40 Volunteer Appreciation Ideas That Skyrocket Your Retention Rates [2019 Ultimate Guide]

You already know that your volunteers are incredibly valuable — in fact, they’re worth an average of $24.14 for every hour of their time, talent and skills they give to your organization (Independent Sector Study, 2017).

Of course, you also know your volunteers’ value goes far beyond any monetary amount. They bring a strong sense of community to your nonprofit that helps make the entire experience worthwhile, after all. So how can you make sure they understand how much you appreciate their commitment to your cause — and that they’ll want to stick around for the long haul with your team?

Make it a point to experiment with the various volunteer appreciation ideas below to see which approach resonates with your volunteers the most.

1. Drop a thank you email into volunteers’ inboxes.
This is the easiest way to consistently and regularly show your appreciation (as long as you have a management software with up-to-date records like DonorEngine, of course)! :)

2. Ring volunteers up!
Texting and email may rule everything these days… but a classic phone call still wins when it comes to acknowledging your volunteers on a 1-1 level.

3. Go old school with snail mail.
Everyone’s mailbox nowadays tends to consist of either spam (ugh) or bills (even worse). Popping up in their mail for no other ulterior motivate other than to say "thank you, we see you!” is an extremely welcome change of pace.

4. Pay them an in-person visit.
When appropriate, visiting volunteers in person speaks volumes. It shows that you see them as a person worth going out of your way for, rather than simply a set of hands.

5. Offer to write them a reference letter.
You don’t have to wait for your volunteers to ask you for this first. Be proactive in offering to write up a letter of recommendation if they ever need it. Even if they never take you up on the offer, the gesture will leave a lasting impression that you care about their individual success.

6. Share your nonprofit’s impact reports with them.
It can be hard to stay motivated toward a certain goal when you’re not kept "in the loop.” Share proof that volunteers’ efforts are tangibly impacting your cause; it will help keep them focused on the bigger picture.

7. Present volunteers with a handwritten card signed by everyone on your team. 
This works especially well if a loyal volunteer is moving away, or simply ending their time with your nonprofit after many years of service. It’s a sentimental keepsake to remind them of all the friends and experiences they’ve acquired through your organization.

8. The way to the heart is through the stomach — so feed your volunteers!
Who doesn’t appreciate free food? This could be during a formalized event, or perhaps your staff can rotate the task of occasionally picking up donuts, bagels or pizza for volunteers. 

9. Feature volunteers on your nonprofit’s social media.
It’s a fun little surprise when a notification pops up on their phone letting them know your organization’s Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts just gave them a shoutout. Bonus points if you get your staff to share, retweet, comment and like the post(s).

10. Highlight volunteers’ personal short stories on your website/blog.
Not only does this give your site a virtually endless supply of fresh blog content, it gives your volunteers an easy opportunity to share the link with their friends, family, and extended network.

11. Show off a photo gallery on your website of your volunteers in action! 
Remember to keep this regularly updated as new supporters join your cause. 

12. Run a monthly Q&A column with volunteers in your newsletter.
Is there anything your volunteers want to know about your nonprofit? Is there anything you would like to know about them? Incorporating a Q&A feature into your communications can help bridge the gap between your staff, your executive team, and your volunteers and ultimately foster a stronger sense of community.

13. Invite volunteers’ families to your appreciation events!
Your volunteers with young children or aging parents will truly appreciate the chance to spend carefree, quality time with their loved ones while your organization takes on the planning and organization of the event.

14. Surprise volunteers with tickets to see their favourite home team!
If you know your volunteers are big sports fans, this idea serves up some major brownie points on your organization’s behalf. 

15. Bring staff and volunteers together for a potluck.
Food brings people together from all backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and cultures. Ask everyone in your organization to cook up something delicious to share with one another to build a sense of family and community within your nonprofit.

16. Throw volunteers off with an incognito appreciation party.
Pretend like you’re requiring them to attend an otherwise boring volunteer meeting, and when they arrive… surprise! Watch their faces break into a goofy grin when they realize they lengths you went to to give them a fun time.

17. Send volunteers random candy-grams just to say thank you.
For many people, this small, inexpensive act of gratitude goes a long way. It could end up being the highlight of their day, and they’re likely to recount the experience to their loved ones and social media network.

18. Negotiate for free or discounted tickets to a local show.
Is there a theatre production in town? Get in contact with the theatre company and ask if you can negotiate a deal on tickets as a token of appreciation for your volunteers.

19. Laughter is the best medicine — invite volunteers to a comedy night.
Similar to above, see if you can score discounted tickets to a local comedy bar. Just check beforehand that the humour is family-friendly should you decide to open the event up to volunteers’ loved ones!

