How to Thank Your Nonprofit Volunteers - dummies

How to Thank Your Nonprofit Volunteers

By Stan Hutton, Frances Phillips

Volunteers give their time and, in many cases, expertise to help your nonprofit organization succeed. It’s only right that you thank them and thank them often. Thank them in the hallway after they’ve completed their work for the day, and also formally recognize their contributions. Here are some standard ways of recognizing volunteers:

  • Annual recognition event: This kind of event is the most formal (and probably the most expensive) way of thanking volunteers. Some organizations have a sit-down dinner or wine-and-cheese reception once a year to say thanks and give awards to volunteers who’ve made extraordinary contributzaions.

  • Gifts: Although tokens of appreciation may be much deserved, exercise caution when giving gifts to volunteers. Don’t spend lots of money buying presents, because you can bet that some volunteers will ask why you’re spending scarce nonprofit money on something that isn’t necessary. Getting a local business to donate gift certificates or other items is a better way to go.

  • Admission to performances or events: If your organization presents plays, musical performances, lectures, or readings, consider offering free admission to some events.

  • Public acknowledgment: You can identify your volunteers in your newsletter or on your website. An alternative is an annual newspaper ad that lists the names of your volunteers.

  • Thank-you letters: Don’t underestimate the power of a simple thank-you note. Unless you have hundreds of volunteers, make sure you write your notes by hand. Most people appreciate a handwritten note more than a form letter or e-mail. Try to let volunteers know how their work has made a difference.

In addition to thank-you letters and recognition events, you can increase volunteer satisfaction (and retention) by treating volunteers well on a day-to-day basis. Here are some easy tips to keep volunteer satisfaction high:

  • Don’t make volunteers work in isolation if you can avoid it. Many volunteers give their time because they enjoy socializing with others.

  • Vary the job to avoid boredom. You may need help cleaning the storeroom or hand-addressing 1,000 envelopes, but try to assign jobs that offer more mental stimulation, as well.

  • Pay attention to the work done by your volunteers. Your interest in what they’re doing adds value to their work and recognizes that many of them are volunteering to develop new skills.

  • Help volunteers understand your nonprofit’s work. If they’ve been answering the telephones in the front office, give them a behind-the-scenes tour or a chance to observe or participate in other activities of the organization.

  • Bring in pizza or doughnuts once in a while as an impromptu thank you. Food can provide a great break from a monotonous job or a celebration of a major task’s completion.

  • Talk to your volunteers. Get to know them as friends of your organization who are committed to its work.