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Creative Volunteer Appreciation and Recognition Ideas

Mychelle Blake
Family volunteering together and holding Thank you sign

When you run a nonprofit organization, it's important to take steps to keep the volunteers you have and encourage others to share their talents with your agency. Letting your volunteers know you appreciate them and their efforts is vital to any volunteer retention program. Keep in mind it's the thought that counts, despite whatever budget you're working with.

Formal Volunteer Recognition Ideas

There are many "tried and true" ways of recognizing volunteers for their service. These usually involve verbal announcements and physical displays alerting everyone on the team about the volunteer's accomplishments

Give Service Hour Awards

In order to make sure that you recognize the accomplishments of your most consistent volunteers, establish milestones for volunteer service hours and recognize those who contribute the most time to your agency. Keep track of the hours volunteers share with your organization and respond with a formal acknowledgement each time a new milestone is reached.

  • You can do so with a tangible award, such as a certificate, plaque, or novelty item, and mention each new accomplishment in the organization's newsletter or other internal and external communication materials.
  • Another award option could be something of value related to the volunteer's service. For example, volunteers who transport dogs for an animal shelter would be delighted to receive a gift certificate for a car wash and detailing. Gift cards to local restaurants and entertainment venues are also great rewards. You might even get them donated by local businesses.
  • Create a "volunteer of the month" parking space at your facility and make sure there's a prominent sign letting people know what the space is for.
  • Provide volunteers with items with your charity's name and logo such as t-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and other promotional items.

Recognize Outstanding Contributions

In addition to recognizing volunteers for the hours that they work, you can also implement a formal rewards program for outstanding contributions. Think about the types of accomplishments you'd like to reinforce and implement recognition programs to show your appreciation. For example, let volunteers know that new ideas are appreciated, as well as service on committees, identification of new funding sources, and other contributions.

Printable Certificates of Appreciation

Recognize your volunteers with these printable certificates of appreciation. Present your volunteers with a signed certificate in a nice frame as a way to say you really appreciate them. To download, click on the image. If you need help, see this helpful guide

Brown free certificate of appreciation
Free certificate appreciation
Certificate of appreciation

Create a Visual Display

Showcase the work of your volunteers for all to see every day with a visual display such as a Wall of Fame at your office or program space. Give each volunteer a star that includes their picture, length of service, and strengths as a volunteer. If you have a bigger budget to work with, consider creating a plaque for each volunteer, so the display looks more formal and permanent.

Spotlight a Volunteer

Consider setting aside a column in your newsletter, on your website or your social media accounts to spotlight an outstanding volunteer. Set up a formal nomination procedure for determining who is featured in the column at any given time and update it on a regular basis. Depending on the size of your organization, you may want to feature a different volunteer every week, month, or quarter.

Hold Volunteer Appreciation Events

Many organizations hold a quarterly or annual luncheon or reception that all active volunteers are invited to attend. Awards and recognition for outstanding achievements and service hours are often presented at these types of events. No matter your budget, you can host an appreciation event or seek sponsors to help foot the bill.

High Budget Volunteer Appreciation Party Ideas

Higher budget parties are more difficult to have for charities, but it's possible for organizations with larger budgets. You can also try to find local businesses willing to sponsor the funds for a higher budget event, which is a win-win situation where the charity gets the money they need to make their volunteers happy and the business gets their "face" in front of volunteers. Some ideas for a higher budget event could be:

  • An evening dinner where each volunteer is encouraged to invite family members at a restaurant or event center.
  • Another fun idea which could be done with any budget is a surprise party, where you invite volunteers to attend an important meeting and reveal it's an appreciation party when everyone shows up.
  • Some nonprofits have "red carpet" events where they make the volunteers feel like actors and actresses attending the Oscars.

Moderate Budget Volunteer Appreciation Party Ideas

If you have some funds for a party but not enough for a huge event, you can arrange for a fun party on a reasonable budget.

  • Organize a "happy hour" event with limited drinks and appetizers after work, where the charity covers the cost of the food and the event space.
  • Have a family picnic, pizza party or BBQ grilling event which can be fully catered by the charity, or see if you can get some of the food donated from a local business.
  • Arrange for an ice cream social which can be held at your facility or a local ice cream parlor.
  • Talk to local theatres or sports stadiums to see if they would be willing to provide discounted or even free tickets to an event. Arrange for the volunteers to go together and enjoy a fun night out or an afternoon game and social time.
  • For a fun social night out, invite volunteers to a karaoke club, or a club that has fun activities like axe throwing. You can speak to the club about arranging for a discount and covering the cost for volunteers to attend, and some clubs will be happy to do so in exchange for some positive social media and press about the event.

Low or No Budget Volunteer Appreciation Party Ideas

Just because you want to hold an event and have little or no funds, it doesn't mean you're out of ideas!

  • Recognize volunteers at a small in-house ceremony or a mixer with light refreshments such as cookies and juice.
  • Organize a potluck event where volunteers can bring a food item, along with their families. The charity can provide the space or find a free location such as park picnic area or a donated party room from a local restaurant.
  • Have a movie night out together with a film related to their service. For example, a charity that serves veterans might enjoy the latest film with a historical theme. You may be able to get the tickets donated, or at a discount.
  • Create an "event" on Facebook or another social media platform where employees can post comments and appreciative quotes throughout the day.

Holiday Party

Many nonprofits hold end-of-year holiday parties for the staff and volunteers as a way of showing thanks. The budget for these can vary depending on your organization, and how elaborate your event is. These parties are also often a great time to do volunteer awards as you close out the year and highlight accomplishments and wins. It's also a good time for organization leadership to talk about the challenges for the coming year and involve volunteers as part of the team with staff, acknowledging their importance to the success of the organization in the future. You can also actively involve volunteers in the planning of the event and invite them to speak to the group about what moved them that year and what they're looking forward to.

