exemplary service. For example, your volunteer recognition awards could be something formal like a trophy or plaque, or you can keep it simple with a special T-shirt, pen, or other customized swag.
Then, host an awards ceremony to hand out your prizes. Invite the volunteers’ families to join and prepare a few words to properly recognize each individual that dedicates their time to your nonprofit.
Depending on the number of volunteers, you might consider recognizing everyone. You could accomplish this by calling out each volunteer’s specific contributions or assigning each one a high compliment defining their strength or character.
4. Social Media Spotlights
Recognize your volunteers on social media by posting images of them (with their permission, of course) with a list of their contributions or a short biography. Some people like public recognition, and social media can be a powerful, easy-to-access tool for showing your volunteers some love on a larger stage.
Then, share volunteer shoutouts during National Volunteer Week and sporadically throughout the rest of the year. Your volunteers will likely share these posts with their friends and family, expanding your reach and exposing your nonprofit to even more people. That’s a win-win for everyone.
5. Free Swag
Compile swag bags for your volunteers with branded items (e.g., pens, tote bags, stickers, etc.), or you could design a unique T-shirt just for this loyal group. After all, swag is a fantastic incentive for volunteers.
Interested in learning how to engage donors prior to your event? Consider giving your volunteers these items before their volunteering event to encourage them to show up and represent your nonprofit in style.You can also offer your volunteers first pick of your outdated inventory or swag leftovers. Encourage them to share these items with their friends and family if they can’t find their size or make use of the product.
6. Gift Cards
Not sure what your volunteers want? Give them a gift card and let them choose for themselves. You could partner with local businesses to provide these gift cards in exchange for brand awareness or sponsorship. For example, you might put their logo on your T-shirts.
You could also consider purchasing gift cards from businesses that reflect your cause. For example, if your nonprofit focuses on building and maintaining trails in the community, you might partner with an outdoor retailer, gym, or shoe store.
7. Event Perks
Use community and personal connections to give your volunteers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. For example, if you’re hosting a fundraising concert, you might give top volunteers backstage access to meet the bands and musicians.
You can find event perks for just about any fundraising activity. Want to host a flower-planting fundraiser? Let your volunteers take some of the plants home for themselves. Want to have a car wash? Wash your volunteers’ cars, too.
8. Dedicated Community Spot
Show your long-term volunteers you care by dedicating a spot in the community specifically to them. This could be a structure, bench, tree, overlook, pool, or flower garden.
Building these spots in your community helps you give back while recognizing your volunteers’ hard work. It also builds awareness for your nonprofit by putting your organization’s name in a public setting.
Show that you support your volunteers in all their volunteering endeavors by making a pledge in their name to a specific campaign or fundraising activity outside of your nonprofit. After all, your volunteers likely support other organizations and give back to the community in multiple ways.
You can make your pledges conditional or unconditional. For example, you might give more to your volunteer if they participate in an event (like a walk-a-thon) and accomplish a certain goal. Or you might give unconditionally to their cause with no strings attached.
10. Tickets to Local Events
Provide your volunteers with tickets to local performances, movies, sporting events, or community activities. You might buy these tickets one-off or partner with a local team or company to distribute passes regularly.
If tickets to these activities are relatively inexpensive, consider going over the top to make them more exclusive. For example, you might give volunteers front-row seats, backstage passes, or hospitality boxes.
Send flowers to volunteers at their homes or offices. You might physically deliver these yourselves or partner with a local flower shop to deliver them. Do what’s best for your time and budget.
You could also give plants to your volunteers. These will last longer and serve as a constant reminder of their contributions to your nonprofit organization. Plus, plants and flowers can liven up a room or desk space, giving your volunteers a breath of fresh air (literally).
12. Lunch With a Leader
Offer to take your volunteers out to lunch with an executive leader or a board member. These lunches could be one-on-one activities, or you might take a group of volunteers together. You don’t need to spend money on a fancy dinner—an evening out at a local spot is plenty to show your gratitude.
Bonding over food can also be a great way to get to know your volunteers better. Plus, spending face time with your community helps you better understand their needs and provides insight into how you can improve your nonprofit’s services or events.
13. LinkedIn Endorsements
Write recommendations on LinkedIn for volunteers. Executive endorsements can help them with other career-building opportunities and might even play a part in them earning a promotion or securing a new job. Talk to your volunteers and see how you can help.
