17 Volunteer Appreciation Gift Ideas
As a team leader for Youth Central, a charitable non-profit that has given volunteer and leadership opportunities to more than 6000 youth, I witnessed first-hand the amazing contributions of volunteers to our organization, highlighted by hard work, dedication, and growth. There were times when our volunteers would sign up for 60+ hour work weeks at festivals or a 6am wake-up call, simply because they believed in the cause. Incredible!
Youth Central volunteers at a festival
Say Thank You
Volunteers are at the heart of every non-profit and community organization. Nearly 63 million Americans volunteered in 2017, contributing 8 billion hours of their time & effort.
Why do volunteers give their time to organizations? Statistically speaking, the most common reasons are:
- Making a contribution to the community
- Utilizing their skills and experience to help
- Supporting the organization’s specific cause
But in my experience, these reasons are why people start to volunteer. The real heroes, those that continually give back and make volunteering as a permanent part of their lifestyle, do so for another reason: because they feel valued.
Are your volunteers this motivated?
Indeed, volunteers give their time freely, create value for organizations, and ask for nothing (material) in return. But don’t expect them to stick around if they feel that their contributions are not appreciated! For a non-profit, charity, or any other group that would struggle without volunteers, it is critical to thank them for all they do.
How do you thank them? Check out our list below with appreciation ideas for every situation!
Physical gifts are nice without a doubt, but with the hassle involved (cost, shipping, wrapping, etc.) and the environmental impact, many organizations have shifted to digital forms of recognition for their convenience and zero-waste characteristics. Here are some of our favorites!
1. Create a Photo Collage
Make a picture collage to commemorate a specific event, project, or the past year of work. Include as many of your volunteers in the collage as you can. Send it to them and share it out over social media.
A collage of marine animal habitat volunteers!
2. Make a Thank You Video
People retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to only 10% when reading it in text. No wonder more organization are adding more video to their channels of communication.
If you want to make sure your message of appreciation is heard, do it face-to-face with a video. We’re a tad biased, but with VidHug, only a few minutes of your time, and no video editing skills required, you can create a surprise group video with messages of gratitude from everyone in your organization, no matter where they are located!
“The four recipients loved them!! I know at least 3 of them cried.”
Check out this example from The Violet Society, a career mentorship & community for female and non-binary techies. Members made a thank you video for their volunteer mentors (this version has been edited down to a short length, actual VidHugs are a few minutes long).
Make them feel truly appreciated!
3. Social Media Shoutouts
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or another platform, odds are you organization already has some sort of social media presence. Giving social media shoutouts to your volunteers on social media platforms that they use is not only a quick & easy way to convey your appreciation, but also provides fun and marketable content that shows off your great volunteer culture to your followers!
Social media management can be overwhelming if you try to tackle it on an on-going basis, so we recommend using a tool like Buffer or Hootsuite, so that you can take a few minutes each week to queue up your posts and spend the rest of your time on more important things.
4. Volunteer Of The Month
If you already have a blog, why not add an additional monthly content piece that profiles a specific volunteer. Similar to social media shoutouts, it not only delivers appreciation, but can also act as a great recruitment and motivation tool. People want to volunteer for organizations that do stuff like this!
5. LinkedIn Endorsements
Volunteering is a great demonstration of teamwork, leadership, resilience, and other skills that translate well to a wide variety of professions. Both young people and individuals who are between jobs volunteer, at least partially, for the ability to fill our their résumé. Reward them with a written recommendation or skills endorsement on LinkedIn.
Writing a LinkedIn recommendation is a quick, highly-valued gesture
Although recommendations should only be given when warranted, keep in mind that they can be great advertisements for your organization’s culture, as they will be seen by friends, employers, and other professionals.
Digital gestures are quick and convenient, but when it makes sense, an in-person “thank you”. Here’s a list of time-tested, on-site volunteer appreciation ideas.
6. Free Food
Who doesn’t like free pizza?!
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but why not buy snacks, beverages, pizza or a cake for your volunteers? Everyone loves food, people bond over it, and it can be done a in budget-friendly way.
7. Host a Potluck
While similar to free food, potlucks are more budget-friendly and, in many cases, even more fun. Everyone brings in a food item and you share a home-cooked buffet.
Maybe your potluck will be this “grammable”!
Not only does everyone get to enjoy a variety of foods, snacks, and desserts, but people get to share their diverse cultures in culinary form. It can be a great team-building exercise!
8. Hand Out Fun Awards
Make up a bunch of fun awards, like The Dundies from the TV show “The Office”, print up certificates for them, and hand them out during a silly ceremony with music, a mic (or even better, a megaphone) and a good sense of humor!
Make each award unique to that individual, like an “Early Bird” award for that volunteer that always shows up first, a “Fashionista” award for the volunteer that dresses as if life is a runway
9. Cookie or Candy Grams
Have your staff or volunteers write cute notes about each other. Attach these notes to cookies or candy and give them to your volunteers to thank them for their hard work!
10. Free Car Wash
Thank your volunteers by volunteering for them! Set up a car wash station in your parking lot or at a local car wash, have your volunteers bring their vehicles and give them a thorough clean! Perfect for those hot summer days and a great team-building activity too.
Having people inside the car is optional
Design and order volunteer shirts for long term volunteers! Not only does it show appreciation, it gives your volunteers something they’ll be proud to wear and spreads awareness for your organization.
Make a uniform your volunteers are proud to wear
Non-profits and charities don’t often have big budgets set aside for appreciation gifts. Worry not, giving a thank you from the heart has never been about money, it’s about sincerity. Here are some great DIY options that are budget friendly. but still come from the heart.
12. Handwritten Cards
Thank you cards written from the heart are great bang for buck
Ask the staff the write and sign a card with personalized messages to make it extra special for the volunteers! It’s budget-friendly and low-effort (as long as you don’t need to mail the cards out to many different locations!).
13. Thank You Tree
Near the holidays (or at any time of year), bring a small tree into the office and hang notes and mini gifts around the tree as a way to give back to the volunteers.
Annual, festive gratitude!
14. Framed & Signed Picture
Insert group volunteer photos inside blank picture frames and get everyone to paint and decorate their photo frame. It’s a fun activity that everyone can do! Especially great for younger volunteers.
Write nice messages of gratitude, including quotes about the impact of volunteering, on personalized bookmarks and hand them out! If you prefer not to go the DIY route, order some custom bookmarks.
16. Year-In-Review Impact Report
A lot can be accomplished within a year, even by part-time volunteers. A nicely formatted report, featuring a colorful infographic or two, giving a retrospective of all contributions made, and overall impact delivered is a clear way of conveying that you understand and appreciate the scope of their generosity.
Infographics, like this one from Canopy.org, convey both impact and gratitude.
17. Write a Letter of Reference
While an online recommendation is quick & easy, not everyone has a LinkedIn profile and a printed & signed letter of reference still carries a lot of weight.
A nicely penned reference letter is always a nice gesture.
Write a nice recommendation, print it on company letterhead, sign it, and you’ve created a thoughtful expression of appreciation! Make sure to give them a PDF version as well, that they can include in online job applications.
Get Started Today!
Non-profits, charities, and businesses alike have one thing in common: they’re all so busy! If you don’t put time aside to start an appreciation initiative, it just won’t get done. Don’t let your culture be one of taking volunteers for granted. Make showing gratitude a regular and consistent part of how you operate; everyone will be happier for it, including you!