5 Free or Cheap Ways to Recognize Volunteers
Volunteers are the heart of most non-profit organizations. While volunteers give their time for a variety of reasons, from giving back to getting work experience, being thanked doesn’t often rank very high on their list of motivations.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to skip saying thank you.
Over time, a single volunteer can give the equivalent of a major gift. You wouldn’t forget to thank a $25,000 donor, would you?
While you want to make sure volunteers get the recognition they deserve, this can be tricky to pull off on a slim budget. It’s hard to compete with cocktail receptions, plaques and other benefits that larger organizations can offer their volunteer team.
So get creative with how you say thank you, and remember that volunteers want to feel valued above all. It’s the act of gratitude itself that counts.
Here are some affordable recognition ideas you can you with your volunteers.
1. Say thank you consistently
This goes without saying: thank your volunteers every time you see them. And make sure everyone shows appreciation for their work. Check in with them mid-shift, or if they work offsite, schedule a regular call to find out how they’re doing and provide any support they need. Just knowing there is supportive staff on their side can go a long way in making sure volunteers feel valued.
2. Send a handwritten card
On your way home from work today, stop off at a stationery store and buy a few boxes of blank notecards. If you know it’s the anniversary of your volunteer’s first shift, their birthday, or some other special event, write a thoughtful note to them. In Canada, National Volunteer Week takes place every April – a great time to say thank you. If you have lots of volunteers, you can print affordable custom cards on websites like Vistaprint with a generic, but thoughtful message printed inside.
3. Small tokens of appreciation
It’s nice to send your volunteers a small token of thanks every once in a while. This could be a $10 coffee shop or bookstore gift card. If you know them well, and have the time, you could pick out something personal for them. Now and again, take a volunteer or two out for lunch just to say thank you and get to know them better.
4. Give them an award
You can easily create a “Volunteer of the Month” award to highlight the work of your volunteers. Dedicate a page on your website or your newsletter to this, and make sure you’re profiling a different volunteer every month. You can also give out volunteer-specific awards at your organization’s events. In Canada, there are also awards you can nominate your volunteers for, like the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, or the Prime Minister’s Award. A full list of awards in Canada can be found here.
5. Involve them in the big picture
Volunteers are often working on the front lines, and can have unique insight into the needs of the beneficiaries you’re helping. In some cases, volunteers were beneficiaries themselves, or know someone who was. Not only should you keep your volunteers in the loop with big-picture plans, but you should involve them in developing the big picture itself. You can solicit their feedback when you’re evaluating a program, and ask them to evaluate their experience as a volunteer. Don’t forget to include them in your change management process when you’re rolling out a new program or any other big change. And you can give them a voice in your strategic planning process by soliciting their feedback and ideas about your programs and the needs of your beneficiaries.
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