20. Listen to their thoughts and personal experiences over a cup of coffee.
Most of us look forward to our cup (or two, or three…) of java each day. Consider treating your volunteers to a latte or tea from their favourite coffee shop. This gives them a casual, informal opportunity to speak their mind and feel like a meaningful addition to your team.

21. Cater to volunteers’ sweet tooth with baked goods.
Of course it’s still appreciated if these treats are picked up at the local grocery store. But, if you can round up your staff to bake homemade cakes, cookies, and brownies to personally serve out to your volunteers, then this volunteer appreciation idea turns into a home run.

22. What’s more fun than a summer BBQ?!
Head to the local park and fire up the grill for some hot dogs and burgers. Don’t forget to include vegan, halal, and other special dietary restrictions while you’re at it. Knowing what food to offer is a small yet meaningful way to make volunteers feel seen and understood.

23. Give a glowing LinkedIn endorsement.
Chances are, your volunteers are on LinkedIn and would appreciate the boost your recommendation would give to their profile. It only takes a few minutes on your end but could help them land a promising career opportunity down the road.

24. Document behind-the-scenes, as-it-happens volunteer action on Facebook and Instagram Stories!
This is so fun, especially for the younger crowd. Let volunteers know they should follow your nonprofit on social if they aren’t already — and to keep an eye on your feed, because they might just make a cameo appearance!

25. Film the personal "thank you’s” of those your nonprofit helps.
This is a heartwarming way to remind your volunteers just how meaningful their impact truly is. It can also motivate them to keep pushing forward when it’s not so easy to maintain their passionate commitment to your cause.

26. Film a thank-you message from your CEO or team leader.
It always feels good to know that "the big guy” knows you exist — and of course, even better when that leader genuinely recognizes all your hard work. Be sure your team leader is specific when thanking volunteers, whether that’s for particular milestones reached or for the inspiring progress they are making.

27. Celebrate National Volunteer Week!
This weeklong recognition opportunity falls in April. You could either set up an annual National Volunteer Week tradition (like bowling or mini-golfing) for volunteers to look forward to, or keep it fresh with a new idea every year. 

28. Hand out commemorative pins to mark the volunteer’s anniversary with your organization.
You might choose to acknowledge their commitment at 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 500 hours, and so on. Bonus points if you can harness the design skills of one of your volunteers to help create the pin!

29. Host a swanky volunteer appreciation gala.
Book a venue, roll out the red carpet, pass out champagne, and make your volunteers feel like VIP guests at an exclusive Hollywood party.

30. Entertain volunteers with a magic or mentalist show.
Not only is it entertaining and family-friendly, but it can be a great bonding experience for the team as everyone share theories over how the "magic” happens.

31. Acknowledge the volunteer’s birthday.
Whether through a personalized email, handwritten note, or even a birthday gram, everyone likes to be recognized on their special day.

32. Give volunteers a good quality, custom t-shirt.
Beyond the fact that it’s always fun to receive something for free, they’ll be promoting your organization every time they wear it. Plus, they’ll instantly share a sense of connection with everyone else on the team.

33. Include your volunteers in your staff’s holiday celebrations.
Some of your volunteers might not have family or friends to spend Christmas, Halloween or Easter with. Inviting them to your staff send-offs before the holidays just might be much more incredibly meaningful than you could imagine.

34. If possible, schedule friends and family to volunteer together!
This encourages your volunteers to spend quality time with their loved ones while helping out. It’s a smart way to foster warm memories and positive associations with your organization.

35. Periodically give away gift cards for gas (or public transportation passes).
This token of appreciation lets your volunteers know that you acknowledge the time and finances they’ve committed by traveling to your nonprofit.

36. Create a physical or digital scrapbook of your time together.
Think of this like a yearbook full of fun memories for your volunteers to take home (and no doubt share with their friends and family). 

37. Mail a small gift basket to volunteers’ homes.
This could be a few chocolates, candies, and a handwritten note. It doesn’t have to be flashy — remember, the thought alone is enough to pleasantly surprise your volunteers when they open their door to an unexpected gift from your nonprofit.

38. Promote volunteer awards to spark a little friendly competition.
Who will give the most hours? Who can bring in the most donor pledges? Maintain a healthy sense of competition among your volunteers by formally recognizing a select few outstanding achievements each year to year.

39. Invite volunteers to a board meeting and let their voices be heard.
This shows your volunteers that their contributions do not go unnoticed by those in charge — and your executive team have the chance to congratulate and thank your volunteers in person for their achievements thus far.

40. Take it a step further: give a volunteer a seat at the board to represent their peers.
This is an incredibly meaningful action that says "we see you, we hear you, and we care about what you have to say.” This will give your team a more well-rounded perspective of your volunteers’ everyday experience with your nonprofit (and of course, how to continually improve that experience).

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