The industry’s volunteer retention rate hovers at around 65%. In other words, 1 in 3 volunteers will discontinue their services sooner than expected. Chances are, most individuals will stick around if they feel like a valued part of your mission. As a volunteer manager, it’s part of your job to have a stream of volunteer appreciation ideas at the forefront of your work.
Your volunteers are a vital part of your daily operations, yet they never expect anything in return. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give them an occasional “thank you,” though! Having thoughtful volunteer appreciation ideas ready to go will assure them that they’re a valued part of your nonprofit and their hard work isn’t going unnoticed.
To help, we’ll share some of our favorite volunteer recognition ideas that are guaranteed to make your supporters feel connected to your mission. But we won’t stop there! We’ll share some fundamentals to ensure you’re fully prepared to make each and every volunteer feel appreciated. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Volunteer Appreciation FAQ
- Our Top Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
- Budgeting For Your Volunteer Recognition Ideas
While nonprofits often hone in on their donor communications, volunteer communications tend to fall by the wayside. However, these supporters are just as valuable – even though they’re donating their time instead of money. Take your volunteer management approach by the horns and ensure your volunteers want to stick around by implementing a thoughtful approach to appreciation. Let’s get started!
Volunteer Appreciation FAQ
Before jumping into our top volunteer appreciation ideas, let’s take a moment to go over the basics of why doing so is so crucial. If you’re brand new to nonprofit volunteer management or want to overhaul your existing recognition approach, it’s vital to understand the fundamentals first.
Why Should You Express Volunteer Appreciation?
Volunteers give their time as a selfless act, not seeking any rewards in return. However, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate a thank you or even a larger gesture of gratitude.
As humans, we naturally seek positive reinforcement. We want to know that we’re making a difference. Saying “thank you” or giving them a pat on the back goes a long way in communicating that a volunteer’s ongoing support matters. It reinforces the idea that they actually are making a difference for your cause.
In turn, making volunteers feel appreciated means you’ll boost your retention rate, ideally going beyond the industry average of 65%.
How Do Volunteers Want To Be Recognized?
It all depends on the volunteer! Different groups of volunteers will prefer different approaches, so pay attention to their preferences.
Some will prefer public recognition, such as social media shoutouts, while others will prefer a private phone call or a fun eCard.
Sometimes, the easiest approach is to ask! That way, there’s no question as to what volunteer appreciation ideas they’ll cherish.
When Should My Nonprofit Express Appreciation For Volunteers?
The short answer is that you should recognize volunteers every chance you get — after a big event, at the end of the year, after completing special projects, and so on.
We recommend establishing a regular cadence. Know that the frequency of volunteer recognition will depend on various factors, including the size of your organization, the number of volunteers, and the nature of their contributions. However, here are some guidelines regarding cadence to get you started:
- Regularly: Aim to provide regular and consistent recognition to volunteers throughout the year. This can be in the form of verbal appreciation, small gestures, or expressions of gratitude.
- Event-based: Use special events or milestones as opportunities to recognize and appreciate volunteers. This could include volunteer anniversaries, National Volunteer Week, or other significant dates related to volunteering.
- Project-based: Recognize volunteers upon completing specific projects or initiatives. Acknowledge their efforts and highlight the impact they have made through their dedication to your nonprofit.
- Peer-to-peer: Encourage a culture of peer-to-peer recognition among volunteers. Provide opportunities for volunteers to express their appreciation for each other’s work, whether through informal shout-outs or structured recognition programs. This can contribute to your regular volunteer appreciation efforts.
- Volunteer Birthdays or Service Anniversaries: Show appreciation on volunteers’ birthdays or on the anniversary of their first volunteer event as a personal touch and recognition of their commitment.
The good news is that there’s also a National Volunteer Appreciation Week that occurs every year. Each year, National Volunteer Week is celebrated during the third week of April. Nonprofits use this week to call out their committed supporters and show just how much they value their hard work and dedication. Put this week on your calendar, serving as a special reminder to go all out and say thank you.
Our Top Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
With a grasp on the fundamentals, now it’s time to brainstorm different volunteer recognition ideas that your supporters will love!
We’ve pulled together 20 of our favorite ideas. Note that you should choose ideas that align with your organization’s brand and your volunteers’ preferences.
When choosing your favorite contenders, remember the key is to show genuine gratitude for their time, efforts, and contributions. Each act of appreciation should be thoughtful, meaningful, and reflective of the incredible contributions your volunteers make to your organization’s mission.
Thank You eCards
Nothing is more personal than a thank-you eCard! Combine the power of digital outreach with the personal touch of a thoughtful message with this volunteer appreciation idea.
