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14 Creative Ways to Thank Volunteers

A Great Volunteer Is Worth More Than You Think


Businessman receiving medal from co-workers
Altrendo Images/Getty Images

When a charity receives a gift of say, $25,000 or more, that’s generally considered a major gift. But what about the volunteer who gives, say 1,147 hours of personal time to a nonprofit? What’s the value of that?

According to Independent Sector, “the estimated value of volunteer time for 2013 was $22.55 per hour.” So for the volunteer who may have given 22 hours a week during the course of a year, that equates to more than a $25,000 gift!

Just as donors deserve recognition for their generosity, volunteers do as well. And it’s not the cost of the recognition that matters; it’s the genuineness of those gestures.

It’s the frequency with which thanks is given. And it’s also the appropriateness of the recognition that matters most.

So what can you do to express genuine appreciation to your volunteers on a regular basis that is appropriate for the amount of donated time, the volunteer’s age and tenure with your organization and his/her unique personality?

Although there are countless ways to say thanks, it’s up to you to decide when and how to best do that.

Here are a variety of ways to recognize volunteers that you can incorporate into your menu of kudos:

  1. Host a cruise. Volunteers at St. Anthony’s (St. Petersburg, FL), were treated to a wonderful cruise which was videotaped and put on YouTube.
  2. Make it a surprise. Catch a volunteer in the act of volunteering by having his/her friends and family and fellow volunteers show up for a spontaneous celebration.
  3. Ask for the mayor’s involvement. Get your city’s mayor to bestow some special proclamation for your top volunteer (or volunteers).
  4. Capture the moment. Have a photo booth at your volunteer appreciation event, like that of Mary Immaculate Hospital (Newport News, VA), to capture fun images of your volunteers celebrating.
  5. Send a letter of thanks and recognition to the volunteer’s employer. This is a great way to say thanks to the working volunteer, especially when some of the donated time has been during regular business hours. It also speaks to the volunteer’s integrity and work ethic.
  6. Do something nice for the volunteer’s family. Give them tickets to an amusement park or a sporting event. After all, when one member of the family is volunteering for you, she or he can’t be with the family, so in that sense, the family is making a contribution as well.
  7. Post appreciation event photos on your website such as those shared by Duke Raleigh Hospital (Raleigh, NC); Cane Creek Farm (Cumming, GA); and The Salvation Army of Brown County Mission (Green Bay, WI).
  8. Share a gift of love. Ask those served by your nonprofit (e.g., youth, students) to craft personal gifts (art work, photography, poems, journal), to give to treasured volunteers.
  9. VIP parking. It may not sound like much, but on a large campus or an urban location, a special parking spot can be a very appreciated gift. Designate a certain portion of your parking lot for “most dedicated” volunteers or have a handy location earmarked for your “volunteer of the month.”
  10. Send handwritten notes of appreciation. Not creative? In these days of email and texting and cell phones, handwritten notes, sent through the mail, are becoming increasingly rare. So when it happens, it’s noticed and appreciated.
  11. Say thanks with sweets. Gifford Medical Center’s (Randolph, VT), volunteers were honored with a luncheon served by hospital managers, prize awards, musical performances, flowers and bags of toffee made by the Randolph hospital’s professional chefs.
  12. Host an event for the families of your volunteers. Try a picnic, a bowling party, hot air balloon rides, an ice cream social or some other fun-filled day.
  13. Host a “this is your life” event. Host a special recognition event for a longtime, retiring volunteer. Invite fellow volunteers, the volunteer’s family, friends and associates as well as your nonprofit’s employees. Stage brief skits that re-enact milestone events from the volunteer’s life.
  14. Create a scrapbook. Have staff and clients write comments and quotes about the difference volunteers make, and have these printed in a booklet and mailed out or shared at a recognition event. Include photos and brief descriptions of past volunteer projects.


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