The when, why and how of volunteer appreciation

Simple small gifts can mean a lot to volunteers.
Date Published
08/10/2015

Thanking donors every time they provide a gift is a common nonprofit fundraising strategy. However, there’s one group dedicating time, effort and resources to nonprofit operations that aren’t always recognized. Volunteers make contributions to organizations as well, and they deserve equal praise.

Gratitude communicated through words, activities or gifts make people feel appreciated. Acknowledging the hard work and contributions of the individuals who devote their time to a cause leads to better volunteer retention and increased satisfaction.

When is the best time to offer praise?
There are official events set aside to recognize the efforts of nonprofit volunteers. The U.S. and Canada celebrate citizens who give their time to causes during National Volunteer Week in April. Individual organizations can have regular awards banquets or public events where they take time out of their schedules to talk about the activities of their volunteers. 

Charity Village said annual or monthly official events should be accompanied by daily praise and indications of appreciation. A Canadian nonprofit devoted to fighting cancer provides routine small gifts like buttons and pins for its volunteers. Other organizations arrange weekly lunches or group rewards for consistent excellent performance.

Praise doesn’t have to be so formal. A simple thank you can do a world of good for stressed-out volunteers. Appreciation should be expressed at the same time it is felt. It’s a best practice to  demonstrate gratitude for actions in a timely manner, so the praise is directly associated with the task.

Why are they acknowledged?
Plenty of appreciation should be delivered, but only when it’s appropriate. Nonprofits that give praise out of obligation seem insincere. Hollow words won’t motivate a volunteer force.

The Hands On Network, an Atlanta nonprofit organization, suggested honest gratitude is much more beneficial than routine praise. When a volunteer is thanked for his or her service, he or she should be recognized for specific accomplishments. It’s great if a nonprofit can show the positive impact the volunteer’s actions have had on the success of a fundraiser or the overall organization.

Nonprofit software can track projects to compare actions and results. A volunteer’s performance should be logged into the system. The amount of time, effort and energy an individual puts into a fundraising campaign should display some sort of effect on the money raised or donors contacted. These numbers are presented to the volunteer to show the nonprofit is aware of how much his or her involvement means to the cause.

How should a nonprofit thank its volunteers?
A volunteer devotes their time to a nonprofit without any expectation of payment. Sometimes, though, a verbal acknowledgement of hard work doesn’t seem like enough of a thank you. There are many ways a nonprofit organization can reward its volunteers without over extending resources.

First of all, spoken thank yous are free and, if they are dispensed at the right time, are very valuable. Constant communication of appreciation informs a volunteer he or she is valuable and a necessary part of the organization. It’s important board members and other organization heads offer verbal praise, not just direct supervisors.

Businesses and other supporters sometimes offer gifts for volunteers as well as donors. Companies that donate items for charity auctions or materials for fundraisers may also provide discounts or other incentives for volunteers. Local restaurants and cafes may provide food to volunteers during long projects or charity drives. Businesses that can show an active partnership with good causes  may improve their public images.

Finally, Volunteer Match suggested asking your participants how they would like to be acknowledged. You don’t have to directly question them about what rewards they believe they deserve for their efforts, but by communicating with them you can find what kind of praise they would value most. Nonprofit software can help you track volunteer schedules and performance, creating a profile for each person who donates their time will also help you track their preferences and individual values.

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