8 Creative Ways to Show Volunteer Appreciation

Guest post by Chris Martin

"Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it." -William Arthur WardGratitude is the most powerful thing in the world. It’s said that it’s not happy people who are thankful but rather it’s thankful people who are happy.

Yet, recent studies have painted society as losing its civility, especially in the workplace. It seems that some people have confused niceties with inefficiencies and compliments with ulterior motives. And in our nonprofit space, this will not do.

Let’s put the gratitude back into our attitude. Volunteer appreciation should be the most important mandate we have. If it isn’t, there’s no time like the present for a nice change of pace.

Want to make sure your volunteers know you’re grateful for their service? Follow these suggestions and you’re sure to make them feel like the sun shines just for them!

  1. Get involved alongside them.

Nothing says “buy in” like the Executive Director or supervisors stepping into the fray of serving food, signing up registrants, or helping to coordinate events at the ground level (roles often filled by volunteers).

Showing your volunteers that their job is so important that even the highest management member would help will say a lot about your trust in that person and the job that they do. And as a bonus, isn’t it nice to have someone lend you a helping hand when you’re working hard?

  1. Share their impact with them in a way that they can pass on.

Creating a simple image like an infographic with key metrics detailing the volunteer program and how it impacted a community is a great way of demonstrating how their time and effort helped. In turn, volunteers can share that information on their social media channels, with friends and family and say, “I helped this effort, I made a difference.” Isn’t that something we’d all like to say?

  1. Ask for their opinions – and fully listen.

Having a sit down with some volunteers during program planning stages or between shifts is a great way to explain upcoming initiatives and engage with your volunteers while getting crucial feedback. Make sure to pay attention to the second part: Listening.

If you’re going to ask for an opinion, you owe it to that person to take what they say seriously. Think for a second: who in your life always listens the best? Become that person for your volunteers. Engage with them; acknowledge their ideas; and then draft your response rather than drafting a response in your head while they’re still talking. The difference that ‘thinking after rather than during’ makes will astound you.

  1. Write a blog post or social media post dedicated entirely to them.

Did you launch a new initiative that far exceeded expectations? Don’t just say ‘thanks’ to the volunteer(s), show your supporters that you’re grateful by telling their story.

  1. Write a letter – but not to them.

Think outside the box: Write a letter to your boss telling them how grateful you are that you have such an outstanding volunteer serving your organization.

Gush to your boss about how fortunate you are that your organization has such amazing volunteers – and really drive home the accomplishments and efforts they’ve made. Then, feel free to let the volunteer know. Even better, management could print the letter off and take it to the volunteers directly to recognize how excellent they are.

Larger organizations can replicate this by writing a letter about a team that runs/ran an event and have upper management read it to volunteers at a debriefing.

  1. Place a handwritten note in a card and mail it. Yes, as in made with a pen and paper.

Nowadays, everything is done digitally. This is largely a good thing, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be digital all the time. Isn’t getting mail exciting now that it has become a total novelty? It sure would be nice to receive a mailed letter that isn’t a bill!

  1. Drop the business talk and speak to them on a personal level.

Telling them how they’ve helped your charity is amazing and essential, but don’t forget to tell them how they’ve helped you. Remind them that it’s volunteers like them who make your job a joy.

  1. Lastly, say “thank you.”

Above all else, a simple, heartfelt “thank you” can make the difference in someone’s opinion of their experience – and your organization. Additionally, if you want to get really creative, say it in different words or funny phrases.

About the author: Chris Martin is a former social worker and currently the Senior Marketing Coordinator for Charity Republic, a company specializing in promoting volunteerism and community engagement via accessible and efficient technology solutions.

3 Reasons to Give Your Time this #GivingTuesday

Give Your Time This #GivingTuesday#GivingTuesday, a global day dedicated to giving back, will take place on Tuesday, December 1, 2015. Whether you’re a nonprofit engaging volunteers on #GivingTuesday, or an individual looking to give back, the following post (originally published on GivingTuesday.org) explains why “giving time” is a good idea.

What comes to mind when you hear the word “give”?

A donation of money? An act of kindness? A concession (i.e. “giving in” or “giving up”)?

How about volunteering?  

Across the country and across the world, people are giving back to their communities by volunteering their time. Why? Plenty of reasons:

1. Volunteering is Good for Your Health

Celebrate with VolunteerMatch Premium!In 2013, UnitedHealth Group conducted a study on the link between health and volunteering called “Doing Good is Good For You.” They found that volunteering makes people feel better physically, emotionally and mentally. 76% of participants reported that volunteering made them feel healthier.

