30 Volunteer Appreciation Ideas to Show Your Thanks


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Whether you’re new to the fundraising world or a seasoned veteran, one thing is clear—volunteers are key to a nonprofit’s success, so it’s important to keep volunteer appreciation ideas in mind to celebrate their contributions and retain your most passionate volunteers. In the world of charitable organizations, money is often tight, and organizations frequently operate with the bare minimum of employees. Without the help of volunteers donating time, many nonprofits simply couldn’t function. Showing your gratitude to your volunteers is an essential part of managing and retaining your volunteers

In fact, the value of volunteer hours is at an all-time high, according to a recent report by Independent Sector. Their report released in April 2023 states that one volunteer hour is worth $31.80. Think about how many volunteer hours go into making your nonprofit work, and now imagine having to pay out those salaries! It puts into perspective how essential volunteers are and underlines the importance of volunteer appreciation.

Use these volunteer appreciation ideas and best practices to show your thanks to your volunteers:

Why volunteers matter

Volunteers are special people. They give their time freely, often with no expectation of recognition or attention. They want to do good work in their communities, and often the work itself is reward enough. However, even the most selfless volunteer appreciates being recognized and thanked! Showing appreciation can take various forms, such as hosting recognition events, providing small tokens of appreciation, or even offering additional training and development opportunities to help them grow both personally and professionally. Volunteer appreciation isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s just as beneficial to your organization as it is for your volunteers. 

Benefits of volunteer appreciation

Appreciating your volunteers goes beyond simply saying “thank you.” Providing appreciation gifts for volunteers helps you create a positive environment that fosters loyalty, boosts morale, and encourages your volunteers to continue their efforts. When volunteers feel valued, they’re more likely to stay committed to your nonprofit and spread the word about your mission. It also helps retain volunteers and ensures that the volunteers you already have are engaged and hard-working. In fact, organizations that invest in volunteer appreciation see retention rates of almost 90%. Passionate volunteers translate to successful fundraising events!  

Is it legal to buy gifts for volunteers? 

You may be wondering about possible tax implications for buying gifts and gift cards for your volunteers. Maybe you’re a larger nonprofit or you just had a major event, and you find yourself buying dozens of gift cards all at once! While you should always consult with your tax professional, you can also check out the De Minimis Fringe Benefits guidelines from the IRS. These guidelines cover small gifts for volunteers or employees that are such low value that accounting for them would be unreasonable or impractical. 

Here are some examples of allowable gifts: 

  • Occasional snacks or meals. Providing pizza for a volunteer meeting, or coffee and donuts during a workday.
  • Holiday gifts of low value. Think of small gift baskets, movie tickets, or gift cards under $25.
  • Small awards or plaques. Recognizing a volunteer’s special achievement with a modest token.

Here are some examples of what to avoid if you want to keep your gifts tax-free for your volunteers:

  • Cash or cash equivalents. This includes gift cards that can be used as cash (this means Visa and Mastercard prepaid cards).
  • Gifts based on hours worked. This could make it look like payment, not a gift.
  • Expensive items. If the gift is substantial, it could be considered taxable income for the volunteer.

Use these tips for your organization to keep everything above board:

  • Set a low dollar value. The IRS says to keep gifts under $100, but realistically 5$, $10, or $25 is enough for a kind gesture. 
  • Document your gift policy. This helps protect your organization and provides clarity for employees managing volunteers. 
  • Focus on gratitude. The intent should be to show your volunteers that you see all the work they do not to supplement their income. 
person handing out appreciation gifts for volunteers

Appreciation gifts for volunteers

Showing your volunteers that you care about them doesn’t have to be overly complicated or expensive. Here are some thoughtful appreciation gifts for volunteers to make your volunteers feel valued:

1. Gift cards

A gift card to a local coffee shop, restaurant, or store is a great way to show volunteer appreciation. Even a $5 or $10 gift card can go a long way toward making your volunteers feel valued. And it never hurts to ask local businesses to donate gift cards to the cause!

2. T-shirts or merch

A t-shirt with your organization’s logo is a great appreciation gift for volunteers. Many volunteers want to show their pride in the work they’re doing, so a specially designed volunteers-only t-shirt can be a wonderful gift idea. Not only will this help get the word out about your cause while showing volunteer appreciation, but you can also create a sense of community among your volunteers with matching shirts.  

3. Gift basket

A goodie bag or basket filled with various treats is a great way to say “thanks!” Partner with local restaurants, coffee shops, gift stores, and other businesses to create a gift bag with a variety of treats. 

4. Flowers

A beautiful bouquet of flowers can brighten anyone’s day and show your sincere appreciation. When volunteers hit major milestones or are celebrating a birthday, send some flowers to show your gratitude. Consider selecting a mix of seasonal blooms for a vibrant and fragrant gift.

5. Books

Another fun volunteer appreciation idea for major milestones or anniversaries is books! Consider gifting books that align with your organization’s mission or that you think your volunteers would enjoy. Personalize the gift by including a handwritten note or bookplate.