Nonprofit eCards, or electronic cards, are virtual greetings that can be sent via digital platforms to express gratitude to volunteers. You can either send them to supporters or bring beneficiaries in on the action by having them send cards to memorable volunteers.
Here’s why eCards landed the top spot as our favorite volunteer appreciation idea:
- Time-efficient: With eCards, you can quickly send personalized messages to several volunteers simultaneously, saving time and effort.
- Customization: You can personalize each eCard with custom messages, graphics, and photos that make the card unique to the recipient or whichever project they helped you complete.
- Versatility: Easily tailor your eCards’ designs to different occasions, milestones, or themes. This makes this volunteer recognition idea suitable for any event or initiative.
- Lasting impact: Unlike physical cards that volunteers might discard, eCards can be saved digitally, providing a lasting reminder of their experience.
To experience these great benefits, start with an eCard creation platform. Backed by a user-friendly platform, you can create designs that fully match your brand and communicate your genuine appreciation. We recommend eCardWidget!
With this platform, you gain access to all the templates, fonts, colors, and other design tools you need to design the perfect volunteer appreciation eCards. Create a collection of thank-you card designs that infuse your brand and feature your organization’s logo. Whenever you want to send one, personalize the message sent alongside the eCard to create a thoughtful reminder of the recipient’s time with your organization.
Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon or Dinner
A volunteer appreciation dinner can help express gratitude and recognition to your nonprofit’s volunteers. Typically, dinners and luncheons involve inviting volunteers to a special gathering where they can:
- Enjoy a free meal
- Socialize with fellow volunteers and staff members
- Feel honored for their contributions
The dinner serves as a way to show appreciation for the time, effort, and dedication volunteers put into supporting your organization’s mission. You’ll be able to express a heartfelt thanks face-to-face and celebrate their valuable contributions by coming together. As a bonus, you can design custom invitations for your volunteer appreciation dinner with your eCard platform.
Personal Phone Calls or Texts
Personally calling or texting your volunteers is an intimate way to express gratitude. After a big event, call or text them to personally thank them for their time, dedication, and contributions to your nonprofit.
Contacting them via phone adds a personal touch, allowing you to connect on an individual level and express sincere appreciation. Doing so communicates that your organization values each volunteer’s efforts, fostering a sense of personal connection and deepening the volunteer’s engagement with your cause.
Social Media Shoutouts
For those who love public volunteer recognition ideas, give social media shoutouts a try!
This volunteer appreciation idea involves publicly acknowledging volunteers’ contributions and achievements through social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram. Nonprofits can post dedicated videos, messages, or photos that:
- Highlight volunteers’ individual or collective impact
- Share volunteers’ and beneficiaries’ stories and experiences
- Explicitly express gratitude for volunteers’ contributions
Known for their incredible shareability, social media platforms are great ways to showcase your appreciation for volunteers. Shoutouts on these platforms provide volunteers with a much-deserved moment of recognition.
Not to mention, others will take notice that your organization goes above and beyond to recognize supporters. This can strengthen your online community, generate positive buzz around your work, and inspire others to get involved.
Volunteer Recognition Awards
Perfect for handing out at a dedicated volunteer appreciation event, recognition awards can help honor and celebrate the exceptional contributions individual volunteers have made.
Handing out awards provides supporters with a visual representation of their commitment to your cause. Consider thoughtful award names such as:
- Volunteer of the Year
- Team Player
- Most Inspirational Volunteer
- Most Hours Volunteered
- Heart of Gold
By presenting recognition awards, your nonprofit can go above and beyond in acknowledging standout supporters’ significant impact. You can also boost individuals’ sense of pride and accomplishment along the way and inspire others to step up their game next year.
Surprise Gift Cards
By surprising volunteers with a free gift card to their favorite store or restaurant, you’ll acknowledge their valuable contributions and provide a tangible token of gratitude.
The element of surprise will add an extra touch of delight, ensuring that people are excited by this volunteer appreciation idea.
Just be sure the gift card amount aligns with their contributions to your organization. Whether it’s a small or large amount, surprise gift cards are a surefire way to inspire supporters to continue their dedicated service.
Plus, this is a great opportunity to leverage your corporate partnerships to source free gift cards and drive more traffic to their businesses.
Everyone loves free merchandise, especially when it’s connected to a cause they care about!
When used as a volunteer appreciation strategy, free merchandise involves giving dedicated volunteers complimentary items that represent your organization’s cause, such as:
- Custom t-shirts, hats, and other apparel
- Water bottles and mugs
- Decals and keychains
By offering promotional items as a token of appreciation, your nonprofit can show gratitude while also providing a tangible reminder of each volunteer’s contributions.