You may be wondering how volunteering could possibly be related to health. One big reason? Volunteering lowers stress, which not only improves general health, but improves your mood. Which leads me to point number two…

2. Volunteering is Good for Your Happiness

Make your volunteers HAPPY!According to that same UnitedHealth Group study, 94% of volunteers report an improved mood from volunteering. And it’s not surprising. Volunteering can be fun.

Volunteering is a great way to meet others in your community with similar passions and get connected with your neighbors. Volunteering together with friends or coworkers can strengthen those relationships.

And beyond the fun, volunteering can give you a sense of purpose. By seeing how your actions are having a positive impact on your community, you’ll feel an unsurpassed sense of fulfillment.

At VolunteerMatch, we collect stories from our network of volunteers, and nearly every one is inspiring in some way. Becky, a volunteer at a hospice care facility, recently told us, “Other than raising my children, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything quite so meaningful!”

3. Volunteering is Good for Your Community

Older Americans "Get Active" By Volunteering for Older Americans MonthLet’s not overlook the obvious. People volunteer because they are needed in their communities. There is someone that needs help, a problem that needs to be fixed, or an improvement that can be made.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, 85% of nonprofit organizations are entirely volunteer-run. Gina, who works at a no-kill cat shelter, said to us, “Without our volunteers, we would cease to exist.”

Furthermore, if you put a dollar amount to every volunteer hour, you would find that the amount of social value volunteers generate each year is astounding. Do you volunteer using your specialized skills? That number gets even higher. For example, $1.3 billion dollars of social value was created through connections made on VolunteerMatch.org alone in 2014.

Even if you have the means to give monetary donations this #GivingTuesday, consider giving your time as well. Working during the week? Volunteer the weekend prior, or the weekend after. While the exact date doesn’t matter, the act will carry you and your community to a better place.

To find your #GivingTuesday volunteer opportunity, visit VolunteerMatch.

Top 10 Things Executive Directors Need to Know About Volunteer Services

Guest post by Meridian Swift

This post was originally published on Volunteer Plain Talk.

What Executive Directors need to know about volunteer programs.I’ve always wanted to see a small pamphlet entitled “Volunteer Services for Dummies” or maybe “Volunteer Management, The Cliffs Notes.” Then I could sneak around and slip that bad boy under the door of the executive director while he was at a conference on “How to Get Donors to Donate More.” The pamphlet would have a way to insert whatever author’s name would impress him, like maybe that consultant who he’s recently hired to tell him that he needs to get more donations.

So, forget the pamphlet. Let’s just list the ten top things that I wish CEOs would understand about volunteer services.

10. Volunteers do not sit by their phones waiting for us to call.

Shocker! We don’t just “order up” volunteers when someone asks for eight volunteers who can work twelve-hour shifts, outside, tomorrow at 8am. Yeah, no one wishes it were that easy more than we volunteer managers. Asking volunteer Charles to prioritize volunteering with us over his other volunteering activities, his trip to Bermuda (that he’s saved years for), his managing of his elderly mother’s affairs, and his scheduled surgery might just be a tad unrealistic. It takes a wise volunteer manager to know how to balance volunteers’ experiences so that volunteering is not burdensome and they look forward to coming in to help.

9. Managing volunteers is not like managing staff.

Wow, bigger shocker! Unless managing two to ten times the number of very diverse people who only work maybe four hours a week without pay is the same thing. Instead of a paycheck to dangle, volunteer managers must use real leadership skills to inspire and coordinate volunteers. Think of it this way. Volunteers typically spend about 4 hours a week volunteering while you, the Executive Director and your staff spends upwards of 40 or 50 hours a week working for the organization. That’s at least ten times the amount of “plugged in time” you have over volunteers. Do you think that the volunteers spend the other 36 hours thinking about our organization? If not, volunteer managers must be able to “plug-in” volunteers every time they arrive on scene, motivate them to achieve that connection and keep them informed of changes and updates.

8. Volunteers are everyone’s responsibility.

What?!!! The CEO is thinking, “Then what do I pay YOU, the volunteer manager for?” Staff doesn’t necessarily see working with volunteers as part of their jobs, but any staff can make or break a volunteer’s experience. Look at it this way. What if you, the CEO cultivates a donor by spending your time and sweat to encourage and inform and then another staff member comes along and insults that potential donor? It’s no different with volunteers. We need you, our CEO to set the tone. So if deep down, you are thinking that volunteers are not really time donors but are just fluffy side dishes,  then please stop saying things like “we can’t operate without our volunteers.”

7. Volunteer managers are real managers.

“Hmmm,” the Executive Director might be thinking, “No way, not in the same way our manager of fundraising is!” Well, no matter what you call them, coordinators, specialists or team members, volunteer managers are as much a manager as anyone on your staff. The list of skills needed to lead and cultivate a team of volunteers (see #9 and #6 and #4 and #3 and #2 and #1 and oh heck, all of them) is quite extensive.

