In the month to praise those who give their time, here's a list featuring gestures — obvious and unexpected.
Rarely, do we say it better than William Shakespeare, “I can no other answer make, but, thanks, and thanks.” While frequently cited, “Thank you” is never a cliché in our nonprofit world. In fact, it is inarguably the most important term in volunteer management.
April is National Volunteer Month. Acknowledging the incredible work volunteers do in our community every day, OneOC annually hosts the Spirit of Volunteerism Awards where more than 1,100 attendees and 161 community organizations and businesses honor volunteers and thousands and thousands of stories of making Orange County a more vibrant community.
Honoring your volunteers, and taking every opportunity to say “thank you” for advancing your mission, is the single most important component of volunteer management.
Here is a list of creative – and cheap – kudos you can add to your toolbox:
- Hand make small tokens. Bookmarks, paintings, signs and cards make wonderful gifts. Head Start frames paintings their preschool students create as thank you’s.
- Have your staff sign a T-shirt.
- Seek outside recognition, like the President’s and Senator’s volunteer service awards or the Spirit of Volunteerism Award.
- Remember, eye contact and using volunteers’ names goes a long way. Utilize name tags and tents.
- Food, food, food, food, food and food. Dollar for dollar, feeding your volunteers is the best investment. Pizza parties, lunches – even asking someone to split a sandwich in the office or a candy bar with a note that says "You are sweet" can make a difference. OneOC often gives M& M's and thanks volunteers for their help with "mission moments."
- Present certificates to volunteers in front of peers, volunteers or even your board
- Provide opportunities for your clients to say thank you with a smile and handshake.
- Bring volunteers a cup of coffee
- Do something nice for the volunteer's family.
- Accompany "Thank you for your thyme" notes with the herb plants.
- Award a monthly Volunteer of the Month with fun perks.
- Make it a surprise. Have friends, family and fellow volunteers show up for a spontaneous celebration.
- DeeDee Rosenthal at Fluor Foundation creates individualized photo collages for the members of Fluor's volunteer teams.
- Highlight volunteers' contributions in the newsletter.
- Take team pictures at event and email to the team.
- Include volunteers in staff meetings, events, retreats and trainings. According to 2-1-1 volunteer Colleen Richardson, "It's a unique benefit I didn't expect."
- Create small gifts of seeds and garden shovels with a note about "planting seeds" and growing ideas.
- Send photo postcards with cute photos of your clients.
- Designate a handy parking space for special volunteers.
- Ensure and encourage all staff to connect with volunteers on a daily basis.
- Share the famous Valentine's candy hearts and include a quote: "Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart." —Elizabeth Andrew
- Post thank you's on your Facebook and theirs; include photos.
- Include a Starbucks $5 gift card with a "Thanks a latte" note.
- Invite friends and colleagues to thank them on social media.
- Endorse volunteers on LinkedIn.
- Email birthday cards. Online apps enable you to upload lists of volunteers and respective important dates.
- Girl Scout "Thanks-a-Lot" cookies are very popular in our office.
- Create an annual Board Award for Exceptional Volunteerism.
- Post photos of volunteers in action in your kitchen, office, and other gathering places.
- Get your city's mayor to bestow a special proclamation for your top volunteers.
- One of our staff members has sticky notes in the shape of a star and frequently leaves "Thank you" and "You are a Star!" messages for volunteers at their desks before they arrive.
- Reinforce, back slap, attagirl and/or attaboy. While volunteers do not need or want much in the way of gifts and gestures, kind words of gratitude should be repeated again and again and again. And always connect all thank you's back to your core mission; remind your volunteers why their work is so important.