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6 min read

8 Volunteer Recognition Ideas to Show Your Gratitude

April 11, 2023


Creating change requires a large network of people working together to get the job done. While your employees perform valuable mission-driven work every day, so do your volunteers! 

Your volunteers are a key part of your organization, and they deserve to be appreciated for all their enthusiasm and hard work. Most volunteers devote their time to a nonprofit because they’re motivated by the cause or interested in the organization’s work. To sustain that dedication and motivation, however, they need to feel appreciated.

It’s important to implement dedicated systems for recognizing your volunteers to effectively show your thanks. Take a look at these eight volunteer appreciation ideas and determine which types of recognition would mean the most to your own volunteers.

1. Send Personal Thank-You Emails

Your nonprofit likely already dedicates time to sending out thank-you letters to donors and volunteer thank-you emails are just as important. Sending emails to volunteers is an excellent, low-cost way to let them know you appreciate what they do. 

Use these tips to personalize your emails for each volunteer:

  • Reach out to the volunteer’s supervisor. Ask about the specific roles they’ve played, what previous events they’ve volunteered at, and anything they’ve done especially well. Then, include these details in your email to show you value the volunteer’s individual contributions.
  • Celebrate milestones. Send out special thank-you emails to celebrate certain volunteer milestones, like their six-month or one-year anniversary with your organization. You can also send messages on their birthdays just to let them know you’re thinking of them.
  • Highlight their impact. Fundraising Letters’ volunteer thank-you templates highlight ways to customize your emails based on the specific impact of volunteers’ roles, from pictures to brief anecdotes. Show your appreciation by letting them know exactly how their efforts benefit your organization and the people you help. 

Personalized thank-you emails work especially well at large nonprofits, where you might not get much one-on-one time with volunteers. Plus, the continued contact will help you deepen relationships with your volunteers and make them feel like they’re part of a community.

2. Create a Volunteer Yearbook

Volunteer yearbooks are a great way to celebrate volunteers’ work, highlight special memories, and share their impact on your organization’s mission. After all, even if a volunteer can only get involved for a short period of time, they still make important contributions to your nonprofit and develop friendships while completing their service.

To create a volunteer yearbook, follow these steps: 

  • Collect pictures from various projects, annual events, and holiday parties.
  • Ask volunteers to send in their favorite memories.
  • Add in a few inspirational quotes about volunteering to remind them why they devoted their time to your organization.
  • Have your volunteer manager, a board member, or your director write an acknowledgement message.
  • Put everything together in an online yearbook or contact a printer to get physical copies printed. 

Yearbooks give volunteers a tangible keepsake to reflect on their experience with your nonprofit and the difference they made. Reminders of these good memories might also incentivize them to come back next year!

3. Implement a Peer-to-Peer Kudos System

Giving a volunteer a kudos is an easy way to personally recognize that they’ve done an excellent job. Your staff likely already do this periodically, but you can recognize more volunteers on a regular basis by developing a kudos system.

A peer-to-peer kudos system provides a simple, structured way for managers, supervisors, and volunteers to recognize each other’s work and accomplishments. Set up a system using sticky notes, an appreciation board in your office, or eCards. Anyone can place a sticky note on the board or directly send someone an eCard to give them a kudos. By letting volunteers recognize each other, you’ll create a culture of encouragement and appreciation.

4. Throw a Party

There’s nothing quite like throwing a party with free food to bring people together, keep volunteers engaged, and recognize accomplishments. When you know a cohort of volunteers will be leaving at the end of summer or a school semester, throw a party! People will love the chance to see each other one last time before heading separate ways.

And, you can do more than just goodbye parties. You can also throw parties to appreciate longstanding volunteers, welcome new volunteers, or celebrate the completion of a major project.

5. Give Small Gifts for Special Occasions

Take inspiration from companies who give their staff gifts to encourage engagement—give small appreciation gifts to your volunteers. Consider these natural opportunities to send out volunteer gifts:

  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries of becoming a volunteer
  • Major accomplishments, like running an event for the first time or stepping into a new role
  • Referring a friend to volunteer

These gifts don’t have to take up much room in your budget. Send extra branded merchandise like t-shirts or hats, or ask for donated gift cards from local businesses you regularly partner with. Volunteers will appreciate any gift, no matter how small, as a symbol of your gratitude.

6. Host an Awards Banquet

If you have the resources, level up one of your parties to host an awards banquet for volunteers. Follow the same premise of a party, except on a more formal scale. Arrange for food catering and ask everyone to dress up for the event. Invite volunteers, their families, staff members, and maybe even your clients or beneficiaries to attend the dinner and award presentation ceremony. 

Awards could include “Most Enthusiastic,” “Most Inspirational,” and other themes along those lines. Give away group awards, too, to encourage team bonding and recognize those who work well together. These awards will lead to better interpersonal connections and an improved sense of recognition among your volunteers.

7. Draw for Better Parking

Every week, supervisors could nominate a volunteer to get a reserved parking spot right by the front door. This system will be especially exciting if your lot is small and parking is often a challenge. Draw randomly for a chance-based thank-you effort or create a rotating schedule so everyone gets a chance to enjoy the privilege. 

8. Start a Social Media shoutout Series

To retain exceptional volunteers and recruit new volunteers using social media, create a regular series of volunteer shoutouts on one of your nonprofit’s accounts. Send out a quick survey to see which volunteers are interested in sharing their stories with the public. Then, conduct interviews to ask questions like: 

  • Why did they first get involved with your nonprofit?
  • What’s their favorite part of volunteering?
  • What does volunteering with your nonprofit mean to them?
  • What are their thoughts on volunteerism and its personal benefits?

Pull quotes from the interviews to post and pair them with pictures the volunteers send in. These shoutouts will publicly recognize loyal volunteers and help with marketing your nonprofit by showcasing the devotion of your biggest supporters.

Volunteers are essential for nonprofits to enact change and reach their goals. With these ideas, you’ll be able to share your appreciation for volunteers easily, so they know your organization notices and values their contributions.

Sometimes all a person needs to reignite their passion and stick around longer is a simple thank-you. These eight strategies will keep the gratitude going in genuine ways. Choose one or more of these ideas to start thanking your volunteers today!

Guest Contributer

Written by Guest Contributer

This article was written by a VolunteerMatch Guest Contributor.