Do you work with volunteers? Learn how to thank them

Volunteers are critical in the operations of many organizations. How do you thank them?

Whether you are a fellow volunteer, a volunteer coordinator, an organizational CEO, board member or someone even who has been impacted by the selfless work that a volunteer does, when was the last time you thanked them?

There are many suggestions, recommendations and best practices out there as to how to illustrate volunteer appreciation. This simple Google search brought up about 2.95 million hits related to “Volunteer Appreciation.”

Below are a few suggestions that I have been fortunate enough to become familiar with over the course of my career work with volunteers. These are based on my experiences:

Volunteer Luncheon or Annual Dinner Gala event

  • Hosting a nice luncheon or dinner event is an easy way to show your thanks, while also providing a great networking opportunity for your dedicated group of volunteers. This is also a great time for these folks to meet board members, dignitaries or executive staff that they may not typically have the opportunity to interact with on a regular basis. Make them feel important, if even for only an hour.
  • Hosting an annual Gala type function, specifically for volunteers, can go a long way in saying thanks. Entertainment, socializing, recognition and grandeur may be intrinsically why some of your volunteers choose to give of their time. 

Volunteer Awards

  • Providing awards to volunteers can be a slippery slope. Best practice would be to offer awards based only on specific metrics, such as time of service, special project participation or special actions taken.
  • If offering a subjective award, such as volunteer of the year, this should only be by nomination of others and not selected by only one or two individuals on staff. If a transparent, democratic style process is undertaken, the likely perception of favoritism by other volunteers could be mitigated. Be sensitive to others.

Public Recognition via the Media

  • Saying thank you can never be expressed enough. Including a media release or advertisement from time to time, or shortly after a major event, is prudent and a great way to not only say thank you, but to promote your organization, the event, and for peers to see who is involved, potentially encouraging them to become involved as well.

Increased Responsibilities (as requested)

  • Sometimes a volunteer will have certain experiences which can be beneficial to your team. It is not uncommon for some of these very folks to offer up this expertise to benefit the group. If there is a need, and someone is offering, it might be best to engage that volunteer to discuss increasing their responsibilities, even if a small stipend is prudent.
  • Being the holiday season, it is a great time to hold a special event for your volunteers. However, you can never say thank you enough, so holding appreciation events should happen multiple times throughout the year.

Michigan State University Extension offers a variety of programs to provide expertise, education, and development of communities throughout the state of Michigan.

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