Recognizing and thanking volunteers

Apr 22, 2013

They’re the ones who show up when you need them, with a smile on their face, ready to jump in and do whatever it takes.  Whether it’s coaching, mowing the field, serving lunch, folding newsletters, making sure the kids get on the right bus—whatever it is, many of our organizations are able to serve a great number of kids, provide critical services, and create wonderful experiences because of dedicated volunteers.

In the past when I’ve managed volunteers, I would often jokingly ask them to come back with offers of tripling their salary.  Three times zero is still zero.  And yet, they would keep coming back and giving of their time and their talents because they believed in the mission.  They saw themselves being able to make an impact for the people we served.

Ultimately, what we all want is to know that it mattered that we were on this planet.  That our experience, skills, and unique gifts allowed us to make a difference that only we could have made.

It is National Volunteer Week.  While we should all do our best to recognize volunteers throughout the years, it’s a great reminder to make sure our best supporters know they are appreciated!  Let them know what was made possible through their efforts and be specific about their contributions.  For example, let them know that their tutoring helped a struggling student pass her math test, or that the playground they helped build is now enjoyed daily by kids throughout the neighborhood.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Have the people you serve write/make thank you notes or cards
  • Share success stories from your clients
  • Buy them lunch or dinner
  • Outfit them with your organization’s gear so they can wear it with pride just like the staff
  • Include them in staff meetings when possible, so that they know they’re a part of the team
  • Have the kids (or whomever you serve) present volunteers with awards (Be specific!  For example, you can present awards for “Friendliest Volunteer” or “Most Tech-Savvy Volunteer”)
  • Send them a picture of something they built being put to good use
  • If they are donating professional services (e.g. graphic design or carpentry), offer to write them a review or serve as a reference
  • Recognize long-term volunteers in a visible manner at your facility or in your offices, as you would with supporters who donate money
  • Feature volunteers in your newsletter, on your website, in your annual report

How do you recognize your volunteers?  Or, if you are/have been a volunteer, how do like to be thanked?