National Volunteer Week 2023: How to Recognize Your Volunteers

    National Volunteer Week 2023 is almost here. What an excellent time to plan how you’ll recognize your valued volunteers.

    Recognizing the fantastic work your volunteers do to forward your mission is an essential task for nonprofits. It plays a role in continued engagement and overall satisfaction with the volunteer experience. Most organizations would struggle in some way 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 either entirely or heavily on volunteers to run? Americans volunteer almost nine billion hours annually, and many vital services wouldn’t happen without people who donate their time.

    According to Independent Sector’s research on volunteerism in the nonprofit sector, as of April 2022, the estimated national value of each volunteer hour is currently $29.95, up $1.41 since 2021.

    So if Americans volunteer almost nine billion hours annually, they’ve effectively donated $269.55 billion of their time! This is huge and marks the importance of making them feel appreciated. 

    Here’s why you should 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 lose more than a third of their volunteers annually.

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

    That’s where volunteer recognition comes into play. Everyone wants to feel appreciated for their contributions, volunteers especially! When people feel valued and needed, they often become life-long volunteers. Recognition is one thing you can control and ensure gets done well.

    Attracting new volunteers

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

    Recognition can also help make your current volunteers champions for your organization. Helping your organization to organically attract new volunteers. 

    Create a welcoming environment.

    Thanking people is basic, good manners. You spend much time thanking your donors; of course, you should recognize people who donate their time (remember our equation above $269.55 billion in volunteer hours). Many nonprofits wouldn’t succeed without their valued volunteers, so it’s important to create and nurture a welcoming environment that encourages them to return. 

    How to recognize your volunteers

    How will your organization recognize volunteers? The key is to do so in a way that is meaningful to them, but as with most nonprofits, budget needs to be considered.

    One thing to remember is that recognition doesn’t have to be expensive or grand 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 t-shirts. Sometimes a more personalized approach is better.

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

    Offer references

    While you may not be able to pay your volunteers, you can surely offer references! Appreciate volunteer contributions by offering to write letters of recommendation.  

    Consider also giving LinkedIn endorsements for your volunteers. You’ll have the opportunity to highlight the specific skills the volunteer has displayed while working with your organization.  

    Record a Thank You Video

    Throughout the year, take pictures and videos of your volunteers in action, and compile the clips into a thank you message. You can also ask members of your community who have been positively affected to record notes of thanks to include.  

    Thank you videos are a great and inexpensive way to showcase your gratitude to your volunteers, and they can be used across many channels (social media, emails, newsletters, and shown at events)

    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 plays an important role in a prospecting strategy for new volunteers. National Volunteer Week can be an excellent opportunity to parlay volunteer recognition into growing your team of volunteers.

    For example, you might 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 enough information about what that means. Volunteers need to have an idea of what exactly it is they’re signing up for. Tell people exactly what you need: “we’re looking for help decorating and setting up for our gala, people who can serve food, and experienced bartenders who can be available for 8 hours during the evening of the gala.”

    One tip is to offer different levels of volunteer engagement so that you have volunteer opportunities to suit different schedules. For example, some people could 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 gain volunteers from within those organizations. Nonprofits might partner 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 searching 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 where people can sign up.

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

    iWave can help

    Are you looking to attract a new wave of volunteers this National Volunteer Week? iWave has an often overlooked special benefit – 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 suited to their circumstances. Then, use iWave to help you identify new volunteers.

    Wishing everyone a wonderful National Volunteer Week!


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