Some volunteers might also appreciate networking opportunities. For example, you or a board member could have a connection with a hiring manager or executive at a company where they want to work. This connection could help your volunteer get their foot in the door.
14. Surprise Parties
Surprise your volunteers with a party celebrating them. Treat them to food, awards, and recognition, creating an unexpected event they won’t forget. You might even invite a local musician or their families to attend, spreading the love and making your incredible volunteers feel special.
15. Volunteer Outings
Take your volunteers to an event or activity outside the office. This gives you time to treat your volunteers and get to know them better. Just be sure to choose activities where you’ll get to socialize and build stronger bonds.
Try to avoid quieter activities (like movie nights or plays) where you won’t get to engage with each other. Outings could include:
- Team dinner
- Axe throwing
- Game night
- Miniature golf
- Escape room
- Scavenger hunt
- Go-kart racing
- Cooking class
- Drink making
- Art class
Still need ideas? Ask your volunteers what events interest them for a fun night out. Their feedback could help you find the perfect outing to engage everyone.
16. Educational Opportunities
Provide training opportunities for your volunteers. You might help them find a course or receive certification for a new skill related to their volunteering role. You could also bring experts into the office to host workshops and trainings.
These educational opportunities can directly relate to your nonprofit and its cause or focus specifically on your volunteers’ responsibilities.
For example, if your volunteers manage your digital marketing campaigns, you might bring in experts (in person or digitally) to train your team on different technologies, tactics, and best practices. Or if your team manages events, you could bring in an event manager to show volunteers new techniques, tips, and tricks.
17. Designated Parking Spot
Give your volunteers VIP treatment with designated parking spots at your office, warehouse, or events. These individuals shouldn’t have to park blocks away or pay for parking to volunteer. By giving them special treatment, you show that you care.
However, if you can’t give all your volunteers designated parking spots, turn your coveted parking spot into a recognition award. For example, you might offer these parking spots to tenured volunteers who have made a massive impact on your work. Award these spots as part of your quarterly or annual awards ceremony.
18. Career Building
Volunteering is likely one small aspect of your volunteers’ busy lives. They probably have jobs, families, and hobbies to think about, too. Help advance your volunteers’ careers by providing them with career-building volunteer opportunities. This could be any of the following:
Ask your volunteers what they’d like to get out of their experience working with your nonprofit. You might be able to offer them additional responsibilities to expand their skill set or pair them with an expert.
19. Job Offer
Want to keep your ideal volunteer around for the long run? Give them a job. While this will technically eliminate one of your volunteers (by turning them into an employee), it might help you better utilize their skills and experience to further your nonprofit’s mission.
When looking for candidates for a new job opening, consider your volunteers first. After all, they could be interested in the role themselves or have referrals they can recommend. However, if they’re not qualified for the opening, consider training them for an upcoming role you plan on filling.
How to Budget for Volunteer Appreciation
Volunteer appreciation shouldn’t consume your budget. You can find plenty of creative and low-cost ways to show you care without spending a lot of money.
For example, a simple thank you letter or designated parking spot costs you next to nothing. Yet, these small gestures can make your volunteers feel special and keep them coming back.
You can also look for partnerships with local businesses or organizations. For example, you might find a restaurant that wants to provide quarterly lunches for your nonprofit’s volunteers or create a partnership with a business to sponsor gift cards, pledges, or fun giveaway items.
How Often Should You Show Appreciation?
How often you demonstrate volunteer appreciation will depend on your nonprofit’s size, volunteer base, volunteer demands, and budget. However, the more appreciation you can show, the better.
Here are a few frequencies to consider and the relative advantages and disadvantages:
- Weekly: Weekly appreciation gives you an opportunity to recognize more volunteers, but it can add logistical headaches. It’s simple enough to send out thank you letters or post spotlights on social media, but ensure you maintain quality and don’t turn appreciation into a routine to-do item
- Monthly: Monthly appreciation makes it easier to balance recognition and activities and maintains the magic of gratitude. A onthly cadence works well for tickets to local events, swag, perks, and flowers
- Quarterly: Quarterly appreciation helps recognize recurring volunteers and continued participation. You might use a quarterly meeting to recognize volunteers with awards, a designated parking spot, educational opportunities, or lunch with a leader
- Annually: Annual appreciation can award volunteers who’ve gone above and beyond. Dedicate a community spot to them, throw a party, and send out (potential) job offers for those who want to give even more
As you learn how to practice gratitude fundraising, you can also use a combination of all these cadences to recognize your volunteers regularly and show them you care.