6. Framed photos

Remind your volunteers that the work they do is memorable with a framed photo! Create a keepsake by framing a photo of the volunteer in action and add a personalized message or a small plaque to commemorate their hard work and dedication.

7. Baked goods

Everyone loves a nice treat for a job well done! Homemade or store-bought treats are a sweet way to say thank you. Include a variety of cookies, brownies, or pastries, and present them in a decorative box or tin to celebrate your volunteers.

8. Sports or movie tickets

Give your volunteers a day out with this volunteer appreciation idea. Offer tickets to a local sports event or movie screening as a reward for their hard work. This provides an opportunity for the volunteers to relax and enjoy themselves.

9. Candles

Candles are a nice and simple appreciation gift for volunteers. Scented candles can provide a relaxing atmosphere and make for a thoughtful show of gratitude. Choose scents that are known for their calming properties, like lavender or vanilla.

10. Raffle tickets

Organize a raffle with exciting prizes and give raffle tickets to your volunteers. The anticipation and excitement of possibly winning a prize can be a fun and engaging way to show your appreciation for their hard work.

volunteers dancing on a night out for volunteer appreciation ideas

Volunteer appreciation event ideas

Gather volunteers together to honor and recognize their efforts by hosting an event just for them! Here are some volunteer appreciation event ideas to consider:

11. Night out

Create a special event to show your volunteers how important they are! The ideas are endless: trivia contests, cocktail hours, weekend barbeques, and more! An event specially dedicated to your volunteers will make them feel appreciated for their work. Don’t be afraid to ask local businesses to donate to the cause by sponsoring one of these events.  

12. Luncheon

Many volunteer events take up a large part of the day. If you know your volunteers will be at an event throughout the day, make sure you provide them with a tasty, nutritious lunch and a chance to take a break from their hard work. Or, if the event starts early in the morning, have hot coffee and breakfast waiting for them when they arrive!  

13. Dinner

Your volunteers are constantly working for your organization, so why don’t you spend a night serving them? Organize a formal dinner to honor and recognize the efforts of your volunteers and highlight different achievements they’ve helped your organization reach throughout the year. 

14. Award ceremony

You can show your gratitude for your volunteers and give them a fun night out with this volunteer appreciation idea. Hold an award ceremony for your volunteers to publicly acknowledge and celebrate their achievements. Prepare certificates or trophies and invite family and friends to make the event even more meaningful.

15. Party

Want a more informal way to celebrate your volunteers? Throw a party with music, games, and refreshments to show your appreciation. Whether it’s a themed party or a casual get-together, this volunteer appreciation event idea can be a fun way for volunteers to relax and enjoy themselves.

16. Movie night

A simple way to show your appreciation to your volunteers is to arrange a movie night where volunteers can relax and enjoy a film together. Set up a nice atmosphere with blankets and pillows and provide popcorn, snacks, and drinks to create a cozy and enjoyable evening.

17. Golf

Organize a golf outing for volunteers to enjoy a day on the greens! Golf is a fun way for volunteers to relax and chat with each other. This can be a great opportunity for volunteers to network and enjoy some friendly competition.

18. Bowling

Another engaging volunteer appreciation idea is bowling. Plan a bowling event for a fun and casual way to say thank you. Rent a few lanes at a local bowling alley and provide snacks and drinks for a laid-back evening of fun.

19. Career training

If you have a lot of younger volunteers, a great way to show your appreciation is to offer workshops that help build their professional skills. Offers sessions on career development and resume building and bring in experts to provide valuable insights and help your volunteers in their professional development.

20. Leadership Q&A

Do your volunteers know who to go to if they have a concern or suggestion? This volunteer appreciation ideas gives your volunteers an outlet to talk to your staff. Host a Q&A session with your nonprofit’s leaders to provide insight and answer questions. This can be a unique opportunity for volunteers to learn more about the organization’s vision and future plans while feeling more connected to its leadership.

Writing a thank you letter for volunteer appreciation ideas

Volunteer appreciation ideas for recognition

People love to be recognized for their work. Here are some volunteer appreciation ideas to recognize your volunteers’ efforts:

21. Thank-you note or video

Though it seems to be less of a thing these days, people still love getting snail mail! A personalized thank-you card can be a nice surprise for your hard-working volunteers. The winter holiday season is a good time for a handwritten card letting your volunteers know how important their efforts are in helping the cause.  

Videos capture so much emotion. While emails and letters are great volunteer appreciation options too, visual messages garner more attention. These don’t have to be long or high-quality. The point is the message to volunteers thanking them for their dedication to your organization. 

22. Appreciation week

Another way to recognize your volunteers’ efforts is through a Volunteer Appreciation Week when you can focus on acknowledging outstanding volunteer efforts. Dedicate a week to celebrating your volunteers with various activities and recognition events. Plan themed days, small gifts, and social gatherings to make them feel special throughout the week.

23. Award

Your nonprofit can award Volunteer of the Month titles to volunteers who go above and beyond. Host a formal or informal ceremony where outstanding volunteers are publicly acknowledged for their exceptional efforts and present them with their award. You can also use those platforms to announce the winners of these awards

24. Letter of recommendation

For many volunteers, working at a nonprofit can be a great way to build their resumes. In many cases, people who help at a nonprofit are also interested in a career in the same field. Be sure your volunteers know they can come to your organization for help with letters of recommendation.