6. Volunteers want meaningful work.

“So,” the CEO may be thinking,  “but I often need some meaningless stuff done. Who will do it?” That’s true, but volunteers do not want to just do what the staff doesn’t want to do, they want real jobs that make a difference. And since we don’t pay them, maybe we should consider meaningful work as pay? But, a great volunteer manager with awesome skills can lead volunteers to occasionally do the grunt work if grunt work isn’t all that is offered.

5. Volunteers want sincere appreciation from more than just the volunteer department.

An Executive Director might be thinking, “Hey! I always say that we couldn’t operate without our volunteers, don’t I?” Yeah, you do. But guess what? Volunteers see through the once a year speech at a luncheon that is just lip service. Volunteers want you to make an appearance and say hello, send hand written thank you notes and include their accomplishments the next time you meet with the board of directors. And oh, they would like you to genuinely encourage staff to do these things too. Volunteers are either an integrated valued service or it’s all just talk.

4. Volunteers are not just little old ladies drinking tea.

“But,” a CEO could say, “they sure look like that description ha ha.” Did you know that volunteers are diverse in every way, including age, background, culture and experience and that it takes some major skills to manage a group of very diverse people? But even if some volunteers are older, did you know that they are former executives, professors, leadership experts and full of wisdom and great ideas? And they’re more than willing to share their wisdom for free.

3. Volunteer managers are not lap dogs.

“Hey,” the Executive Director would protest, “I never said that!” But are the volunteer managers treated that way by staff? Is there an “order up” culture in which volunteer managers are expected to just get volunteers without having any meaningful input into volunteer requests? Volunteer managers have their fingers on the pulse of the organization and are privy to every aspect of the mission via volunteer involvement. Maybe, just maybe, your humble volunteer manager is really a great motivator and leader and not just an order taker. Check them out for some really awesome ideas and managerial skill-sets.

2. Volunteers are aware and talk.

“Sure, so what, that’s great,” a CEO might agree. But, when a volunteer hears negative speak from staff, or sees something less than perfect, guess what? They talk, to each other, to friends, relatives, and the cashier at the Quick-Mart. Volunteer managers keep volunteers motivated and inspired and mediate constantly to make sure the volunteer’s concerns are resolved and their experience is positive. In this world aching for transparency, volunteers are the town criers who can proclaim the worth of an organization or do damage to its reputation.

1. Volunteers don’t stay forever.

“Heresy! They should if the volunteer manager is doing her job,” an Executive Director could counter argue. No, actually volunteers don’t. Does staff stay until they die? No, and neither do volunteers. We should recruit, train and cultivate our volunteers just as we do staff, but not expect them to continue until they’re carted off in an ambulance. And, just like staff, sometimes we don’t want them to stay, so that’s why the professional skill-set of the volunteer manager is so crucial. A volunteer manager’s professional resolution to a challenging situation is an organization’s best chance to avoid negative publicity.

So, there you have it. I’ll bet you volunteer managers have some really great ideas on other truisms that belong on this list. You have my permission to print out this list, slip it under your leader’s door. Somehow add to it that it was authored by the “Center for Outstanding Management and Maintenance of Organizations and NGO’s” via the report from the “Study on Excellence in Non-profit Structure and Ecosystems” or COMMON SENSE for short.


4 Ways to Improve Volunteer Retention

Guest post by Torri Myler

Keep the volunteers you have using these four tips.Volunteers are essential. They give your nonprofit the power to make a difference.

However, the unfortunate reality of employing many volunteers is that, with time, some of their fire will burn out. The nature of ongoing volunteer projects is that people will come and go.

The loss of volunteers is unfortunate not only because of the gaps it leaves behind, but because someone with experience and familiarity of the work is gone, leaving you to replace then with a new volunteer who will then have to work his or her way up to that same status. Retaining your talented volunteers is far gentler on time and resources than bringing in new ones. And it doesn’t have to be a challenge to improve your retention rates. Here are four ways to ensure you have the best volunteer retention rates possible.

1. Place Them Correctly

These individuals are volunteering for your organization because they feel that your cause or purpose fits in with their life and their values. Volunteer work is much more personal than paid work and requires a higher level of passion.

Figure out what your volunteers do in their everyday lives. Some of them may be teachers, or artists, or amateur chefs. Tying their duties to their hobbies or areas of skill will not only engage them to their best potential, but it will engage another level of their passion. Assigning individuals to tasks that aren’t very relevant to their skillset can frustrate them, and frustrated people will prefer to spend their time elsewhere. Giving everyone their perfectly suited role will create a greater sense of community among your volunteers, causing them to maintain interest in your cause, but also a closeness with each other.

