50 Ways to Show Your Volunteers Appreciation

Volunteer Management / Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

National Volunteer Week—April 15-21—is a little less than a month away. Established in 1974 by President Nixon, this week encourages Americans to volunteer for one of the many deserving nonprofit programs in our country. In addition, it’s a perfect opportunity for organizations to formally recognize the hard work and effort of their own volunteers. While there’s no doubt we are incredibly grateful for all our volunteers do, sometimes we forget to express that gratitude in a way that resonates. This article offers 50 low-cost ways to say thank you to the heart and soul of your organization.


  1. Create a Social Media Campaign. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the perfect platforms to share volunteers’ contributions to your organization. You can showcase individual or groups of volunteers, post pictures of events or share client success stories. Plan an editorial calendar for the week, so you’ll have enough time to gather compelling photos and tell an inspiring story. Not only does this show your followers how much you value their volunteers’ contributions, it could also inspire future volunteers to work with you
  2. Work with a local vendor or business to secure a volunteer discount. Most businesses are happy to offer a discount to entice new customers to use their product or service. You can also make a list of businesses that have already created special discounts for that day and compile to your volunteers. *Tip: Creating strong local business relationships provides useful connections for future events and fundraisers.
  3. Host a breakfast, luncheon or happy hour. Good food in a relaxed environment is the perfect way to express thanks. It can be a sit down, catered event or a potluck built on the kindness of community and staff donations. Either way, your volunteers will enjoy the delicious food and chance to talk with fellow volunteers and staff. *Tip: Know your volunteers, so you can plan your time accordingly. If most of your volunteers work 9-5 hours, an after-hours event will be better attended than a breakfast.
  4. Host an open house thank-you party. If getting all your volunteers together at one time proves too difficult a challenge, consider hosting an open house thank you where volunteers can stop by the office, say hi, have a snack and take home a small gift of appreciation. *Tip: Take the time to decorate and show your volunteers they’re worth the extra effort.
  5. Host a group outing. Organize a fun event that brings together volunteers who might not otherwise cross paths. Bowling, hikes, picnics or even going to a new movie premiere can foster a sense of community with your volunteers. *Tip: Don’t be afraid to request a nonprofit discount; it never hurts to ask!
  6. Make a Memory Book. With so many online stores like Mixbooks and Shutterfly, creating a photo book of events and volunteers is not only simple and cost effective, it’s also a great way to document all their work in a way that’s emotionally resonant. *Tip: Use the memory books as recruiting tools at events. Leave them out in the office for visitors, vendors and potential volunteer to thumb through.
  7. Create custom lanyard pins or patches. Ok, let’s admit it. Many of us love earning distinctions, whether that’s a tangible badge, racing medal or virtual level in a game. Create badges or pins that signify valuable qualities and traits in your organization and hand them out to deserving volunteers. *Tip: This public recognition will encourage volunteers to work toward those goals. You can also post your pin/badge designs on Pinterest as inspiration for other nonprofits and bring awareness to your organization.
  8. Create a video collage. While this one will take a little more time and planning, a photo/video collage of the year is an excellent way to highlight volunteers, their work and show others what they do. And with many moviemaking apps to choose from, you don’t have to be a Hollywood director to put together a meaningful and quality video. *Tip: For as little as $10, you can boost your video post on Facebook and reach 1000s of potential new volunteers and donors. You can also use the video as a recruiting tool, keep it on a loop at the office for visitors and use as part of your onboarding/training program.
  9. Create a volunteer page on your website. Post photos, stories, quotes and short videos of your volunteers on a separate volunteer page. Make a list of all your volunteers (make sure to get permission first!), so people can see all the wonderful people in your organization. *Tip: Use this page to tell a visual story and narrative about your organization. Most potential donors and volunteers will peruse a website before they commit time or money to an organization, so showcase your nonprofit’s true culture and personality.
  10. Designate a Volunteer of the Week/Month parking spot. While parking far away for exercise is great in good weather, nothing beats an upfront spot on those rainy days when most of us forget the umbrella. Put up a prominent sign that lets others know and recognize the volunteer’s special distinction. *Tip: Don’t forget to share photos of your volunteer of the week/month on your social media platforms.
  11. Nominate a volunteer for a national award. The President’s Volunteer Service Award honors volunteers based on yearly cumulative hours, from the bronze award all the way to the President’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Along with presidential recognition, recipients will receive a personalized certificate, an official pin or coin and a congratulatory letter from the president of the United States.
  12. Nominate a volunteer for a local award. In addition to national recognition awards, many states, local communities and organizations honor volunteers. For example, The Columbia Daily Tribune has held Hero awards since 2002 that recognize outstanding volunteers in the mid-Missouri community.
  13. Design specialized volunteer award certificates based on each volunteer’s unique personality and contributions and ask staff and peers to nominate and vote for the awards.
  14. Honor milestones and lengths of service. National Volunteer Week is a great time to recognize significant anniversaries.
  15. Reach out to a volunteer’s alma mater. Universities, colleges and high schools recognize alumni for special achievements such as community service. *Tip: Most schools share these awards on their own channels, which helps gain awareness for your organization.

