Many nonprofits go above and beyond to incorporate the best donor appreciation strategies into their stewardship plans to build relationships and retain their support for the future. However, even those organizations with the best donor appreciation strategies often forget to do the same for their volunteers.
Just as your donors contribute funds to advance your mission and create a positive impact on your organization, so do volunteers contribute their time and energy. Showing appreciation for them is the foundation of an effective volunteer stewardship strategy that can help get these supporters even more involved in the long-run.
When you show your supporters that you care and steward them effectively, you’ll see benefits such as:
- Cultivating more donations. Your volunteers are twice as likely to donate to your mission than other individuals. They’re already invested in the cause and will likely gladly contribute financially in addition to their gift of time.
- Supporting volunteer retention. When you retain your volunteers over time, you can save funds that would’ve otherwise been spent on outreach for new supporters. Supporter retention has hovered around 40% for years, but increasing your retention rate can help your organization to secure more long-term volunteered and donated support.
- Increasing future investments. When you steward your volunteers, encourage them to continue volunteering in the future, and even ask them for donations, they’ll become more and more invested in your cause. This means they’ll be reliable resources for future needs (or even become a regular part of your team one day!).
When you’re designing your volunteer program, make sure your management solution will help you not only schedule activities and create a seamless process the day of, but also track your appreciation initiatives.
In this guide, we’ll be covering 20+ different appreciation ideas that you can incorporate into your own strategy. Simply by showing your volunteers you care, you can tap into the benefits listed above. Let’s get started.
Branded t-shirts are a classic volunteer appreciation idea that never goes out of style. Simply design your t-shirt with your logo and brand colors, then distribute them to your volunteers either when they come to work or by shipping directly to them. There are several ways that this appreciation idea can fit into your strategies. Consider the following:
- If you’re hosting a t-shirt fundraiser for your nonprofit, order some additional shirts that you can hand out to volunteers who contribute a certain number of hours to your campaign.
- If you’re recruiting volunteers for an event, provide matching t-shirts to all of your volunteers asking them to wear it at the event. This serves the dual purpose of showing appreciation while distinguishing your volunteers from attendees at the event itself.
- Host a volunteer appreciation event or luncheon and hand out the branded t-shirts as a token to take home after the event ends.
Plus, a well-designed t-shirt can do more than just show your appreciation. It can help bring your volunteers together to make them feel like a team, and it allows them to wear your nonprofit’s logo in public to help spread awareness about your cause and increase brand recognition.
Annual volunteer appreciation events are another classic idea to show your volunteers that you care about their contribution of time and energy for your cause. Make sure these events are exclusively designed to say “thank you” to your volunteers rather than an excuse to ask for more hours or the donation of funds. This will show you appreciate their contributions and enable them to create a stronger community of support.
Some classic in-person appreciation event ideas include lunches, dinners, bowling, or even axe throwing. Meanwhile, if you’re hosting a virtual event, you can essentially take any virtual fundraising event idea, then make it free for and exclusive to volunteers. For instance, you may start a virtual book club, offer training opportunities, host classes online, enjoy a live performance, or offer a happy hour.
Thank You Letters
A hand-written thank-you card can go a long way to show supporters that you care about their contributions. It shows that they’re worth more of your time than a generic thank-you email that you send to every supporter.
Pick a day for your staff members to get together and write these cards out to each of your supporters. If your team works in different offices or remotely, divide up the list and/or host a video conference/letter-writing party. Be sure you share the elements of a good thank-you letter with your team. These include knowing the supporter’s preferred name, the event or campaign they volunteered for, and the impact they made on the goal of that campaign.
When these cards are all written, ask your executive director or volunteer director to sign each of them before stuffing envelopes and sending them off.
After your volunteers have contributed their time to your mission, ask them for feedback about their experience. This feedback does more than show that you value your volunteers’ opinions. It also provides opportunities to improve your volunteer programs, which can create better experiences that more volunteers will want to get involved with.
The simplest way to collect this feedback is to send out a survey in an email to each of your volunteers. However, this strategy won’t garner the greatest response, nor is it the most personal method of outreach.
We recommend your organization conduct these surveys over the phone when possible. Call each of your volunteers to thank them, then ask them your survey questions and record their answers. If these questions spark a conversation, don’t cut that conversation short! Let it flow and always show that you’re listening to any and all feedback. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by what you hear.
In the last section, we mentioned the appeal of calling your supporters to ask for feedback. In addition to asking for feedback, we encourage you to call your supporters simply to say thank you. This is an effective strategy to show appreciation for donors, whose chance of contributing a second time increases by around 25% with a few phone calls according to the graph below:
If this strategy works for your donors, it’ll also work for your volunteers. Calling supporters on the phone provides a personal means of connecting with them and allows for conversations to occur.
Calling your volunteers will most likely set you apart from any of the other organizations they volunteer with. When they’re able to establish a personal connection with your organization and understand how much they’re appreciated by your staff, they’ll be more likely to return in the future.
Before you dial their number, be sure to look up relevant details about your supporters in your nonprofit’s CRM. For instance, you’ll want to address them by their preferred names and reference the exact activities that they did to contribute to your cause.
