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 gratitude 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.

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.

A Closer Look at the Volunteer Program Improvement Tool for Hunger-Fighting Organizations

A few months ago, we introduced you to the Volunteer Program Improvement Tool, a free tool developed exclusively for hunger-related organizations*.

Today, let’s take a closer look.Volunteer Program Improvement Tool for Hunger NonprofitsAt VolunteerMatch, we recognize that a successful volunteer program isn’t just about attracting volunteers. It isn’t just about getting internal buy-in. Nor is it just about keeping volunteers engaged, having a good program infrastructure, giving volunteers the recognition they deserve, or letting your community know about your volunteer program.

No, it isn’t just about any of these things. It’s about all of them.

If that sounds like a lot, don’t worry. The Volunteer Program Improvement Tool takes you through each component of a successful volunteer program, one at a time.

Maybe you rock at getting volunteers on board, but have trouble keeping them. Not only will this tool diagnose that, it will give you concrete action steps and resources for strengthening your volunteer retention.

How? All you need to do is answer a few simple questions about your volunteer program.

After you complete the tool, you’ll receive a report created just for you, highlighting your program’s strengths and weaknesses, and a path for improvement.

What are you waiting for? Get on the path to a stronger volunteer program. Access the free tool today.

*You may be wondering, “Why hunger organizations?” VolunteerMatch developed this tool as part of our partnership with ConAgra Foods Foundation, a company with a big commitment to end childhood hunger. Part of this commitment includes equipping nonprofits with the resources they need to do what they do best – create real change in their communities in the fight against hunger. And for many food banks and similar organizations, this change is dependent on volunteers.

Volunteer Engagement 2.0 Author Spotlight: Kelly Moran, National MS Society

VolunteerMatch’s new book, Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World, features chapters from 35 experts in the field of volunteer engagement. In this series of blog posts, get to know these #35experts and their areas of expertise.

Today’s expert: Kelly Moran, Associate VP of Community Development, National MS Society.

Volunteer Engagement 2.0 Author Kelly Moran

Kelly with her daughter Emmie

First of all, what is your chapter about?
Often, we look at engaging volunteers and cultivating donors as different work. However, these objectives actually employ the same relationship building skills. Allowing individuals to self-select how they connect to your organization allows them to bring all their resources to your organization.

Why is this topic important?
Organizations can overlook the additional resources those already involved with their organization can offer. With the best of intentions, we sometimes make assumptions about what someone is able to do, or how they would like to contribute.

By expanding the conversation, people will engage in the ways that are most meaningful to them, which creates a stronger connection to your organization. Cultivating donors is typically a key objective for many organizations, while volunteer engagement struggles to be recognized as key work worthy of an investment in staff resources. I believe this article shows they are equally important!

Explain your background on this topic. (In other words, what makes you a “volunteer engagement expert?”)
I’ve worked for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for more than 10 years. Previous to that, I volunteered for them.

In my work, I’ve challenged staff to build their personal capacity through volunteer engagement, while creating meaningful opportunities for volunteers to have tangible impact. I’m fortunate to work for an organization where volunteers are key leaders and partner with staff to achieve the important work outlined in our strategic plan.

Initially, I began in volunteer engagement by recruiting volunteers for events. From there I was able to use my skills to help the organization grow, and I haven’t looked back!

What did you learn and/ or struggle with when writing your chapter?
Honestly, this is the first time I’ve written anything for publication, and it was intimidating!  I recruited my colleague Taylor Mallia, who focuses on donor cultivation, to collaborate with me. Together, we were able to discuss our work connecting people to the organization through volunteer engagement and gift cultivation.

My style tends to be a bit on the informal side, and I greatly value the exchange that happens during a discussion. Therefore, this challenged me to formally support my ideas in writing, rather than strictly through dialogue.

What is the one piece of advice you would give volunteer managers to take with them to the future?
Be confident in how much ability your work has to impact the success of your organization. Volunteer engagement isn’t something separate to do, it’s how effective organizations work.

Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the WorldTo read Kelly’s full chapter, Wholly Engaged: Integrating Volunteer and Donor Programs, order your copy of Volunteer Engagement 2.0: Ideas and Insights Changing the World today.




Bay Area: Want to Star in a VolunteerMatch Video?

Star in VolunteerMatch's new videoDo you know a volunteer who fits these three criteria?

  • Volunteers somewhere in the San Francisco Bay Area,
  • Has a compelling and/ or heartwarming volunteer story, and
  • Found their volunteer opportunity through VolunteerMatch.

If so, we want to film them!

Julia, our awesomely creative Creative Services Manager, is in the process of creating a 1-2 minute, easily-sharable video. If your volunteer is selected, Julia will come to your nonprofit this May or June to capture their story through interviews and volunteering footage.

If you’re wondering why we’re only looking for San Francisco Bay Area organizations, it’s not because we love the rest of the country any less… we promise! It’s because VolunteerMatch is headquartered in San Francisco, so we’re starting local. But don’t worry! We have plans in store to include the rest of the country soon.

So Bay Area, what do you think? Want your nonprofit to star in a video and help VolunteerMatch? Send us an email.