How To: Appreciate Your Volunteers

It’s National Volunteer Appreciation Week, and in honor of the occasion, we have some tips for showing your volunteers they matter — this week, and always. 

While showing appreciation for your volunteers is a nice thing to do, it also benefits both the recipients and your organization as a whole. Intentionally building recognition into your organization’s culture motivates volunteers and can help you retain them—and even attract new ones. 

How does volunteer appreciation benefit you, your volunteers, and your organization?

  • Volunteer appreciation increases morale. Even a simple “thank you” or “good job” from a supervisor can go a long way in making a person feel confident and proud in their job, as can more significant rewards. That confidence and pride can help make an even better volunteer.
  • Volunteer appreciation enables you to keep good help and attract more. Recognition encourages the best people supporting your organization to stay. And good news travels fast – as others in the community are looking for paid jobs or volunteer opportunities, they will naturally turn towards your organization as a place they want to work.
  • Volunteer appreciation increases the productivity (or anything else you wish to promote) of volunteers for your organization. If it is understood that increased productivity, meeting goals, or longevity as a volunteer of the organization gets rewarded, then people will do their best to be productive or to remain with the organization.

Ok, but how do we actually show appreciation to volunteers?

Your organization could choose to recognize volunteers after a certain amount of time with the organization, at the end of a difficult project, when a challenging goal has been met, after the successful completion of a training session, or with an annual or semi-annual event. While monetary rewards like cash gifts or bonuses sometimes aren’t possible for volunteer reliant organizations, there are plenty of other ways to recognize your volunteers:

  • Praise, formal or informal. This could take place in-person (a verbal “great job!” or a thumbs up at the end of a presentation), or in an email or handwritten letter congratulating someone on their outstanding work.
  • Honors, such as naming someone volunteer of the month/year, or nominating them for honors and awards outside of the organization.
  • Public recognition. Could you create a feature article about the person and their work in the organization’s newsletter, or in the local press?
  • Awards, merch, or prizes, such as plaques, pins, certificates, clothing with the organization’s name, mugs, etc.
  • Banquets, potlucks, and picnics
  • Staff outings/retreats – these can serve as an excellent opportunity for people to reflect together on the work they are doing, and reaffirm their commitment to the work and to each other
  • Social events – from planned celebrations to casual drinks after work, these can do a lot to make volunteers more comfortable where they work. As a result, productivity may increase (as coworkers are more comfortable working together on projects and suggesting their ideas), and a comfortable working atmosphere may convince people to stay with your organization longer as well. Remember: people may work on ideas and projects, but they work with other people.
  • Increased autonomy. Allowing people to be self-directed and free from constant scrutiny shows confidence in a volunteer and their ability to do a job well.
  • Training. This can be a very powerful incentive for people who hope to gain useful skills or certification from their work with your organization.
  • Networking opportunities. Give people the opportunity to meet others and thus grow professionally. This can happen through outside events or by introducing people to others who can be helpful to them personally or professionally.

While it’s always important to show your volunteers how much you value them, this week is an especially good occasion to do something special for the people that donate their time to supporting your organization. Thank you, volunteers!