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How Do You Thank Your Volunteers?

Lori Halley  06 October 2008  5 comments

Thank you. It’s a powerful pair of words, and that simple statement of appreciation, spoken one-on-one, can go a long way to tell volunteers how much their work is valued — but you want to do more. A special effort or long-term commitment, in particular, calls for a special acknowledgement. What does your organization do to thank its volunteers?

CASA of Camden County acknowledges its volunteers by sending  birthday, anniversary, holiday, and thinking-of-you cards at intervals through the year — not just once. Volunteers for the Sunshine Coast April Fool’s Run get t-shirts and a chance to win prizes. And the Roscoe Village Neighbours community group throws a party for its volunteers before a big fundraising event.

The chance to socialize with like-minded others is a reward in itself for many volunteers and is often cited as one of the main motivations for volunteerism.

And in these tight economic times, it’s good to know that special events or gifts to honor our volunteers don’t need to be costly — if they’re planned with imagination.

The key, I believe, is to match the thank-you gesture to your volunteers:

The Idaho Society of Health-System Pharamacists hit the mark in thanking its volunteer board president, Sam Hoagland, for his work on their new website, a project in which he took personal pride. At the group’s annual meeting, Sam was  presented with an apricot-themed gift basket that included a Wild Apricot tee-shirt, cap, and letter of congratulations that named him an “Honorary Apricot.” The idea came straight from his colleagues in the association, those who knew what gift would have real meaning for its recipient.

The better you know your volunteers and what moves them to action, the more effectively you can both motivate and reward their efforts — and another small group that seems to “get it” is the Flint River Conservation Association, which lays on snacks and arranges canoe rentals to turn each of its river clean-up events into a fun family day on the river.

Just look around — ideas are everywhere!

  • Volunteer Appreciation Night at a not-for-profit seniors’ home, for example, is all about returning the favor — the people who have helped to entertain the elderly residents through the year are themselves entertained for the evening, with a variety show put on by the residents and staff.
  • Our beekeepers’ association has presented each out-going President with an engraved hive tool — a small pry-bar, meant as a practical piece of apiary equipment and also a sly tongue-in-cheek reference to the gavel that’s a traditional retirement gift for a Board Chairman or judge.
  • After a group of volunteers worked hands-on to restore an old one-room schoolhouse for use as a community hall, each was given a framed photograph of the building by the local historical society — and the photographs were taken by local schoolchildren.

Those are a few small things I see going on in my own area, where someone’s given real thought to what gesture of thanks would be most meaningful to the volunteers.

If there’s one thing that nonprofits are getting very good at, it’s finding creative new ways to say thanks to the people who keep them rolling (whether it's in person or through social media)! So, please, feel free to jump in with your own ideas:

How do you thank your volunteers?

Lori Halley

Posted by Lori Halley

Published Monday, 06 October 2008 at 6:11 PM


  • Melanie Guin MNM said:

    Tuesday, 07 October 2008 at 4:04 AM

    Volunteer recgonition is very important, and I think one thing that can be accomplished within an organization is to have a staff with an appreciative attitude towards volunteers. It is important for everyone within the organziation to show volunteers each day throughout the year that they are important....followed, of course, with an annual appreciation of some sort.


  • Alyssa said:

    Tuesday, 07 October 2008 at 6:30 AM

    Our volunteers are invaluable resources to us. They help with events, mailings, programs and day-to-day tasks. We try to show our appreciation with an annual dinner, where we award all of our volunteers with personalized merchandise from The Women's Museum store as well as special honors for longtime volunteers and those who have trained to be docents. Volunteers who work during the State Fair also receive free admission to the Fair!

    For photos of The Women's Museum and the many, many things our volunteers help us with, visit our Flickr profile: http://www.flickr.com/groups/thewomensmuseum/

  • Sue Anne said:

    Tuesday, 07 October 2008 at 10:49 AM

    We do birthday cards for each volunteer and then we do Thanksgiving cards. We also have a volunteer recognition event every year. Additionally, at one of our big events we gave all volunteers a t-shirt and they also got a Jamba Juice or Starbucks gift card.

  • John Haydon said:

    Wednesday, 08 October 2008 at 9:07 AM


    Great post - thanks so much! ;-)

    One thing folks should keep in mind is to be sincere and authentic about thanking folks - 100%. No matter what approach people use, the focus should be on the supporter and NOT on what the ROT (return on thanks) will be. Supporters can sense if you're authentic or not.

    That being said, non-profits hardly have to worry about this because they are such great-hearted people anyhow.

    My two cents.


  • Wild Apricot Blog said:

    Thursday, 22 January 2009 at 11:46 AM

    Finding ways to reward and motivate volunteers is a perpetual challenge for nonprofits. We can create opportunities to volunteer that meet the needs of our supporters, or we can remove the barriers that keep them from volunteering. Ideally, we’ll do both

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