Thanking Your Volunteers: 5 Best Practices for Retention

Volunteers help out nonprofits like yours for all kinds of reasons! And your organization can show your appreciation for their efforts by thanking your volunteers. People might volunteer because they’re interested in learning new skills and want to improve their communities. Or they simply appreciate your nonprofit and want to make volunteering a part of their everyday life.

Volunteers fundraise, push forward your initiatives, and help your staff complete the day-to-day tasks that keep your nonprofit in operation. In exchange, most volunteers are perfectly satisfied with having a positive experience and knowing they’re doing more good in the world. Of course, this doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate a heartfelt thank you from your nonprofit. 

Here are five ways to thank your volunteers for everything they do and potentially retain them for years to come. 

Thanking Your Volunteers: 5 Best Practices for Retention

1. Send thank you volunteer letters 💌

Sometimes the most straightforward approach is best—you can let your volunteers know you appreciate them by telling them! Verbal acknowledgment at the end of each volunteer event can go a long way toward making a volunteer feel appreciated. But you can go the extra mile by sending thank you letters in the mail. 

The more you can tailor each letter to its recipient, the better. Track specific details about each volunteer in your CRM or VMS and get their supervisor involved in the letter writing process. Chances are that they’ll have some specific, personal details they can share about your volunteers after working alongside them. 

At the end of these letters, have someone at your organization sign it. This can be a high-up member of your team like your executive director or a board member or someone the volunteer knows personally, like the volunteer manager. For volunteers who have been with your nonprofit for years, you might even send an extra special letter by having as many of your volunteers and staff as possible sign it to show how much everyone at your nonprofit appreciates them. 

👉 Learn more about reaching out to volunteers with POINT!
👉 Read more about volunteer recruitment ideas

2. Host appreciation events 🌟

Your volunteers help out with your big events like an annual walk-a-thon, and/or handling administrative tasks like mailing donor thank you letters. No matter how you engage volunteers, you can celebrate their accomplishments by mixing things up and hosting a volunteer appreciation event. 

These events take volunteers out of the day to day work and invite them to get to know each other and your staff in a casual setting. Plus, events also mean food and fun activities! Try appreciating volunteers by hosting events like:

  • Virtual events. Often, only the volunteers at your office or worksite that day can attend an in-person appreciation event. But you can extend an invitation to your entire volunteer base by hosting a virtual event. Play trivia, watch movies, or just invite volunteers to catch up with each other from the comfort of their own homes. 
  • Lunches. You can throw an appreciation event at any time, including in the middle of the workday by taking your volunteer team out to lunch or ordering food from a local restaurant. Alternatively, invite volunteers to bring their own lunches but take them outside the office to have a bit of fun and chat in a new environment. 
  • After-parties. Your volunteers work extra hard during big events and initiatives. Give them a chance to celebrate extra hard as well by throwing an after-party! For instance, after finishing your capital campaign kickoff event, you might invite volunteers to stick around and enjoy pizza and a few drinks. 

With a wide range of options, volunteer appreciation events can be as elaborate or simple as you want. Gain inspiration by checking in with your volunteers to see what kind of events they would appreciate. 

3. Provide free merchandise 🧡

A tangible reminder of your appreciation can go a long way. If your nonprofit is already making custom merchandise, you likely already have some great items to give to your volunteers. 

If your nonprofit has extra merchandise after a campaign or event finishes, consider giving it to your volunteers. To go even further, you can also create new merchandise specifically for volunteers. For example, you might create a custom t-shirt for a long-time volunteer with their last name on the back and your logo on the front, similar to a sports team shirt. 

Change up the merchandise you make to give your donors and volunteers a bigger selection of merch to choose from. Try creating: 

  • T-shirts
  • Hats
  • Water bottles 
  • Sweaters
  • Face masks

Think about what your nonprofit specializes in and use that as inspiration to get creative! For instance, an animal shelter might be able to get a paw up when it comes to volunteer retention by giving their pet-loving volunteers branded pet clothes. 

4. Collect volunteer feedback 💬

Sometimes, the most effective way to thank your volunteers is just to make the experiences they had in your program better. You can start doing that by collecting volunteer feedback. Put together a survey asking volunteers about all aspects of your program, including onboarding, day-to-day communication, and even how they feel about your current appreciation strategies. 

Your goal should be to get as many surveys completed as possible with feedback that’s as honest as possible.

There are two methods that you can use, both of which have their own pros and cons for helping you reach this goal: 

  • Send anonymous surveys. You can send anonymous surveys after a major initiative of your volunteer program has been finished, or to long-time volunteers. Or, you can even send them to volunteers who have just been recruited. These surveys will be opt-in, which means the number of responses you get will vary, but you can count on getting honest feedback. 
  • Meet one-on-one. After a volunteer has been with your program for a little while and has established a rapport with your volunteer manager, start thinking about holding one-on-one feedback meetings. These are helpful for getting detailed answers as your volunteer manager can follow up on any responses. Although, chances are most of your volunteers will moderate their feedback, so it may not be the most candid. 

After collecting feedback, set aside the time to sort through it and find recurring ideas and trends in responses. You probably won’t be able to implement every idea, but if several volunteers all say the same thing about your program, it’s definitely worth looking into. Then, when volunteers see your nonprofit listening to their input, they’ll know your organization is committed to providing a positive experience. 

Plus, be sure to thank volunteers who took the time to sit down with you and provide feedback!

👉 Boost your volunteer experience with POINT!

5. Provide growth opportunities ⚡

Most volunteers are happy to help with whatever your nonprofit needs. However, those who have been with your nonprofit for a long time are probably interested in exploring just what else they can do in their role. 

Giving volunteers new and exciting responsibilities that align with their interests makes your volunteer program a better place! Use your volunteer data to see what roles volunteers have excelled at in the past. Then, talk with them about skills they would like to learn, what they enjoy doing most, and any ideas they have about ways to grow your program. 

Plus, giving volunteers more opportunities to do what they love can only boost your chances that they’ll keep coming back day after day. 

Saying thanks goes a long way! Make showing appreciation a part of your everyday volunteer program, from saying thank you to volunteers at the end of their shifts to throwing parties for all of your volunteers. Get their feedback, too, to make sure you’re showing your appreciation in a way they’ll appreciate. Then in no time, you’ll create a better volunteer experience and boost retention!

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About the Author: Kevin Penney, CMO & Co-Founder of Bonfire

Kevin Penney has been working in digital media for over ten years. He’s the CMO and co-founder of Bonfire, an online platform that’s reinventing the way people create, sell and purchase custom apparel. He enjoys strategizing, working closely with his team, and hockey, exactly in that order.

Photo Brandy Strand
Brandy Strand
Nonprofit Partnerships Account Executive

No guilt trips, no sad stories. Just a chance to do something good.