Not only is free merchandise a thoughtful gesture, but it can also help promote your mission as volunteers proudly use the items. To make them excited to use the merchandise you send, invest plenty of time into designing your merchandise, sticking to nonprofit graphic design best practices.
Professional Development Opportunities
Some volunteers prefer skill development opportunities rather than tangible tokens of appreciation. Try providing training opportunities related to your nonprofit and volunteers’ specific responsibilities.
Bring in an expert to lead workshops or offer to send standout volunteers to relevant nonprofit conferences. For example, a nature conservation nonprofit could award scholarships to attend a nature conservation conference or host a workshop about sustainable best practices.
Not only will these demonstrate your organization values their commitment, but they’ll also enhance their skills and support their personal growth.
Volunteer Recognition Wall Or Display
Create a virtual or physical display that honors your committed volunteers. This volunteer appreciation idea serves as a visual representation of your gratitude, allowing everyone to see and celebrate volunteers’ hard work.
There are a few ways you can go about your display:
- Go all out by having a professional wall display created
- Dedicate a page on your website to honor standout volunteers
- Create a social media album that features photos of volunteers
Be sure to feature details like people’s photos, names, short descriptions, and a summary of their accomplishments.
Personalized Thank-You Letter
This is a classic volunteer recognition idea. Send handwritten volunteer thank-you letters to express how much you appreciate their ongoing dedication to your cause.
When crafting your letters, keep these elements in mind:
- Subject Line: eCardWidget’s donor thank you email guide explains that your subject line should make it easy for supporters to understand the purpose of your message at a glance, so aim for specificity—ideally around 40 characters.
- Volunteering Details: Reference the exact event or project they helped, including information like the number of hours they volunteered.
- Impact: Tie their hard work back to your mission by including an impact story that connects volunteering to tangible, positive change.
- Signature: Sign your volunteer appreciation letter from someone specific at your organization. Rather than only including your organization’s name in the signature, designating a specific sender will make the letter much more meaningful.
By thinking through each of these elements, the end result will be a powerful, moving thank you letter.
To kickstart your letters, check out Fundraising Letter’s volunteer thank you letter guide. You’ll understand the fundamental components of these letters and can explore templates that simplify the writing process.
Everyone loves a beautiful bouquet of flowers! Send flowers to volunteers’ homes or offices. Either send someone from your team to deliver them or partner with a local flower shop to handle delivery.
Alternatively, send plants to your volunteers. These tend to last longer and can be grown over several years. What a great reminder of their service!
Either way, you’ll provide them with something that will liven up their homes or desk space.
Exclusive Behind-The-Scenes Experiences
Grant volunteers insider access to your organization or a specific event. Exclusive behind-the-scenes tours and experiences are a unique volunteer appreciation idea that will make supporters feel special. You might offer:
- Private tours of your facilities
- Backstage access to local performances
- VIP experiences at special events
By offering exclusive experiences, you’ll provide volunteers with a memorable and enriching experience that goes beyond their regular volunteer duties. They’ll see the inner workings of your nonprofit, interact with key staff, and feel deeply connected.
Tickets to Local Events
Ideal for those who prefer memorable experiences, event tickets can be a great way to say thanks to volunteers while also immersing them in your community’s culture.
Give away free tickets to local events such as:
- Sporting events
- Theater performances
Not only will they think of your nonprofit as they enjoy themselves, but they’ll also have the opportunity to relax, have fun, and explore the community they work so hard to support.
Ultimately, this volunteer recognition tactic will foster a sense of belonging and reinforce the value of their service.
Volunteer Appreciation Newsletter
Perfect for volunteers who value updates over tangible rewards, volunteer newsletters can be a great option for expressing gratitude. Whether you create a regular volunteer newsletter or offer a special edition of your current newsletter, include content like:
- Volunteer stories and testimonials
- Upcoming opportunities
- Recognition for outstanding volunteers
In re:Charity’s donor gifts guide, they highlighted a similar idea, encouraging nonprofits to create exclusive newsletters for donors. Exclusive newsletters and other content can pull supporters into your cause, making them feel like insiders. If they volunteered for a specific initiative, give them relevant updates and content related to that.
As the guide explains, this idea will incentivize them to continue volunteering so they won’t lose access to the exclusive content.
Volunteer of the Month in Your Newsletter
Even if you don’t want to dedicate an entire newsletter to volunteer appreciation, you can still highlight standout volunteers!
In each edition of your newsletter, dedicate a section to someone who recently went above and beyond in their service. You can interview them and feature a quote. Imagine their surprise when you call them up to let them know they’re your nonprofit’s volunteer of the month!
