Volunteers are the lifeblood of non-profit organizations. The Michigan 4-H Recognition Handbook states that recognition provides individuals with an opportunity for self-assessment, reflection, and rewards to motivate and increase self-esteem in all settings. We all need to be thanked for what we do in service to others, and this applies doubly to those who give their assistance and expertise without the benefit of financial compensation. When volunteers feel appreciated and recognized, they are more likely to feel connected to the program and continue their involvement. According to the Independent Sector, the estimated value of volunteer time for 2018 was $25.43 per hour. This could easily add up to a $25,000 gift in a year or over a lifetime!
Rather than waiting until an annual event or when a volunteer leaves the organization, it is important to demonstrate thanks for volunteers along the way; if I were only thanked once a year (or less!) for all the things I do I would consider going on strike – at least on the home front. And since none of my kids who are still at home can cook yet, that would be somewhat disastrous and possibly lead to the first case of Rickets in the state of Oregon.
It may come as a surprise to some, but one of the common refrains from people I know who are prolific volunteers has to do with volunteer luncheons. The sentiment behind them is noble, but for busy professionals who also happen to donate their time in their community, the consensus is clear: it’s just one more thing to put on the to-do list. Research backs this up, according to the findings of one Canadian volunteer recognition study. PlanHero is on the hunt for sincere, creative ways to thank the awesome people who volunteer and remain willing to continue saying yes. We’ve found some great ideas, and as always, if you have one that’s worked for you and your organization, please share it in the comments.
- Consider thanking the volunteer’s family. After all, they are without the person who has proven so invaluable to your organization while they volunteer. Dinner out, tickets to a local event, or even a gift basket of goodies tailored to the family are a meaningful way to acknowledge your appreciation.
- Let them know – in writing – how important they are to your organization’s bigger picture. NPOs are often bound by tight budgets, but it doesn’t have to be expensive. Formal recognition of a volunteer’s value to the mission is a great way to underscore how important they are. This could be a letter, a mention in the newsletter, or a shout-out on social media platforms. According to the aforementioned study, over 80% of volunteers would like to be recognized simply by hearing the impact of their contributions.
- Make it personal. A cookie-cutter approach to thanking volunteers won’t yield the same satisfaction as a thank you that is backed by taking the time to understand the interests and motivations of the volunteers in your organization. After all, you thought enough of them to have them join the team; thanking them appropriately only makes sense. Keep a form on file with each volunteer’s interests to make it easier to know whether to choose a potted plant or a book on Edwardian history as a gift.
- Volunteer Hub has a list of 25 terrific ways to thank volunteers that is worth the read. One great way to demonstrate gratitude is to provide letters of professional reference to assist in their career goals.
- Give the gift of time. Surprise your volunteer with a parents’ night out with childcare, an afternoon at the local spa, or a gift certificate for something they can do in their free time.
- Offer them a leadership role within the organization. Volunteers are passionate about what they do, and recognizing the expertise some volunteers have by giving them a say in the direction of the organization is a great way to underscore the mutual commitment between staff and volunteers for the organization.
- Create unique categories of outstanding volunteers. Being thanked feels good; being thanked for something for which you are the sole expert can feel fantastic. Whether it’s a category for the best breakroom jokes, the computer whisperer, or the longest time in service, highlighting each volunteer’s particular strength is a powerful and personal way to give genuine thanks.
- Make them a VIP. Parking spot, that is. Allocate one or more spaces in your parking lot for VIP Volunteer Parking Only.
- Give new volunteers a small welcome gift. This sets the tone that your organization truly appreciates those who give the gift of their personal time.
When we consider that volunteers are 66% more likely to donate financially to organizations they support, offering up regular, sincere thanks seems even more logical. From PlanHero, we thank all of you who selflessly donate your time to making your community a better place!