Why and How to Thank Your Volunteers Often and Well

A Great Volunteer Is Worth More Than You Think

Happy volunteers near delivery van.
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Most charities could not achieve their missions without volunteers. Most of a nonprofit's income goes to achieving its mission, not to infrastructure or paid staff. Even for those charities that have paid staff, volunteers help expand the organization's abilities.

Why Volunteers Matter

Besides doing vital work for the organization, volunteers become donors and enthusiastic ambassadors. These are the reasons volunteers matter.

All charitable nonprofits know that their volunteers are some of their staunchest supporters. They not only give their time and energy, but they are usually great donors as well. Volunteers are "major" donors, whether measured by their annual cash contributions or by the worth of their time, or both.

Volunteers Donate

Fidelity Charitable found that most volunteers are donors, and donors are most often volunteers. The two roles are tightly coupled. In one survey, 70% of donors volunteered the prior year, with some giving 50 hours or more to a charity. Furthermore, 49% volunteered for three or more charities. That survey also found that half of the volunteers say they give because they volunteer.

Volunteers Save Money

According to Independent Sector, the estimated value of volunteer time for 2020 was $27.20 per hour. If charities had to pay for that work, many would likely not be able to stay afloat. Volunteers are a vital workforce for nonprofits.

Just as donors deserve recognition for their generosity, volunteers do as well. And it's not the cost of the recognition that matters. It's the genuineness of those gestures that count the most.

So how can you express genuine appreciation to your volunteers? Remember, recognition should be frequent and appropriate for the amount of donated time, the volunteer's age, longevity with your organization, and his or her unique personality.

Match Appreciation to Volunteer Motivations

Most volunteers don't want to be lavished with praise. Their reward is in the giving of their time and sharing of their talents. Nevertheless, understanding what motivates volunteers to give their time and energy can help determine the most useful types of appreciation.

VolunteerPro, using social science research, suggests that volunteers are motivated because they wish to accomplish these goals:

  •   To enhance the ego
  •   To gain knowledge, skills, abilities
  •   To develop and strengthen social ties
  •   To improve career prospects
  •   To express altruism
  • To protect oneself from the stresses of life

Organizations can even use a questionnaire based on these motivations to guide them to appropriate and meaningful ways to thank their volunteers.

Volunteers often have a mixture of motives, so it's wise to assemble a range of appreciative gestures that cut across the motivational framework above.

How to Show Appreciation

Here are some suggestions for showing appreciation to your volunteers that speak to a variety of motivations:

Recognize Volunteers in a Public Way

Volunteer work may well boost a person's ego and reassure them that they are a generous person with ethical values. Help that satisfaction along with publicity. Set up a bulletin board to feature volunteers and their work. Add photos and testimonials from people helped. Include stories about volunteers in publications, online, and in social media.

Recognize Volunteers Who Have a Gift for Persuasion

Some volunteers crave influence, so invite them to help train other volunteers, or give a presentation about their work to the board, or the staff. Invite them to a conference or ask them to help draft an essential publication or document.

Recognize Volunteers' Need for Taking Charge

For volunteers who crave more responsibility, give it to them. Ask them to be a group leader, to work with more challenging clients, or ask them to organize an event. Also,invite seasoned volunteers to serve on the board of directors or on a board committee.

Feed Your Volunteers' Curiosity

Some volunteers crave knowledge. Provide more learning opportunities through training by your best experts. Help these volunteers understand the context of what they do and why it is crucial. Assign a mentor that can foster more learning. Provide an online community, webinars, or even help volunteers earn college or Continuing Education Credits (CEUs). Some volunteers give their service to attain job skills as well. One study found that volunteering leads to 27% more likelihood of employment. Be generous with helping such volunteers. They could become future donors.

Satisfy Volunteers' Social Needs

Many volunteers seek social contact. So make sure that volunteers can meet each other in informal ways as well as during planned volunteer events. You could organize a monthly get together with food and a bit of entertainment. Your more social volunteers will even enjoy setting up such events and organizing them. Incorporate appreciation into these events by reading aloud thank you notes from clients. Invite spouses and thank them for supporting the volunteer's work.

Send Thank-You Notes Often

Volunteers will appreciate the time you take to write a handwritten thank-you note. Notes can be any length as long as they are sincere. But do try to mention specific examples of the volunteer's work that you especially loved. Set up a system and write these notes frequently.

Thank you notes should specifically acknowledge what the volunteer did that went beyond the call of duty. Explain how that action helped the organization reach its goals. Keep the note personal. Say what the volunteer's effort meant to you.

Seek Feedback From Volunteers

Show how much you value your volunteers by asking them for their opinions. Ask how things can be improved, better managed, or more efficiently done. VolunteerPro suggests surveying after a volunteer has served for 30 days and then annually for all volunteers. Also, consider exit interviews when a volunteer retires or withdraws from their volunteer work.

Send a Letter of Thanks and Recognition to the Volunteer's Employer

This is an excellent way to say thanks to the working volunteer, especially when some of the donated time has been during regular business hours, courtesy of the employer. It also speaks to the volunteer's integrity and her work ethic.

Do Something Sweet for the Volunteer's Family

Give them tickets to an amusement park or a sporting event. After all, when one member of the family volunteers for you, they can't be with the family. So the family is contributing as well.

Share a Gift of Love

Ask those served by your nonprofit, such as kids or students, to make personal gifts. Items like artwork, photography, poems, and a journal always please and reward treasured volunteers.

VIP Parking

It may not sound like much, but on a large campus or in an urban location, a particular parking spot can be the equivalent of a gold watch. Reserve a specific portion of your parking lot for your most dedicated volunteers or have a handy location earmarked for your volunteer of the month.

Always keep in mind what makes volunteers happy and motivated. A meaningful task and appreciation for doing it well are all it takes.