Show Your Volunteers the Love During #NVW!

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Spring is in the air … or is it still winter? Here in Maryland, we’re never quite sure. As the saying goes … if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes.

Of course, this adage can be said just about everywhere, but one thing we can all be sure of is that while we may not be able to rely on the weather, we can certainly rely on our volunteers! And with National Volunteer Week (#NVW) just around the corner (April 17 – 23), there’s no better time to let them know how much we appreciate them!

So as a kick-off to #NVW, and as part of our 20th anniversary promise, here’s 20 cool ideas (divided into themes) on how to say thanks to your volunteers.

Thanking Volunteers Personally

1. Create a funny eCard or GIF thank you email: Some fun ideas include creating a JibJab eCard with your own CRP or HQ staff faces, a gif via GIPHY Cam, or a simple meme using a tool like MemeCenter. Send these to your volunteers randomly throughout the day. (Thanks to Rachel Bell of VolunteerPro for this idea and 9 others!)

2. Send handwritten thank you notes: If you have lots of volunteers, spread the work around by having each staff member to write a couple of thank you notes or send to chapter leaders to send out. Automate the process using Handwrytten (a robot holds an actual pen). Need help writing the perfect note? Check out these resources:

How to Write the Perfect Volunteer Thank you

Words to Thank Volunteers

Volunteer Thank You Letter

3. Shout it from the rooftops! During this week, have your organization’s welcome message updated to say you appreciate your volunteers not only during this week, but throughout the year. Change your signature line for the week to show appreciation for your volunteers – just a way of letting everyone know how valuable they are. Here are some tagline options:

— “We wouldn’t be where we are without you – Thank you!”

— “Everyone thinks they have the best volunteers, but of course we do! Thank you!”

4. Put together a special gift: Create a gift basket or two with awesome prizes and do a drawing using the names of everyone who has volunteered over the past year or volunteered X hours. Including givaways for chapter-customized merchandise such as mugs, socks, journals, etc. Send eGift cards to Grub Hub, Amazon or to your association bookstore, B&N etc. Buy a cool Give an eco-friendly reusable shopping bag (check out BlueQ Bags) with a cool saying – maybe a catchy phrase about the profession or trade or one that toots the volunteer’s horn like “Be somebody, Do something” or “World’s Coolest Volunteer.” Get more inspiration at Zazzle.com.

5. Give free access to events/membership: Waive your annual conference membership fee or provide a complimentary registration. Raffle off a free year of membership or extend their membership for a month (or more). Provide first dibs on conference session sign-up. Create a certificate of appreciation. For chapters, offer coupons to use on chapter-themed swag.

Recognizing Everyone

6. Leverage The Power of Social: Create a social media campaign where chapters nominate local volunteers who are doing great things and promote at the national level. Post volunteer profiles and highlights throughout the week on social media with an end of week recap. Post a pic of your staff holding a TY sign using hashtags #NVW #VolunteerLove. Or create your own hashtag and feature [volunteer] posts on your social accounts. Be sure to tag your volunteers for a group shout-out! Create a gif/short video scroll that thanks your board & committee members.

7. Think Tech Tools: Create a virtual backdrop for Zoom/Teams for meetings to recognize chapter volunteers and use all week/month long. Grab a bunch of volunteer pictures in action from the past year (virtual conference, chapter events, etc.) and create a simple fun montage or gif to post and share via social/email. Implement a new tool like Bonusly to recognize and reward volunteers on a daily basis, encourage chapter leader peer-to-peer engagement, etc. Check out these 16 tools you can use to make this easy. 

8. Up Your Communications: Write a blog post highlighting the results of the work of volunteers over the past year or create a series – like the Daily Point Light and post a story each day of the month or week. Create a Volunteer of the Month or “Local Heroes” section in your newsletter/magazine or a Volunteer Spotlight on your website.

9. Spice up your meetings: Create lapel pins or ribbons on name badges at upcoming meetings. Create a volunteer awards ceremony or annual volunteer appreciation lunch complete with awards. Dedicate a wall at your Annual Meeting as a “Wall of Honor” for volunteers. Have the CEO/ED/President recognize volunteers.

