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National Volunteer Week 2022: How to Recognize Your Volunteers

National Volunteer Week 2022 is almost upon us and it’s a great time to consider how you’ll recognize your valued volunteers.

Volunteer recognition is an important task for nonprofits, playing a role in engagement and overall satisfaction with the volunteer experience. Most can’t do without their volunteers, so you want to ensure they know how much they are appreciated!

How will you recognize volunteers? Here are a few proven ideas to help:

Why recognizing volunteers is important in the nonprofit ecosystem

Did you know around 40% of public charities rely upon either entirely, or very heavily on volunteers in order to operate? Americans volunteer almost nine billion hours annually and many important services just wouldn’t happen without people who donate their own time.

Volunteer recognition is important because it’s crucial to keep your volunteers engaged, as well as attract new ones. Here’s why you should make the effort to recognize your volunteers during this National Volunteer Week, and beyond:

Volunteer retention

Retaining volunteers is an ongoing challenge for most nonprofits. Data from Americorps suggests the average volunteer retention rate is around 65%, meaning nonprofits are losing more than a third of their volunteers each year.

Why do volunteers leave? There are a multitude of reasons, but the challenge for nonprofits is to ensure that they’re not leaving due to anything the organization could have done differently. Some report that how volunteering was managed was a reason they quit, while others drift away due to disengagement.

That’s where volunteer recognition comes in. People want to feel appreciated for their contributions! When people feel appreciated, they often become volunteers for the long haul. Recognition is one thing you can control and ensure gets done well.

Attracting new volunteers

When you recognize your current volunteers, it can also be a great way to attract new ones. People usually ask questions before signing up as a volunteer; they want to know what the experience is like. Volunteer recognition can be a check on the positive side for taking on a volunteer role because it tells them the organization appreciates their volunteers and their efforts.

Recognition can also help to make current volunteers advocates for the organization. This is another way to attract new volunteers.

Create a welcoming environment

Thanking people for what they do for you is basic, good manners. You spend a lot of time thanking your donors, of course, you should recognize people who donate their time! Many nonprofits simply wouldn’t run without their valued volunteers, so it’s important to create a welcoming environment that encourages them to keep coming back.

How to recognize your volunteers

How will your organization recognize volunteers? The key is to do so in a way that is meaningful for your volunteers, but as with most nonprofits, budget is also a consideration.

One thing to remember is that recognition doesn’t have to be a grand gesture or costly in order to be meaningful. Consider who your volunteers are and think of ways to recognize them that suit the individual. For example, gifts are often appreciated, but not everyone would like more swag. Sometimes a more personalized approach is better.

We’ve got some actionable ideas here for every budget:

Profile volunteers on your social channels

Do you have pictures or videos of volunteers going about their work? Could you take some nice individual portraits and profile each volunteer? This is one way you can recognize their work very publicly, along with helping to share “the face” of your volunteers.

Ask permission before doing this as not everyone wants to feature on social media. For ideas, search the hashtag #volunteerappreciation.

Invest in your volunteer

One important way to recognize volunteers is by investing in their development. This could take several different forms such as:

  • Providing leadership opportunities.
  • Offering more advanced training.
  • Sending them to conferences.
  • Allowing them to help shape program direction.
  • Providing personal growth opportunities.

People feel invested in organizations that show they’re prepared to invest in them. Besides that, being willing to invest in development shows people that you’re serious about helping them grow personally.

Volunteer gifts

Give thought to volunteer gifts in terms of the personal stages of life and interests of your volunteers. Frequent volunteers often end up with many coffee mugs or t-shirts, so may appreciate something a little different. For example:

  • Gift baskets of consumable goods.
  • Make a volunteer yearbook showing photos and milestones from the year.
  • Create a community recipe book to give as a gift.
  • Give gift cards or tickets for experiences.

Cards and certificates

Volunteer appreciation cards or award certificates are always appreciated, especially if you go the extra mile to add a personal touch. For example, you could recognize volunteers for their own particular impact: “Thank you for your invaluable contribution in caring for injured bears after the Caldor Fire. Your efforts have helped us to release 5 bears, now in good health, back into the wild.”

Volunteer appreciation event

If you have the budget for it, appreciation events are a great way to not only recognize volunteers but help to grow camaraderie and a sense of belonging among your teams. It doesn’t have to be hugely expensive – you can do anything from a beach BBQ to a nice dinner in a restaurant. Incorporate some kind of volunteer awards ceremony for an extra touch of recognition.

How to attract more volunteers

Volunteer recognition can play an important role as part of a prospecting strategy for new volunteers. National Volunteer Week can be a great opportunity to parlay volunteer recognition into growing your pool of volunteers.

For example, you might choose to host a volunteer signup event during the week. You could host booths and refreshments to welcome the new intake of volunteers. Some other tips include:

Be specific about what you need

Sometimes organizations put out “a call for volunteers” but don’t give much information about what that actually means. People want to at least have an idea of what they’re signing up for!

Instead, tell people exactly what you need: “we’re looking for Tuesday afternoon gardeners, weekly dog walkers, and experienced food handlers who can do one or two dinner shifts each week.”

One tip is to offer different levels of volunteer engagement so that you have volunteer opportunities to suit different schedules. For example, some people might be able to volunteer for an event once every month, while others might be prepared to do certain tasks twice each week.

Form partnerships with other organizations

Formalized partnerships can help to yield volunteers from within those organizations. Nonprofits might partner up with universities, schools, community groups, or even private businesses.

National Volunteer Week may be a great time to formalize and celebrate new partnerships.

Spread awareness

How will you let your community know you’re looking for volunteers? Spreading awareness through various channels can help. While you’re highlighting your volunteers on social media, you could also be putting out a call for additional volunteers. Include a link in your posts for where interested people can sign up.

Flyers or posters in key public areas can also be helpful for spreading awareness. A tip is to include a QR code for people to scan to get to your volunteer signup. Most people carry smartphones and this is a quick, efficient way to get them to your website.

iWave can help

Looking to attract a new wave of volunteers this National Volunteer Week? iWave has a special benefit that is often overlooked – you can use the data analysis functionality to identify possible new volunteers or board members. This means you can appeal directly to them.

Volunteers are often the backbone of a nonprofit and deserve to be recognized. Consider your current group of volunteers and choose a volunteer appreciation method that is suited to their personal circumstances. Then, use iWave to help you identify new volunteers.

Wishing everyone a wonderful National Volunteer Week!

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