Low-Cost Gift Ideas

  1. Books. Most of us have a plethora of extra books at home. If not, used bookstores are a frugal resource for gently used books. Try to match books that fit the interests of your volunteers, and don’t forget to write a personalized message on the inside cover. If you have a larger budget, order books that are relevant to your organization. *Tip: Don’t be afraid to ask bookstores and/or publishers for nonprofit and/or large quantity discounts.
  2. Personalized Journals. Online printing services like Vistaprint offer inexpensive journals that you can add your organizational logo to for nominal cost.
  3. Seed Packets. From a mix of wildflowers to pumpkin seeds, seed packets serve both as a metaphorical and practical way to show your thanks.
  4. Plants. While a bouquet of daisies never fails to brighten someone’s day, a hearty plant can bring joy for years.
  5. Personalized tote bag. From an eco-friendly way to haul groceries to dry cleaning, reusable bags are a useful gift for anyone.
  6. Baked goods. Too many of us nowadays don’t have time to spend baking delicious goodies. Recruit staff and community members to whip up some chocolate chip cookies or homemade breads as a way to show appreciation for your volunteer’s time.
  7. Hand-written thank you cards delivered via post. Bills, junk mail and unwanted catalogs clog our mailboxes. A hand-written letter in a colorful envelope is guaranteed to put a smile on your volunteer’s face.
  8. Acknowledge birthdays. Everyone from our dentist to our insurance agent send us postcards or emails. Add volunteer birthdays to a calendar and take a minute to send an email, a text or a card in the mail. *Tip: Don’t rely on memory. Download a free app like B’days to send you reminders.
  9. Create a Volunteer Board. Pinterest is the go-to website for the ambitious and creatively challenged alike. It offers hundreds of examples of inspirational designs to help you create a personalized volunteer spotlight board for your organization.
  10. Send random thank you texts or emails. Why wait for a special occasion to reach out to your volunteers? Keep a stack of pre-stamped thank you cards by your desk and when your volunteer really shines or puts in extra help, take a moment to write a thank you and drop it in the post.
  11. Pitch the volunteer’s story to a local paper, radio or news station. Even in today’s 24-hour news cycle, media is constantly searching for a good story to share. Just last week, The Courier Express ran this article about a local student who’d won the Presidential Volunteer Service Award and a Certificate of Excellence from The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.
  12. Know your volunteers by name. While this one may seem obvious, knowing your volunteers’ names goes a long way to making them feel appreciated. *Tip: Use the volunteer’s name every time you speak with them until you’ve got it memorized.
  13. Acknowledge volunteers in organization’s newsletter. While most volunteers don’t seek out public recognition, it feels nice to have our efforts spotlighted. Have a Volunteer of the Month in your newsletter and highlight the reasons why they excel at their jobs. *Tip: This public, positive reinforcement will inspire other volunteers.
  14. Parent’s night out. Even volunteers need a time to relax. Gather an army of staff and community members and offer a night of babysitting for your parents to get away for a couple of hours.
  15. Volunteer car wash. A water source, a couple of buckets and a warm Saturday afternoon is all this idea takes to lighten the chore load for your volunteers.

Volunteer Gift Labels

Who doesn’t love a good pun? The following punned phrases add a little extra to volunteer gift labels and help provide matching gift ideas.

  1. Thanks sew much.
  2. Thanks a latte.
  3. I donut know what we’d do without you.
  4. You are pear-fect.
  5. Thanks a bunch.
  6. Thank you very mochi.
  7. We’d go nuts without you.
  8. Thanks for going the EXTRA mile.
  9. Hands down, the best volunteer in town.
  10. Mani thanks!
  11. We need S’more volunteers like you.
  12. We really appreciate your commit-mint.
  13. No one can hold a candle to you.
  14. We can Nutella how much we appreciate you.
  15. You’re a Lifesaver!
  16. We’d go to pieces without you. Thanks for all your hard work.
  17. There aren’t enough Kisses in the world to say thanks for all you do.
  18. You’re the balm.
  19. This place would be a zoo without you.
  20. Thank you for the important roll you play in our organization.

Whether it’s a gift, a dinner or simply a face-to-face “thank you, “ gratitude goes a long way to volunteer retention and happiness. Do you have good volunteer appreciation ideas? Share them here! Find additional volunteer management tips in our VolunteerMark blog.