10. Messages to their Employer: Create video testimonials for them to share with the employer. Arrange an afternoon off to catch up on the holiday to-do’s … call the employer of a valuable volunteer and arrange for them to get a free pass at work (yes this can work!).

Offering Support (e.g., training, tech, resources, access to staff)

11. Make those all-important personal phone calls: Use these to say TY and to find out what’s working for them and/or not working for them. Ask if there are ways you can make their job more efficient? Make these regular check-ins. If you have to pick and choose, call the volunteers you haven’t had much contact with. Ask staff to chip in. Have your board chair send a personal thank you – phone call (maybe a zoom conference call with staff), letter or email – to staff.

12. Don’t forget your staff: Spotlight a different staff liaison and their volunteer team each day in interoffice and external communications. Bring in lunch and have staff share effective practices.

13. Give your chapters tools to alleviate the administrative burden: Invest in a Chapter Management Solution like Billhighway; helps your volunteers by providing a tool that lifts the load and alleviates the administrative burden which keeps chapter leaders wanting to volunteer! Host quarterly webinars or chapter calls to answer questions. Check out these tech tools for chapters or Beth Z’s Big Book of Apps (or better yet, join us on April 19th to learn your Tech Psychology and see how to get your leaders using tech. Register here!)

14. Create a robust board source library. Establish monthly newsletters with ideas and chapter management tips, archive training webinars and monthly roundtables for on-demand viewing, provide online management resources to help with membership and create idea exchange sites for chapter leaders to bounce ideas off one another.

15. Level up your training resources: Offer a free registration to a professional development activity of their choice in the coming year (bonus points if you underwrite the travel!). Offer a month of LinkedIn Learning or MasterClass. Design an onboarding process with an overview of expectations, templates, chapter management tools, checklists, new officer guide and calendar. Turn volunteer jobs into mini educational experiences by baking in education, (e.g., at a board meeting, tie in a short 15-minute skill development session). Use these perks in your messaging about why to volunteer.

Crafting Experiences

16. Make it Personal: Send a picture of them in action in a fun cardstock photo easel (love this one from SendAFrame). Send a personal holiday card – through the mail (visit Poemsource for ideas.) Pay for their favorite celebrity to thank them on Cameo. Get each staff member (or other volunteers) to write something positive about the person on a piece of paper and give collected sayings in a box or frame (see 51 Ways To Reward Employees Without Money for more great ideas!) Prepare a short video montage that celebrates the volunteer’s accomplishments (check out Animoto to make this easy). Give a gift card to create their own art like Fracture.

17. Create Memorable Events: Offer a free drink coupon to use at your association’s next mixer or VIP tickets at a major event. Create a volunteer lounge at your annual meeting with coffee, water, free WiFi. Hold a virtual event such as a virtual lunch, happy hour, book club and send each participant a Grubhub (or equivalent) to buy lunch/wine/book beforehand.

18. Establish a new volunteer perk for the coming year such as reimbursing mileage or discounts on registration fees for volunteers. One of the Decision To Volunteer findings pointed to the cost of volunteering as one deterrent.

19. Reinforce purpose – the need to be part of something that improves our world and ourselves. Plan or initiate a community service project based on the needs of the chapter’s community/region. Ask your volunteers what matters to them. This is a biggy so feel free to store away for the future.

20. Listen … Listen … Listen. There is no worse turnoff for a volunteer, especially a newer one, than not having their ideas respected. We’ve seen it before – a new person comes in full of ideas only to be either shut down immediately or totally ignored. Remember, the sincerest recognition is putting our members’ ideas and work into action, letting their work generate outcomes. Recognition comes when volunteers see their efforts made a difference for the association. Do this all year long.

Some of these things may not be possible this year but feel free to store them away when you have more time to plan. And of course, feel even freer to celebrate your volunteers all year long … there’s no rule you can only celebrate during #NVW week!

Need more ideas? Be sure to join us for our next CRP Idea Swap: Ways to Celebrate & Appreciate Our Volunteers on Wednesday, March 23 where we’ll offer up some additional ways to celebrate #NVW as well as swap ideas and inspiration with other CRPs on ways to show your volunteers some love. Register here!

Mariner Management & Marketing provides association management, volunteer coordinator and leadership development information for associations and non-profit organizations.