Special to the Philanthropy Journal
By Rachel Horowitz
Volunteers are a huge component of many nonprofits’ daily activities. They are simultaneously the people behind the curtain and the faces of the operation. In fact, the average value of a single volunteer is worth $24/hour. Because of this, recognizing your organization’s volunteers in a way that makes them feel valued and appreciated is more important than ever.
We collected advice from volunteer and program coordinators across the sector to find out ways that they appreciate their volunteers. Here is what they told us:
Madison Neimer, Engagement Specialist at New Moms
“I believe that the best ways nonprofits can support volunteer programs is threefold. First, it’s imperative that program staff understand the necessity and value that volunteers play in the organization. Without recognizing the inherent value of volunteers, the second step wouldn’t be possible. That’s thanking the volunteers. Consistently acknowledging the unpaid work of volunteers will create volunteer retention. Whether it’s making sure a volunteer has a full cup of coffee during their weekly opportunity, or inviting them out to lunch during Volunteer Appreciation Week in April, it’s crucial to verbally and intentionally share your thanks. Finally, it’s crucial that the coordinator is not afraid to invest in the personal lives of the volunteers. This allows the whole process to go around because it will keep program staff up to date and the volunteer [stays] committed to the organization!”
Camilla Posthill, Project Manager at Farmer Foodshare
“At Farmer Foodshare, the staff treats all of our volunteers with the respect and gratitude that they deserve for generously donating their time and talents! Volunteer appreciation is continuous. It doesn’t occur once a year on a random day. With every interaction, with every ‘thank you,’ our staff strives to make sure that our volunteers recognize the merit and impact their contributions make in achieving Farmer Foodshare’s mission. Volunteers are the heart of our organization, and we want them to know it!”
Arlene Brown, Program Manager at Plug-in NC
“For Plug-In NC (a statewide education and outreach collaborative for electric vehicles), we have seen much success with our Ambassador volunteer program. Ambassadors are electric vehicles’ number one fans and are passionate about the technology. The Ambassadors help our program by promoting driving electric [vehicles] across the state through volunteering at events, providing presentations, writing articles and more. This group of enthusiasts has proven time and again that with a clear mission and lots of passion, our frontline group of supporters can make a difference. Each quarter, we spotlight an Ambassador who has gone above and beyond through our Plug-in NC newsletter. This has helped our volunteers be recognized all across the state for the amazing work they are doing.”
Nathan Maltais, Volunteer Coordinator at CORA Food Pantry
“Volunteer spotlight of the month and yearly appreciation events are great, but building a cohesive working volunteer pool requires more than that. Holding or opening up socializing opportunities for volunteers to engage with each other outside of a volunteer work environment builds a stronger bond. This does not have to be related to the message of your nonprofit but allows volunteers to meet similar people who are dedicating their time to your mission. This can include [having] community meals at a restaurant, pairing similar volunteers together with matching interests or inviting groups to community events.
“Communication with volunteers is essential with recognition. Volunteer focus groups with about five volunteers allows for ideal communication of issues or concerns. Following up and broadcasting those solutions back to your volunteer pool allows for everyone to be involved.”
Here are some resources so that you can implement similar programs for your organization.
- Find out if your state has a Governor’s Award for service or volunteerism and when the nominating process is
- Create a weekly or monthly volunteer spotlight on social media, and figure out the best times to post it
- Ask your volunteers for feedback on your organization’s efforts and how they would like to contribute
- Consult books and articles on volunteer management and talk to other specialists in your area
With these tools under your belt, we wish you the best of luck with implementing or redesigning your own volunteer program. You may find this causes increased awareness and interest in your mission. If your organization has another unique way that they recognize volunteers, let us know in the comments!
Rachel Horowitz is the volunteer manager at Chatham Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing and opportunities to low-income families. She received her B.A. in Media and Journalism and Psychology at UNC-Chapel Hill.