25. Social media recognition

Another way to show your appreciation for your volunteers is by tagging specific volunteers on social media. Not only will this show individuals how important their work is, but it will also help spread the word about the important work your organization does through social media.  

26. Phone call

In the same spirit as thank-you cards, a personal phone call to your volunteer staff can be a great way to show them how much you appreciate their work. This doesn’t have to be a weekly or even monthly occurrence—maybe save it for after a particularly challenging fundraising event.  

27. Badges

Badges can help you show your appreciation for your volunteers while also helping them show off their dedication to your cause. Create badges or pins that volunteers can proudly wear to show their involvement or for major volunteer milestones. These tokens of appreciation can serve as a nice reminder of their valuable contributions.

28. Newsletter

Public recognition is a great way to show both your volunteers and your other supporters how important volunteer work is. For this volunteer appreciation idea, feature your volunteers in your organization’s newsletter to recognize their efforts and celebrate their contributions. You can include photos, quotes, and stories about their work to highlight their impact and inspire others to join.

29. Blog post

Your organization’s blog is a great place to recognize volunteers, especially after an event. Write a blog post showcasing the stories and contributions of your volunteers and how they’ve helped you change the world. Ask volunteers about their motivations and experiences to provide readers with a deeper understanding of their importance.

30. Playlist

A unique way to recognize your volunteers is to curate a playlist of uplifting songs and share it across social media. For this volunteer appreciation idea, all you have to do is find some tracks that are motivating and positive to show your gratitude. Creating a soundtrack that celebrates your volunteers’ dedication is a fun way to remind them how much their work means to your organization. 

Volunteer appreciation best practices

Here some best practices for showing your appreciation for your volunteers:

Set aside a budget just for volunteer appreciation 

A dedicated budget for things like dinners, gift cards, or t-shirts is crucial for the longevity of your volunteer appreciation effort. As you know, money ebbs and flows in the fundraising world. Don’t let a slow period undermine your efforts! Your budget doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be enough to make a consistent effort to say “thank you” to your volunteers.  

Plan ahead

Make sure you give yourself and your staff enough time to plan the events you want to hold for your volunteers. You don’t want to wait until the last minute to throw something together. Your volunteers will know that you spent time and effort on the events you plan, and they will feel even more appreciated as a result. Just like setting aside money for a budget, be sure you budget the time needed for this as well. 

Communicate clearly

Volunteer retention can be difficult! Mostly because once a volunteer signs up, there can be a lack of communication. Nurture a relationship with a volunteer from day one. If your volunteer is new, follow up immediately and host an orientation event. Clear, open, and frequent communication is essential for effective volunteer appreciation. Keep your volunteers informed about upcoming events, appreciation initiatives, and how their contributions are making a difference within the organization and the community at large.

At an orientation event, your organization welcomes, thanks, and guides your new supporters. It seems simple, but it really does make newcomers feel appreciated. You should place them in a role suitable for them. Every person has a set of skills they’re great at. If you place a volunteer in a cooking role when they hate cooking, they won’t be willing to come back. Show that you want to get to know them by sending a questionnaire! 

Approach with kindness

A friendly and positive attitude goes a long way in making your volunteers feel appreciated. Always approach your volunteers with respect and gratitude for the work they contribute for your cause. Simple gestures like a warm greeting, a genuine smile, and a heartfelt thank you can significantly impact their overall experience. Regularly expressing your appreciation through these small but meaningful interactions creates a welcoming environment that encourages your volunteers to stay engaged and motivated.

Show your appreciation in a timely manner

Timely recognition is crucial! Be sure you’re thanking your volunteers as soon as possible after they’ve donated their time. While you’re planning your thank-yous to your donors after your latest successful fundraiser, you should be crafting notes of appreciation to your volunteers at the same time!  

Ask for feedback (and actually implement it)

Feedback goes hand-in-hand with getting to know volunteers. Just like before an event, after the event you shouldn’t go silent. Not only should you reach out and thank your volunteers, but you should also ask for their feedback. Why? Because it shows their voice matters. They’re the ones who represented your organization and helped you.

If there was something that could be improved for next time, sending a post-event survey can help. Did part of the event maybe fall flat? Either by being short-staffed, not having enough signs, or needing better communication? You want volunteers to have the best experience with you every time. But their feedback should actually be taken into consideration. Not just heard. Your volunteers want the best for you, so taking their requests seriously will show them just how much they’re appreciated.

Final thoughts

Volunteers represent your organization because it’s work they believe in. And changing the world takes teamwork! Use these volunteer appreciation ideas to help strengthen relationships with your volunteers and retain a strong support system to carry out your mission. Keep them coming back after each event by simply showing gratitude–it’s a benefit to volunteers AND your organization.

Volunteers everywhere deserve to be appreciated! Their hard work and dedication to helping nonprofits make a difference in the world doesn’t go unnoticed.

Additional resources

For more ways you can help your volunteers, take a look at these resources:

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