Recognition boards and walls do more than provide a volunteer appreciation idea for supporters, they also build a legacy and inspire others to contribute time in the same way.
One way to recognize your most active volunteers is by starting a recognition wall that names your most active volunteers. You can create a digital recognition wall using social media or your website, or you can create a plaque or other physical recognition board to post on the wall at your organization. Either way, recognition boards become a showcase of your strongest supporters and a way to showcase your organization’s success in cultivating volunteerism.
If you create a physical recognition board, we recommend adding a digital element to complement it so you can keep supporters in-the-know when it’s updated. For instance, you might keep a picture of the board on your website and post on social media announcing when a new name is added. Small but meaningful announcements like this keep your organization front and center in people’s minds and show that you and your volunteers are staying active.
Similar to a recognition wall, try posting photos of your volunteers (with their permission) to show your appreciation for their hard work. If you have a branded t-shirt for your volunteers at an event, encourage them to all stand together for a group picture that you can post on your website as well as social platforms.
Another way to make a more personal connection with each individual volunteer is to highlight a “volunteer of the month” using digital platforms. Post a picture of the chosen volunteer along with details about their engagement with your organization.
Be sure to collect plenty of pictures of your volunteers hard at work. They’ll come in handy for both your appreciation and your recruitment strategies.
If an image is worth a thousand words, how much is a video worth? An appreciation video is a great way to say thank you while reminding your volunteers of how much fun they had working with your organization.
During events and other volunteer opportunities, record clips of everyone hard at work. Also, be sure to collect some video interviewing your volunteers and asking how they’re enjoying their work and why. You can also collect video at your volunteer appreciation events and incorporate photos taken.
Cut these clips and photos together for a complete video that features your volunteers and says “thank you” to everyone involved in helping your organization succeed. Before publicly releasing this video, make sure you have the permission of your featured volunteers. If you end up producing and publishing videos regularly, you may want to consider adding a photo release waiver or image use clause to your volunteer sign-ups.
Small tokens make a valuable volunteer appreciation idea and can go a long way when it comes to your volunteers. While they don’t get paid for their work, very few volunteers would turn down a small gift card to a local establishment. Say thank you with a gift card for a cup of coffee, an ice cream cone, or a taco.
A $5 or $10 gift card may not cover a whole meal, but it’s the perfect amount for a small treat. If you can, try to choose a local establishment rather than a commercial chain. This will build even more community support and show that your organization supports local businesses, potentially building foundations for corporate partnerships.
Discounts and Promotions
Encourage volunteers to get even more involved with your nonprofit by providing discounts and promotions for your other opportunities. For example, you might decide to give them 50% off of purchases of branded merchandise or offer buy-one-get-one-free event registrations so they can bring a friend.
Make sure to use the data in your CRM to decide which promotions and discounts will most intrigue your volunteers. This ensures they’ll value the opportunity and be more likely to take advantage of the promotion.
Offering these opportunities enables your organization to say thank you while deepening the relationships that your volunteers have with your nonprofit. This will drive their passion for your cause, share their passion with others, and encourage them to participate in other activities in the future.
One volunteer appreciation idea that can also provide an opportunity to build community is providing books as a thank you gift. Then, you can create a book club to encourage your volunteers to get together and read the material.
Offer a book that’s relevant to your nonprofit’s mission. This allows your volunteers to learn more about the mission for which they are working.
Send for Coffee
If your volunteers work in the mornings, there’s nothing like a cup of coffee to show appreciation while ensuring they’re on their toes. You may decide to send out for coffee and breakfast (like bagels or muffins) if you’re working in an office or at an event site. Or, for a more personalized experience, go around and take your volunteers’ orders
If you’re working virtually, there are still options to send for a delicious morning treat for your volunteers! Simply provide online credit to order what they want from a specific location in your community (preferably one that delivers). You can even offer a morning “breakfast call” where everyone hops on a virtual conferencing platform to say “good morning” before starting the day.
When you send for coffee, try to support your local businesses. Any local coffee shops or bagel joints would be happy to exchange business, allowing you each to show one another support.
Provide Community Opportunities
Gathering your volunteers together enables them to establish friendships and connections with one another, bonding over their shared passion for your cause.
Especially in a world where people are aching for human interaction, offering community opportunities is a perfect way to show appreciation while fulfilling this need.
Try offering virtual community opportunities like a virtual happy hour, discussion boards and learning opportunities, and other online gatherings. If you’re working with in-person volunteers, you may try to get everyone outside for a picnic or for another event. Ask everyone to wear their branded t-shirts on these occasions so that you can take a picture for your website!
Badges and Pins
Little trinkets can go a long way in showing your appreciation for your volunteers. Try offering badges and pins to say “thanks” to your supporters. Make sure these trinkets are branded to your organization with your specific logo and colors.
You can also use these badges as a gamification opportunity among your supporters. Offer them among other prizes (like t-shirts and gift cards) for accomplishing different tasks. For instance, you may have tiered prizes for working certain numbers of hours or accomplishing different work opportunities at the organization.