2. Show Them Their Results

Volunteering is not an entirely selfless act, and it shouldn’t be. For the time your volunteers put in, they deserve to feel a sense of accomplishment and success as a result of their efforts. If you take the time to give them a better understanding about how they’re impacting a project, they won’t feel disheartened, or like they’ve wasted their time. You’ll foster a sense of empowerment and show your volunteers how they matter, and what they’re capable of achieving.

3. Give Them Options

When it comes to volunteering, not everyone will be equal to one standard task. When fundraising, for instance, some volunteers may be candid enough to ask directly for donations, while others will feel uncomfortable doing so. If possible, provide different tasks and jobs for your volunteering projects. And if a certain volunteer position is not a great fit for someone, don’t be afraid to tell them so.

4. Keep in Touch

Keep in touch with your volunteers.Projects and campaigns will come and go. Your volunteers have their lives to manage and their jobs to tend do, and at times they may not be as mindful to monitor what you have going on.

Using a self-serve model is ineffective, because volunteering will likely sit further back in people’s minds. How do you fix this? Keeping a mailing list and regularly updating social media is an excellent way to stay in the lives of your volunteers, who will receive reminders and updates on a regular basis about how to pursue continued involvement.

About the author: Torri Myler is a team member at BankOpening.co.uk, a UK bank branches opening and closing times repository. She has a strong volunteering background herself and believes that volunteers make the world a better place.

Raising Our Voices to Advocate Against Poverty [Webinar]

Guest post by Meredith Dodson

Join us for this special nonprofit insights webinar about nonprofit advocacy.

For the past seventeen years, I’ve talked to people every day about the importance of engaging in advocacy, in addition to the great service work happening in communities across the country. Why? Because of people like LaNae.

I met LaNae in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2013, when she was attending the RESULTS International Conference. As a single mother making $8.25 an hour, LaNae depended on SNAP benefits (formerly Food Stamps) to put food on the table each month. While in D.C., she participated in workshops, panel discussions, and skill building, culminating in an advocacy day on Capitol Hill with other RESULTS volunteers. The goal? To convince her Congressional Representatives not to make devastating cuts to a program that had been such a lifeline for her and her seven-year-old son, Konnor.

Not long after returning home to Albuquerque, LaNae watched C-SPAN in awe as her own story was recounted on the floor of the House of Representatives. Standing before a photo of Konnor, Albuquerque Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham called on her congressional colleagues to protect SNAP.

“Before joining RESULTS,” I didn’t even know what the Congressional Record was. Now I’m in it,” LaNae said.

It took courage for LaNae to share her story and to ask her member of Congress to take action. But she did it, and Rep. Lujan Grisham was so moved by LaNae’s story she wanted to share it with others. I hope you will too.

At RESULTS, we use our voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty. We believe there is a lot of power in talking to important decision-makers about the policies that impact all our lives, because if we all raise our voices together, we can create change. Advocacy really does work.

Here is an example: I have a favorite slide I like to show in any training or presentation. I admit, I am obsessed with this visual from the Congressional Management Foundation on effective ways to communicate with members of Congress. After polling over 250 staff persons from congressional offices, they put out a report, Communicating with Congress: Perceptions of Citizen Advocacy on Capitol Hill, that affirms the impact we can have when we get involved. Personal communications with members of Congress are the most influential action a constituent can take – meaning all of us can make a difference as individuals and as a part of organizations. In fact, 97 percent of the Congressional staff surveyed said face-to-face meetings with constituents had a lot or some positive influence. As you can see, that’s a lot more than a visit from a lobbyist – if we get involved.

Join us for this special webinar on nonprofit advocacy.That’s why I’m thrilled to be joining the Alliance to End Hunger and the Alliance for Justice as a part of VolunteerMatch’s Nonprofit Insights Webinar Series. During a conversation on September 16, we will discuss what “advocacy” really means, how we will use the latest Census data to further our work, and how organizations can participate in advocacy more effectively. Since I work with a network of volunteer advocates at RESULTS, I’ll make sure we talk about how to use the time you have to make the biggest impact. I hope you’ll join us!

Nonprofit Insights: Advocacy & Service-Focused Nonprofits, Challenges and Opportunities

Wednesday September 16th, 10 a.m PT (1 p.m. ET)


  • Abby LevineLegal Director of the Bolder Advocacy initiative at Alliance for Justice
  • Meredith DodsonDirector of RESULTS’ U.S. poverty campaign work
  • Minerva DelgadoDirector of Coalitions & Advocacy at the National Alliance to End Hunger
  • Jennifer BennettSenior Manager of Education & Training at VolunteerMatch

Register today!

About the author: Meredith Dodson is the Director of U.S. Poverty Campaigns at RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.results.org.