Staffing limitations and transitions are noted as the greatest challenges for 18% of nonprofits. It’s expensive to hire new staff members, especially organizational leaders. Plus, it takes time, energy, and funding to get these individuals up and running.
Luckily, there are options that your organization can take advantage of in order to reduce the amount of manpower you need to complete various tasks at your organization. The best way to take the pressure off of your staff members is to build out a well-designed volunteer program.
A well-designed volunteer program isn’t just one that recruits the best people. It’s one that keeps these generous individuals involved with the mission for the long-term and helps develop relationships with your volunteers. This can help your organization save funds on volunteer acquisition and ensure that your volunteers are also enjoying their commitment to your cause.
To develop relationships, you’ll need to incorporate stewardship into your volunteer program, which means you need to go out of your way to show appreciation for the work your volunteers put toward your mission. That’s what we’ll cover in this article: volunteer appreciation gifts and ideas that you can include in your own stewardship strategy.
Effective appreciation ideas do more than just say “thank you” to your volunteers. They also encourage supporters to come back, build dedication to your organization, and create a team environment that drives more long-term engagement. Let’s dive in to see some of these effective ideas.
Our Favorite Volunteer Appreciation Gift
One of the classic ways to say “thank you” to your volunteers is to give them a physical token in return for their hours of work. Volunteer appreciation gifts come in all shapes and sizes. Our favorite appreciation idea is a type of gift—custom t-shirts.
Nothing says, “thank you” like a unique article of clothing that supporters can show off to their friends and family. Show your appreciation by designing and distributing a t-shirt with your custom design on it.
Try creating a design that’s specifically for your volunteers. This way their gift will be truly unique to them, rather than the same as the design you use for t-shirt fundraisers.
Not only will these t-shirts allow you to say “thank you” to your supporters, but they also create a team mentality among your volunteers and develop more brand recognition in the community.
Other Volunteer Appreciation Gifts
If you’re looking for other gift ideas to show your appreciation for your volunteers, we’ve listed some of our other favorites below. Don’t forget that you’re not limited to one gift! You can offer several throughout the year or offer gifts alongside other appreciation ideas for a more impactful “thank you” to your volunteers.
Another volunteer appreciation gift that you may decide to distribute to say “thank you” is a gift card. Small gift cards valuing around $5 or $10 may not buy a full meal for your volunteers, but they can buy a couple cups of coffee, tacos, or an ice cream sundae.
As an added bonus, pick a time when your events can get together as a part of a community event to use the gift cards. For instance, you might organize an event for your volunteers to get together for a cup of coffee before an event begins or for ice cream after it ends.
If you know of a book that relates to your mission, community, or history, try giving it to your volunteers as a gift. They’ll have the opportunity to learn more about your mission and you get the chance to say “thank you.” It’s a win-win!
As another community-building opportunity, you can organize a virtual book club for your volunteers. This strengthens the connections between your volunteers and with your organization, helping build lasting relationships.
While small volunteer appreciation gifts can mean a lot, many small gifts turn into one big “thank you” for your volunteers when you put them together in a goodie bag. Try branding small objects like pins, badges, t-shirts, face masks, and other items to put together in small goodie bags for your volunteers to take home.
If your nonprofit has strong corporate partnerships and sponsors for events and other activities, you might ask if they’ll be willing to contribute items to the goodie bag as well. This can be an additional incentive for businesses to partner with your organization and receive more free marketing.
If your volunteers work in the mornings, one great way to show that you appreciate their hard work is to offer them coffee and breakfast to start their day off right. This strategy may become expensive if you tried to do it every day for volunteers working in-office. However, it’s a very kind gesture for a monthly sign of appreciation or before volunteers start working an event.
Not only does coffee and breakfast show that you care about your supporters, but it also helps them work at their greatest potential! Many of us need a little caffeine kick on early mornings. Offering coffee provides the energy your volunteers might need!
Face masks are required in more and more public spaces now. They’ve even started becoming something of a fashion statement! People are looking for cute masks that they can sport while in the grocery store, doing their shopping, and otherwise going into public spaces.
Offer branded face masks as a volunteer appreciation idea to show your supporters that you care. Plus, this idea encourages safe and healthy behavior among your supporters. As a bonus, look for customizable face masks that you can brand with the same logo and design as those that you use on your volunteer t-shirts!
Events for Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
Oftentimes nonprofits ask their volunteers to work at fundraising events to help the organization raise funds and build relationships in the community. Why not turn the tables? Let your volunteers be the ones wined and dined at an event. The best part about this strategy is that you likely already have the software you need to make the event happen. You can use the same registration, marketing, and scheduling solutions that you do for your regular events to plan it all out.
Luncheon or Dinner
Offer a lunch or dinner event as your next volunteer appreciation idea. After all, who doesn’t love free food? This type of event also provides the setting and opportunity for your volunteers to network with one another and become more acquainted, creating an even more tight-knit community.
Be sure this event is all about your volunteers. Create short presentations that discuss the impact they’ve had on your mission and thank them profusely for all of their hard work. If you were to ask them for funds or gifts, it takes away from the appreciation, so be sure to keep the focus on them.
Another way to show your appreciation for your volunteers is to set up a “volunteer-only” raffle. Don’t make them purchase tickets for it, but rather provide them with free entry. This gets them excited about the idea of winning a prize in return for their hard work. When you select a winner, be sure to recognize that person on social media platforms, your website, and other digital platforms.