Badges and pins go a long way without breaking the bank. Your organization can order a bulk batch of them for relatively low upfront costs.
Send a survey to your volunteers asking if they’re looking to develop specific skills as they volunteer for your organization. If they’re trying to accomplish something for their own personal or professional lives, give them tasks at the organization that will help them practice these skills.
This not only helps your organization accomplish things that need to be done, but also provides more motivation for your volunteers to work hard and do things to the best of their abilities. Plus, providing training opportunities provides volunteers with a way to showcase their talents. For example, if one of your volunteers is a graphic designer, you might ask them to show other volunteers how to make simple edits to stock images.
While this may not be equivalent to saying “thank you” to your supporters, it does show them that you care about them. When you show that you want to help them accomplish their goals and care about their interests, it helps steward them for future engagement as well.
Holidays are the perfect opportunity to celebrate with your volunteers. Show that you care by sending out Happy New Years cards, hosting a Friendsgiving event, or otherwise celebrating the holidays with your supporters.
Be careful not to host these events and opportunities on the holiday itself. People will likely want to spend the holidays with their families and loved ones. However, celebrating a little bit before the day itself gets people excited showing your appreciation for their involvement.
When you celebrate these holidays, be sure to specifically say “thank you” during the celebration. For instance, on a Valentine’s Day card, you might write, “Roses are red. Violets are blue. Here at X organization, we appreciate YOU!”
Provide Child Care
If you’re providing in-person volunteer opportunities, make sure it’s as easy as possible for supporters to come and make a difference at your organization. Providing child care is one impactful way to make your opportunities accessible for everyone.
If you’re hosting an event, ask one or two volunteers to watch the children during the event itself. You never know, some of them may have or want to develop their skills working with kids!
Another opportunity is to offer child care to give your volunteers a day off. This is an especially good volunteer appreciation idea if you work at a school. Ask some of your staff members if they’d be willing to watch children to give parents a night out in appreciation for their hard work at your organization.
Before you get started with this idea, be sure to ask all parents and volunteers to sign a waiver. You may also check with your state and local regulations (and your legal team) to make sure you’re covered in the off-chance something were to happen.
Share Nonprofit Accomplishments
Your volunteers work with your nonprofit to make a difference in your mission. They want to make an impact for a cause that they care about. By sharing that impact with them, you can show them just how much their hard work means to the constituents.
For example, if your nonprofit provides school supplies to kids in need, you might ask volunteers to help pack backpacks with a kit of necessities. Then, after the campaign has ended, you could send a letter to them saying, “You helped 250 children receive the supplies they need for a successful school year.”
Include these impact statements in your regular appreciation letters to your supporters. The letter should give your volunteers the warm, fuzzy feeling that shows that they’ve made a difference in someone’s life.
Share Opportunities to Increase Impact
As we mentioned, your volunteers work with your organization because they want to help make a difference in the lives of others. One way to help them accomplish this is by informing your volunteers about how they can make an even greater impact for your organization.
This doesn’t mean hounding your volunteers to make donations. Instead, tell them about other opportunities that they can take advantage of in order to increase their own impact. For example, you might tell them about virtual volunteer opportunities that make it possible for them to volunteer any time or from anywhere, making it easier to coordinate volunteer time around a busy schedule.
The most common way that volunteers can increase their impact with your organization is by checking to see if they’re eligible for volunteer grants. Volunteer grants are donations made by companies in support of their employee’s time volunteering. For example, an employer might offer to make a $50 donation to eligible nonprofits at which their employee volunteers 25 hours. Double the Donation’s volunteer grant guide can provide more information about how to encourage your volunteers to check for their eligibility.
Wine and Cider
Who doesn’t love a glass of wine or sparkling cider? Offering a bottle of this relaxing beverage is a perfect way to say thank you. Ask your volunteers (who are 21 or older, of course) if they’d prefer red, white, or sparkling cider. Then, send them a bottle of their chosen beverage.
If you want to add an extra level of personalization, design a custom label for each bottle you send. This label should include your organization’s logo, colors, and a sincere “thank you” for your volunteers.
Volunteer appreciation goes a long way in helping your organization retain your supporters and accomplish your mission. It’s the first step to an effective stewardship program for these important individuals.
Create your own stewardship program that incorporates plenty of communication and volunteer appreciation ideas in order to tap into the benefits that volunteer retention can bring for your organization.
If you’re looking for additional ways to build out your volunteer stewardship program, check out these additional resources:
- Find The Right Nonprofit CRM for Your Nonprofit. Save information from your volunteer activities in your nonprofit CRM. Donor profiles will contain information to help you decide which appreciation strategies are best suited for your audience.
- Volunteer Management: The Essential Guide to Engaging (and Keeping) Volunteers. Effective volunteer management strategies will keep your supporters coming back to help time and time again. Learn more with this comprehensive guide.
- Volunteer Grants: The Ultimate Dollars for Doers Guide. Did you know you can get corporate dollars from companies your volunteers work for? Check out this guide to find out how your organization can make the most of this fantastic opportunity.