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4 min read

Why You Shouldn’t Give Gifts To Volunteers

March 30, 2016


You’ve gotten to know Roger well over the past 6 months. Without fail, he’s shown up every week to volunteer his time at your nonprofit organization. And never once has he shown up without a cup of coffee in his hand. You know that his favorite coffee spot is just down the street from your office.

You want to show Roger that he’s a valued part of your organization. You couldn’t have as big of an impact without Roger. You’re given a small budget for volunteer recognition, so, what better way to show Roger you care than purchasing a gift card for him to the coffee shop down the street?

Actually, there are much better ways. In fact, volunteer gifts, particularly gift cards or cash, can be potentially problematic for your organization. Here’s why:

Gifts can be interpreted as compensation.

Volunteers, by definition, are not monetarily compensated for their work. This is what differentiates your volunteers from your paid employees. If Roger ends up leaving on less-than-favorable terms, if Roger gets injured while volunteering for your organization… these could trigger legal concerns if Roger claims he was compensated for his work.

What are the chances you will end up in a legal battle over a $25 coffee shop gift card? Pretty slim. But after years of volunteering, these expenses start to add up. Why take the risk at all, however small?

If you’re adamant about giving something to volunteers, your standard nonprofit’s “swag” such as t-shirts or mugs are better choices, because they can’t as easily be converted to cash. Perks such as office snacks are even better.

But, I challenge you to break away from “stuff” all together! Why?

There are much better ways to show volunteer appreciation.

While everyone likes to be recognized in different ways, there are a few appreciation strategies that are universal. Mostly, these require a shift in thinking. Volunteer appreciation shouldn’t be an “add-on”; it shouldn’t be just another task on your to-do list. The most effective volunteer appreciation strategy is inseparable from the rest of your volunteer engagement strategy.

Introducing them to staff and other volunteers.

Inviting them to your nonprofit’s events and celebrations.

Asking them what they need and want, and actually hearing their responses.

Informing them of the latest news and plans for your organization.

Challenging them to develop new skills and try out new roles.

Including them in decision-making.

Showing them the impact they’re having, and sharing that impact with others.

Telling them, and telling them often, how much you appreciate what they do.

These are the things that will keep Roger happy and coming back, more than any coffee shop gift card ever could.

Tess Srebro

Written by Tess Srebro

Tess loves her role as VolunteerMatch's Senior Marketing Manager because she gets to put words to work for social good! When not reading and writing, Tess spends her time obsessing over her cat and getting excited about food. She holds a Master’s of Nonprofit Leadership and a B.A. in Public Relations.