“Thanking” Outside The Box

thanking volunteersAdmit it. Most nonprofit organizations would not be as successful if it weren’t for dedicated volunteers. Volunteers are vital to organizational success and, in many cases, humanize programs and by “putting a face” on an initiative or service goal.

By sharing personal stories that explain what motivates an individual to become involved with a specific nonprofit campaign—whether though personal tragedy or to fill a need within their community—volunteers are on the front lines helping to create and share stories of hope with potential donors and constituents.

As we enter the Season of Thanks, we’d like to highlight three unique ways to thank your volunteers and get them excited about serving your nonprofit organization in the new year.

Create a Volunteer of the Week Program

The American Lung Association’s Volunteer of the Week highlight is a great example of a well-executed program. On their site, you can see that the volunteer’s service and commitment to the nonprofit are clearly explained with a headshot of the volunteer.

Your nonprofit could incorporate a Volunteer of the Week highlight into its marketing outputs this holiday season by posting a photo of a volunteer (with the volunteer’s permission) and describing why they are the volunteer of the week. Selection could be determined by top management, with nominations coming from organization managers or the Director of Volunteer Relations, but this would require some consistent attention since the volunteer would need to be updated weekly.

Get Started: List how many hours the volunteer has invested into your program and how he or she has made a difference. This is great exposure for the volunteer and your organization because most people share their good news online. These posts can be created in no time and can make a lasting impression on the volunteer, and may encourage others to get involved.

If you don’t have the capability to create a program, at least say thanks via social media, but make it personal. Don’t just say, “We love our volunteers”—give them a face! Try saying something like, “We love our volunteers from (name of place). They did an incredible job of (name activity).”

Spice it up. Let volunteers know that you acknowledge their dedication and labor by personalizing your thanks. To add, you can have a volunteer fact post that includes why to volunteer, they type of volunteer opportunities and how current volunteers have made a difference. For instance, if you operate a food bank you can state how many pounds of food you collected and how much sweat equity went into it.

Thank you for sorting over 80,000 pounds of food this year. Thanks to you, we feed 9,000 individuals and contributed 3,000 hours of service to the community.

Perhaps you champion clean water and can highlight a water well dug by volunteers. Post a photo (if possible) and add the caption, “Look at Alicea’s water well.” Again, this is a fun way to share what volunteers have accomplished.

Use free technology to boost volunteer recognition and stay current. Charity Water and St. Jude has mastered thanking volunteers while keeping focused on how their services impact the world.  You can even introduce “Volunteer Dairies” via YouTube and create videos to talk about how volunteering has enriched their lives.  Even during tough economic times—you can still find meaningful ways to thank volunteers.

Send a Handwritten Note

Yes emails and post are great, but a handwritten note conveys that you took the time to put your thoughts and thanks on paper.  Take a few minutes a day and write notes to every volunteer that has contributed to your cause.  It does not have to long and drawn out, but it does have to be well thought out.

Children’s hospitals are excellent at highlighting those that make a difference on their behalf.  Typically they send a short handwritten note or drawing that warms the heart and makes you want to volunteer again. Talk about a win-win. Remember, your letter does not have to be long, just heartfelt and personalized. Describe the task and how their contribution helped. See the example below.

Dear Aiden,
Thank you for your constant support! Our shoe drive was a massive success because of you.   Can you believe we sent 20 boxes of shoes to those in need? We know you have a choice in what to promote and we are thrilled that you have selected to work with us. Thank you again for your time and skill. Hope to see you again soon.

That’s all! In a world of super fast technology, a hand written note counts for a lot and helps you stand out from the crowd.

Volunteer Field Day

Nothing says fun like going to a park and celebrating volunteer achievements collectively.  Create a personal touch by adding a slide show to highlight volunteer activities. Capture genuine volunteer moments (reading to a child, sorting clothes,  teaching ESL, baking cookies,  stuffing bags, providing medical services, phone banking, etc.) and watch everyone’s face light up at those tender but often forgotten moments. This is a fun (but often expensive) way to get out of the office and enjoy one-on-one time with volunteers.  Provide lite bites and games for volunteers to play while at the park. This is an excellent way to keep volunteers motivated and they get to meet other volunteers.

Organizations such as Star of Hope, the Peace Corps, and Habitat for Humanity are prime examples of nonprofit organizations using “out of the box” methods to acknowledging and engage volunteers. They understand the need to support volunteers while sharing their message of volunteerism. Thanking volunteers does not have to be boring nor expensive. It is all about making them feel loved and expressing it though action. Look for ways to highlight volunteers at different points of the year and shower them with affection.

Suggested Reading

  • Nonprofit About.com | Four Outside-the-Box Thank You’s That Charmed Donors
  • Suite 101 | Ways to Thank Nonprofit Volunteers and Board
  • Nonprofit Marketing Guide | Tips for Better Nonprofit Thank You Letters
  • NP Engage | 15 Techniques Used by Top Nonprofits to Boost Donor Acquisition and Online Fundraising Results

Image courtesy of The University of Vermont

Vannessa Wade

Vannessa Wade is the founder and CEO of Connect The Dots PR in Houston, Texas. An alumna of the University of Houston, Wade specializes in public relations and community development programming for nonprofit organizations and corporate businesses and has been featured in numerous newspaper, television and radio segments.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus