Appreciation is the air that our volunteers breathe. Without it, they will be gone. While we all appreciate what our volunteers do, we need to make sure that they know that we appreciate them. It is what keeps them coming back.
Here are four simple ways to do that.
Informal thank yous
Make a point of thanking your volunteers regularly. I mean every volunteer, every shift! That may sound easy, but to do it well you need to pay attention during the shift. When you thank them, try to be specific. It’s nice to get a “Thanks for your help” at the end of a shift, it’s a lot nicer to get a “Thank you so much for cleaning out the kennels again! When you do it, I never have to double-check anything!” Hear the difference? Which would you rather receive?
On top of verbal thanks, make a point of giving your volunteers opportunities to grow; acquire or improve on a skill, gain responsibility or be exposed to new experiences. Many people volunteer for the opportunity to pad a resume, or gain experience. Give them that chance.
When a volunteer goes above and beyond, have something a little special on hand to give them. It could be as simple as a $5 coffee card, or a hand-written note. Something that indicates that you have seen what they’ve done and value it. These may not be much, but it shows you care. Be generous, but not over the top, in what you consider “above and beyond”. If you give them out too often, they will lose their value.
Another way you can show your gratitude in a tangible way is to be willing – in fact offer – to be a job reference or to fill out school forms for them. This can be incredibly helpful for them and make them feel special.
Find ways to show your appreciation in a public way. Have a “Volunteer of the Month”, for example. Post about them on social media, saying what they do and how they help further the organization’s mission. This is not only a good way to thank the volunteer, but it can be useful in bringing your organization to the attention of prospective volunteers. It shows anyone who’s interested in finding a volunteer position that you value the people who help you.
Of course, not everyone wants to be highlighted in this way. Know your volunteers, and always get their permission before you post about them. Acknowledging them within the organization itself (such as a mention during the AGM) can be a way to show your appreciation “publicly” to those who would rather not be on social media.
Once a year or at the end of a major project, take the time and effort to put together an appreciation event for your volunteers. This is an opportunity for the entire organization, from Board members to clients, to show how much they value and respect the volunteers. You can have prizes for long-serving volunteers, or those who have volunteered the most hours. Have (short!) speeches by the executive director or Board president acknowledging their contribution. Give stats about what the organization has done over the past year (number of clients housed, for instance), and show how the volunteers have made that happen.
Before you go all out in your planning, though, check with the volunteers themselves to see what they want. Do they want a fancy catered dinner/dance, or would they prefer an informal barbeque? Give your volunteers what they desire; they deserve it!
Volunteers are the lifeblood of most of our not-for-profits.
By showing, consistently and sincerely, our appreciation for the amazing work they do for us, we feed their souls and keep them dedicated to our cause. They feel good about themselves and what they do, and we reap the benefits of their skills and time. Volunteers are amazing people; we need to show them how much we treasure them!