Show the Love: Volunteer Appreciation Ideas for Nonprofits

31 Jan

Valentine’s Day is approaching, and love is in the air!  Who do nonprofits love more than volunteers?  No one!  These angels stuff envelopes until their fingers cramp, assemble promotional materials with care and flair, and dutifully smile for hours at walks, expos, golf outings and banquets.  I’ve heard many a director claim, “We couldn’t do it without our volunteers!”, and they were not exaggerating.  It is important to regularly express gratitude for volunteers’ service to ensure their happiness and commitment.  February is the perfect time to explore volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits and surprise your volunteer team.

Volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits can come in many forms.  Cute and clever, sweet and sappy, grand and extravagant, your organization will have to decide on the scope and budget of your gesture.  I consider volunteer appreciation an investment because these folks add value to your organization every day with the skills they bring, the training you have provided, and their ability to be mission ambassadors in your community.  We will explore three different paths you can consider to show your gratitude, finishing with what I find is the very best way to thank your volunteer supporters.

An actual gift or event is the first path on our search for volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits.  This path definitely begins with a discussion about budget.  Let’s look at three examples that vary in cost.  First, a small gift with a cute note is always fun.  Examples include: a donut…”I donut know what we’d do without you!”, a lottery ticket…”We’re so lucky you chose us!”, or hand lotion…”Hands down, you’re the best!”.  Second, if you have a little more money to spend, a plant is a very nice gift.  Not only is it a lovely addition to any home, but it is also a daily reminder of your gratitude.  Personally, I like to give plants in a container that would look nice in any setting, but if you are very brand-conscience, you could present the plant in a pot, mug, or container with your logo on it.  Finally, if you have a good amount of money to spend, an event such as a volunteer thank you breakfast is a wonderful gesture.  Breakfasts are budget friendly, as far as events go, and at a time when folks with jobs may be able to attend.  Try to keep the breakfast to an hour or 90 minutes tops.  Be sure to have a staff member or program recipient prepare a sincere, scripted thank you for all attendees.  If you have the time, handing out fun awards such as “Tidiest Water Station Attendant” or “Fastest Silent Auction Wrangler” would add some fun to the event, and projecting photos of volunteers from the office or events is always nice.

The second path on our search for volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits does not require any money, but does take some time and coordination.  These ideas thank your special supporters in a more public way.  First, consider several social media posts leading up to Valentine’s Day that show your love for volunteers.  These posts can include photos of volunteers in action, graphics that incorporate the names of volunteers, or one-minute videos of staff or program recipients thanking everyone for sharing their time and talents.  Be sure to tag all of your volunteers so that they and their online friends can see how much they are valued by your organization.  A second opportunity would be to highlight all of your volunteers in your February newsletter.  It’s a wonderful idea to spotlight one volunteer or group of volunteers each month, but Valentine’s Day would be a special time to share the love to all of your helpers.  Finally, consider nominating one of your super-stars for a community service award.  This would be a wonderful opportunity for you to honor a cherished person as well as highlight their work with your organization in a public forum.  In Madison, WKOW-TV coordinates with the Jefferson Awards organization annually to highlight area volunteers.  You can nominate a candidate at  Also, the United Way of Dane County presents community service awards and is currently accepting nominations until February 22nd.  Learn more at  Your volunteers would feel so special just to be nominated.

Finally, my very favorite of the volunteer appreciation ideas for nonprofits is the good old-fashioned, hand-written thank you note.  I do understand the amount of time required to do this task well, but it makes such a nice impact on each person.  A good thank you note will include specific examples of how this person helped with the mission of your organization and express the sincerest gratitude.  This task may be more than a one-person job, so make a list of your volunteers and divide it among your staff and possibly your board members or willing program recipients. 

Valentine’s Day is two weeks away, so make a plan and show the love.  The fact that each of your volunteers chooses to spend their free time with your organization is amazing!  These people share your passion for your mission, I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating them!


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