Need inspiration for your newsletter’s layout? Check out our nonprofit newsletter guide which offers a free template!
Volunteer Appreciation Photo Gallery
Circling back to digital recognition, create a collection of photos that showcase volunteers in action. You can feature it on your website or on your nonprofit’s social media page.
Your gallery can act as a visual tribute to your selfless supporters. What a great way to highlight the collective efforts of your volunteer community!
Someone who’s perusing your nonprofit’s social media accounts or website may come across it and see how much your volunteers enjoy working on the ground level and pursuing your mission.
You see your volunteers putting their skills to work each time they lend a helping hand. Why not offer a formal endorsement to say thanks?
Endorse their skills on LinkedIn to support them with other career-building opportunities, whether they’re looking for a job or a promotion. For those who go above and beyond, you might offer letters of recommendation, too.
Along the same lines of networking, you could offer up connections with hiring managers or executives at companies where volunteers want to work. Talk to your volunteers to see what type of endorsement might help!
Fun Social Events
Break out of a structured volunteer environment and cut loose with your supporters! Bring your volunteers together for a fun night out where they can interact with one another and build camaraderie.
Here are some fun ideas to get the ball rolling:
- Picnic or barbecue
- Game night or trivia night
- Themed party
- Happy hour
- Movie night or outdoor movie screening
- Outdoor adventure
- Escape room or other team-building activity
- Friendly sports tournament or field day
Still not sure what the perfect social event is? Ask your volunteers what they’d like to do. Their feedback can help you pinpoint the perfect outing. After all, two heads (or several in this case) are better than one!
Gift baskets are a versatile volunteer appreciation idea, allowing your team to curate different items to communicate gratitude.
Vary the contents of each gift basket based on individual volunteers’ preferences. For example, include items such as:
- Snacks and beverages
- Branded merchandise
- Self-care items
- Arrays of fresh fruit
Thoughtfully selecting items will convey you pay attention to volunteers and genuinely care about their support. Not to mention, you can center each basket around different occasions, like holidays, volunteer anniversaries, or big milestones. The point is that each one is curated for the recipient.
Personalized Thank-You Videos
Let your staff or beneficiaries speak directly to the volunteers making a difference. By creating personalized thank-you videos, you can send a thoughtful message that expresses gratitude to volunteers.
If you want to create these for individuals, limit them to those who made a substantial impact or spent a certain number of hours with your nonprofit. After all, these videos will take some time to produce. Once they’re ready, either share them privately or post them on social media to publicly acknowledge contributions.
Regardless, personalized thank-you videos will add a personal touch, ensuring volunteers feel recognized for their dedication.
Budgeting For These Volunteer Recognition Ideas
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of these volunteer appreciation ideas can quickly add up. Instead of blowing your budget out of the water, choose budget-friendly ones that align with the individual’s contributions to your organization.
While volunteer appreciation budgets will vary across organizations, here are some general guidelines to follow:
- Determine the scope of volunteer recognition needed: How many volunteers do you have, and how often are you planning on hosting volunteer appreciation events or sending gifts?
- Prioritize impactful ideas: Determine the most meaningful ways to appreciate volunteers based on individual preferences and your organization’s resources.
- Evaluate corporate partnerships: Can you leverage relationships with local businesses to push your volunteer appreciation efforts forward? For example, gift cards and local event tickets are easy ways you can tap into your partnerships.
- Choose cost-efficient options: Strike a balance between high-impact and cost-effective strategies. Look for opportunities to create personalized gestures within your available budget, such as by choosing customizable eCards.
By thinking through your budget before investing, you’ll get more bang for your buck. In turn, you’ll optimally leverage your resources to recognize your dedicated volunteers in memorable and meaningful ways.
Your volunteers make your mission a reality. Don’t let them go unnoticed!
Having a ton of volunteer appreciation ideas ready to go means you can communicate that you genuinely value their ongoing support. Otherwise, they may find another organization that prioritizes recognizing supporters.
Looking for more ideas to perfect your outreach strategies? We’ve got you covered! Here are some additional resources we think you’ll love:
- Digital Card Ideas To Engage Your Nonprofit’s Supporters. See our favorite volunteer recognition idea in action! Explore real-world examples of organizations using eCards to express appreciation and raise money.
- 15 Donor Gifts to Show Your Appreciation. Want fresh ideas for gifts you can send to donors and volunteers? Check out this list from the Kwala team.
- How to Thank Donors: Best Practices + 15 Effective Ideas. Your donors deserve recognition too! Explore best practices for expressing donor appreciation which can also be applied to your volunteer outreach.