Joyful team having fun while opening champagne during Christmas celebration

Make It Personal

Big events, certificates and group announcements are all wonderful ways to show volunteer appreciation. Sometimes people really prefer the personal touch, with a heartfelt show of thanks made from an organization leader, such as a board member or executive director.

Banquet event. Table with the wineglasses, snacks and cocktails. People celebrating in the background

Write Thank You Notes

One of the most simple and inexpensive, yet often overlooked, ways to express appreciation to volunteers is with personal thank you notes. Handwritten thank you notes can be a meaningful way to let volunteers know their efforts are truly appreciated. Make sure the notes are personalized and express sincere thanks for time contributed and a job well done. If you send notes that seem like form letters, your efforts can actually backfire.

Create a Scrapbook Thank You Page

Consider making a thank you scrapbook page. This should have words of thank you on it, plus include quotes, photos from the event(s), and stickers or embellishments related to your nonprofit or charity. The page can be framed if your volunteer does not keep a scrapbook.

Woman considering arrangements, labels. Scrapbooking

Make a Phone Call

Another great way to let individual volunteers know how much you appreciate them is to pick up the phone and call. In this day and age, people are so focused on texting and emails that a friendly phone call can really brighten a volunteer's day. It also allows you a chance to have a one-on-one talk with them to find out what they appreciate about the organizations and ideas they might have for improvement.

Send an Email

Sending individualized emails might not seem quite as compelling as a phone call or a written note, but many people do prefer email as a means of communication. The key is to know your volunteers and decide which method would work best for them. For example, a very introverted person might prefer email over a call. Or in the case where you want to thank a group of people and include them all in a "mutual appreciate thread," sending out an email to everyone that they can all apply to will work really well.

Record a Video

If your board and staff are comfortable being filmed, you can record a short video and send that to a volunteer or volunteers via email. You could even post it on your social media channels so everyone can see the volunteers in question being thanked for their service. Some organizations have even done videos thanking all the volunteers together and posted these on social media.

Have a One-to-One

An even more personal way to appreciate a volunteer is to meet with them one on one. Offer to take them out for a cup of coffee, or a light breakfast or lunch. A volunteer will often relish the chance to talk about the organization with a board or staff member. They'll get a chance to offer their thoughts on their volunteer service and feel recognized for the value they bring.

Take Over Their Duties for a Day

Employees or directors can take turns trading places with volunteers for one whole day. Choose a volunteer and give them the opportunity to enjoy a day off or experience your organization's services as a patron. You'll gain a better understanding of how volunteers feel and what they do while volunteers get the chance to receive services or take a break.

Demonstrate Volunteer Importance

Another way to let volunteers know how much you mean to them is to dive really deep and let them know their true importance to an organization with hard data.

Create Volunteer Value Reports

Sometimes volunteers can feel like their work isn't important because they're not seeing the bigger picture or results. For example, a volunteer helping out answering the phones may not really see how impactful what he or she does is to the families a shelter serves. People want to know that what they are doing is making a difference. A wonderful way to show volunteers just how important they are is to creating reports about the organization and its progress in terms of money raised, number of clients helped, and even provide case studies about how the organization has been meaningful to people's lives. These reports could go to volunteers via an email, a printed newsletter, or on a private volunteer social media channel.

Facilitate Volunteer Communication

Often when volunteers work in an organization, they may not feel like they have a way to express their thoughts about how to improve things. Or they might want to give kudos to a staff or other volunteer. Allowing volunteers an officially recognized forum, such as a private Facebook group, is actually an excellent way to show volunteers you appreciate them because you're showing you value their thoughts, opinions and their need for a regular vehicle for communication. It also has the added benefit of helping volunteers who might not normally interface with each other to build camaraderie online.

Young woman organizes community cleanup volunteers

Inclusion in Annual Report

If your organization prepares an annual report, make sure you include a section that lists the names of all of your volunteers, as well as any special awards or recognition. In addition to letting these volunteers know they're important, it also demonstrates to funders and public officials that your charity is valued by the community.

Messages From Your Clients

This may not be an option depending on what type of population your charity serves, but one of the most powerful ways to thank volunteers is to have the appreciation come from someone your charity has served. A handwritten card, email, phone call or even in-person meeting from someone who used your services and improved their life because of it can be a deeply emotional experience for a volunteer, especially ones who may not see the final impact of their work.

Make Use of Social Media

Social media is an excellent way to demonstrate appreciation to volunteers as it costs nothing other than time. There are many ways you can use social media to show your volunteers some love:

  • Have a volunteer of the month feature on your social media accounts and feature a photo and story about the volunteer, or a video if they're willing. Encourage other staff and volunteers to post supportive comments. This can work well on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
  • Empower staff to post about volunteers often on social media, noting both large and small achievements. Even recognition of "every day" tasks like answering the phones with a photo and post on Facebook can mean a lot to a volunteer.
  • If a volunteer has a LinkedIn professional profile, write a recommendation for them in recognition of their volunteer service. Likewise if they have a professional page for a company on Facebook and they assist the charity in a professional capacity for free, write a review there. These steps can help the volunteer with getting future business, as well as let them know you're thankful for their help.

Why Volunteer Appreciation Matters

If your charitable organization depends on the continued support of volunteers to meet its mission, you are not alone. Most nonprofits rely heavily on the efforts of individuals who donate their time. It's important to keep in mind volunteers are under no obligation to continue sharing their time and talents. They continue to participate because they want to do so, and because they know their efforts are appreciated. That's why being proactive in seeking out and implementing volunteer appreciation ideas is so important.

Creative Volunteer Appreciation and Recognition Ideas