As for the raffle prize, you don’t have to break the bank to provide a worthwhile prize to your winning hard-working volunteer. Write sponsorship letters asking some business contacts if they’d be willing to donate a prize (or provide you with a discount) for the cause.
One of the many benefits of hosting a volunteer appreciation event is that it allows your volunteers to further their engagement with your nonprofit. Deeper levels of engagement lead to more motivated volunteers and a more effective stewardship program. And what’s more engaging than bowling?
Invite your volunteers out to a bowling alley for pizza, soda, and a night of knocking down pins. If you’re not able to host this type of in-person event for your volunteers, look for virtual alternatives. Plenty of online bowling games (and other fun, virtual-friendly group activities) exist in the digital sphere that allow for a socially-distant event opportunity.
Similar to a bowling night, a movie outing is an amazing opportunity for your volunteers to gather for an enjoyable evening. You might choose to host this at a local theater or as a part of a lock-in event at your organization (an effective idea for teenage volunteers).
Plus, movie outings are a volunteer appreciation idea that can be easily adjusted to be more socially distant. Try hanging a screen and renting a projector so that you can sit outside on the lawn or host a drive-in movie opportunity for your volunteers. Or, if you’re looking for a digital alternative, try hosting a virtual watch party so that supporters can watch from the comfort of their own couch.
There are plenty of holidays throughout the year that you and your volunteers can celebrate together. While you can celebrate large-scale holidays with them such as St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or Thanksgiving, you can also look for other unique holidays to celebrate like National Spaghetti Day, National Yo-Yo Day, and Flag Day.
Create events that your volunteers can attend on (or near) exciting holidays throughout the year. These holidays can be great opportunities for volunteer appreciation and to collect donations, especially if you invite your donors to attend as well. If you do this, be sure your volunteers have free access while donors pay a small fee to enter. This keeps your attention on your volunteers.
Virtual Volunteer Appreciation Ideas
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever to find virtual alternatives for your various nonprofit activities. As you’re planning these alternatives, don’t forget about your stewardship program! You may already offer virtual volunteering opportunities, so go ahead and offer virtual volunteer appreciation ideas as well.
Virtual Happy Hour
Your volunteers are happy to be working with you, so what’s more appropriate than a virtual happy hour? Gather your supporters together virtually using a video conferencing tool so that everyone has the chance to enjoy their favorite beverage together. Be sure to prepare discussion points ahead of time to keep the conversation rolling throughout the event.
As an additional idea, send kits to your volunteers with the ingredients for their favorite beverages. You’ll need to ask them to explain their preferences ahead of time and you’ll need a way to ensure they’re of age. If you take advantage of this idea, remember to offer a non-alcoholic beverage as well!
Social Media Shout Outs
Social media provides a unique platform where your organization can give shout outs to your volunteers. Try incorporating a “volunteer of the week” aspect to your social media strategy where you post a picture of (with permission) and provide a specialized “thank you” for one supporter every week.
Be sure to also consider your volunteers who are already on and engaging with your social media platforms! Facebook fundraisers are the perfect example. Volunteers set up and conduct fundraisers online through their own social accounts using Facebook, then raise money on your behalf. Be sure to also thank these volunteers and to give them a shout as well!
Put together a video to say “thank you” to your volunteers as your next appreciation idea. A video is a great way to get creative with your team! Show clips of your volunteers hard at work and of the entire team having fun. You might even end the video with a group shot of everyone in their branded t-shirts! Don’t forget to set the tone of the video with upbeat music as well.
Once you’ve put together this masterful creation, spread the word about the video by posting it on your website, sharing it on social media, and sending it out over email. Get this video in front of as many people as possible to show how much you care about your volunteers. Plus, an effective appreciation video can act as a marketing tool for your non-volunteers, enticing them to sign up.
Ask your volunteers if they’re looking to improve certain personal or professional skills. Then, find a job they can fulfill at the organization that helps them learn about that skill. For example, if Susie wants to learn more about fundraising, you might ask her to support fundraisers during your next peer-to-peer campaign. Another way to provide training for your volunteers in accordance with their interests is to set up microlearning courses. These aren’t full-fledged classes that take months and months to complete, but are instead digestible online opportunities that can help train both volunteers and staff to help them get a taste for new skills.
Ask for Feedback
Volunteers have a very specific experience at your organization. What will really keep them coming back and volunteering more is making this experience as positive as possible. One way you can show that you care about improving their experience is to ask for feedback from volunteers.
Sending surveys to learn about opportunities for improvement in your volunteer program demonstrates your appreciation of their ideas. Plus, when you implement some of their ideas to further improve your volunteer experience, you’ll be able to retain more volunteers as well as acquire new ones. This can both boost your volunteer program and your fundraising efforts as volunteers are twice as likely to donate than non-volunteers.
Effective volunteer appreciation ideas do more than just say “thank you.” While showing appreciation is (of course) the primary purpose of your appreciation programs, it’s also an important part of your stewardship strategy.
When you’re able to steward and retain your volunteers for the long-run, everyone benefits. Your volunteers gain an excellent experience and your nonprofit gets important work done. Plus, your volunteers increase their value for your organization the longer they stay involved. They get more done, learn about your mission, and might even be eligible for volunteer grants to add financial support to their contributions of time.
Build out your volunteer appreciation strategy with a few of the ideas throughout this article. You don’t need to implement them all, but by showing your appreciation in more than one way, you’ll boost your stewardship program and see all of the benefits that appreciation can bring.