Nonprofit Growth

10 Ways to Shine a Spotlight on Your Volunteers

Shine the spotlight on your nonprofit volunteers

Volunteers form the backbone of many nonprofit organizations. They are the people who fill in the gaps when there aren’t enough staff members and they are the people who do all the little tasks that no one else wants to do. That’s why it’s so important to recognize and thank volunteers for the work that they do.

While you are probably grateful for your volunteers and what they do already, you may not know the extent of the impact volunteerism has in the broader nonprofit world. Here are some statistics that shed light on just how much volunteers mean to nonprofit organizations:
  • Approximately 63 million Americans — 25% of the adult population — volunteer their time, talents, and energy to making a difference (Nonprofit Source)
  • Combined, those 63 million Americans are estimated to contribute 8.8 billion hours a year (Urban Institute)
  • People spend an average of 52 hours per year volunteering their time (Nonprofit Source)
  • The estimated value of a volunteer work hour is $27.20 (Independent Sector)

With data like this, it’s hard to imagine nonprofits running at all without volunteers. These volunteers make your work possible by dedicating their time, which means they are passing up opportunities to make money, spend time with family, or hang out with friends. Essentially, they are giving a piece of their life to your organization.

While there are many nice ways to thank your volunteers, from pizza parties to personalized gifts to gift cards, those thank-you’s only go so far. With all volunteers do for your organization, consider thanking them in new, more meaningful ways that will be nice, but more importantly beneficial to their lives. Here are 10 unique ideas to shine the spotlight on your volunteers.

1. Write About Them.

This may sound generic and not very unique on the surface, but writing about your volunteers and expressing how grateful you are to them with your words can be very touching. They are not normally in the spotlight, so focusing on just them will be something new and unexpected.

One of the ways to do this is to create a blog post about a volunteer on your organization’s website. Talk about what they do at your organization, the overall impact they have, and why they are such a valuable member of your team. Similarly, you can choose to highlight a volunteer in your email campaign or your newsletter as well.

And then, of course, there’s social media. Use your social media accounts to put your volunteers front and center. This will also allow your volunteers to interact with your followers and supporters in the comments in a way that isn’t possible with any of the other options.

You can choose to combine all these options in a coordinated display of gratitude for an exceptional volunteer or focus on one forum for highlighting your volunteers.

2. Throw Them a Party.

While pizza parties are a fun way to celebrate a job well done, they can start to lose their appeal if they’ve been done too often. Consider planning a real party or event that is focused primarily on highlighting your volunteers.

One option would be to throw them a volunteer appreciation gala. This is probably the most expensive option, but it would demonstrate how much your volunteers truly mean to you with the time, effort, and money you would be spending on setting up the event. Your volunteers would feel incredibly appreciated knowing that an entire gala was set up in their honor. Everyone would also be able to dress up in their Sunday best and feel like a star.

Another option would be to hold a yearly awards ceremony just for volunteers. This way, you can also focus on how each individual volunteer made an impact within your organization over the last year by giving out personalized awards. You can include games, karaoke, food, and drinks to make it an all-around great time.

You can also throw them a normal party, but invite their families to attend. Let your organization’s team members meet the people who are important to your volunteers. This is a nice way to show interest in your volunteers’ personal lives and learn about who they are outside of your nonprofit.

3. Endorse Them.

A thank-you card is always nice to receive after you’ve worked hard on a particular job or project, but that sentiment doesn’t last forever and doesn’t continue to bring any value to your volunteers’ lives. Instead, think about endorsing your volunteers in the real world where they may be trying to get jobs.

One of the best ways to do this is with LinkedIn Endorsements. It’s a simple process for you, but it certainly means a great deal to the volunteer you are endorsing. It shows that someone of your rank in an organization approves of their work, but it also solidifies how you feel about them personally.

4. Write Reference Letters. 

This option is similar to endorsements but will take longer and include much more in-depth information since you will have to write a full letter. No matter what field you work in, getting someone you look up to and respect to write you a letter of recommendation is an honor that you will remember for a long time.

You may even be used to writing reference letters, so it’s no big deal to you, but to your volunteer, it will mean the world. As with some of the other options on this list, helping your volunteer in their pursuits in life is one of the greatest forms of thanks that they could ever receive.

5. Involve the Executive Director.

Everybody loves a star and, well, the Executive Director is pretty much the star of your organization. Show your volunteers how much they mean to you by providing them with a private meeting or hang out with the person in charge of your entire nonprofit. Your volunteers will be able to ask questions, gain insightful knowledge, but, most of all, feel like they are important enough to be in the room with an Executive Director of a nonprofit.

If gathering your volunteers for an exclusive meeting with the Executive Director is not a viable option, consider creating a video of your Director speaking to your volunteers and thanking them for all that they do. This will mean a lot knowing that such an important individual took time out of their day to address and thank them.

6. Offer a Seat on the Board.

Volunteers tend to perform the tasks they are instructed to do and not have much input into the overall workflow of the organization. As a way of thanking them for their dedicated work, consider including a seat on your board of directors to represent the volunteer voice. This way your volunteers would be involved with all the inner workings of your nonprofit where they could bring up new ideas, learn more about your nonprofit, and learn how nonprofits, in general, carry out their mission.

This could also fit in with individual volunteer awards, like volunteer of the week, month, and year. Those volunteers who are continuously honored with these awards will get to serve on the board and sit in for all of the other volunteers.

7. Recognize Them at a Fundraising Event.

Maybe it’s not the right time or there’s not enough funding for your organization to throw a party or gala in celebration of your volunteers. You can still highlight them at an existing fundraising event. This way you don’t have to spend any extra funds or book another venue, but you can still show the appreciation to your volunteers that they deserve.

Think about blocking off a time slot during your event and dedicate it solely to your volunteers. It will be even more special because many of your donors and supporters, people your volunteers have met and worked with, will be there as well to show their gratitude. You can include slideshows, speeches, or anything else that will add to letting your volunteers know just how much they mean.

8. Offer Scholarships and Training Programs.

As mentioned earlier, taking an interest in your volunteers’ personal lives and trying to help promote their growth is a much more lasting thank-you than any card. That’s why a great idea to show your appreciation is to offer scholarships to your volunteers or pay to send them to training programs.

Either option allows your volunteers to learn new, useful information, which also, in turn, makes them an even bigger asset to your organization. You are investing in the volunteers that keep your organization running, but you are also investing in the growth of your organization. Your volunteers will gain knowledge and training that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.

9. Film a Personalized Thank-You Video.

Another great option is to film a personalized thank you video for one of your exceptional volunteers or your whole group of volunteers. It’s like a thank you card x10, but it’s something they will also be able to keep and re-watch whenever they want to.

This option also presents a fun situation for your entire team because you can be creative and go all out to make your video. This means it could also function as a bonding experience, all while going through the process of making something to show your gratitude to your volunteers.

To really make it special, you can also choose to share the video on your social media channels, website, and email list. This way all your supporters, volunteers, and volunteers’ families will be able to see it and share it with their friends.

10. Letters from the Community.

This option is one of the simplest, but it is also one of the most meaningful things you could do to show your volunteers how much they mean. Reach out to people in your community who have interacted with and been helped by your volunteers and ask them to write a letter about how a certain volunteer made an impact on their life.

Receiving a personal letter from someone they have helped will be one of the most gratifying and emotional experiences for your volunteers. With a letter, they know exactly what impact they have had and proof that all of their work made a difference. They can also keep it for the rest of their lives to remember how they touched another person in this world.

There are countless things you can do to show your appreciation for your hard-working volunteers, but sometimes you might need to go the extra mile and do something a little more special. Keep these 10 unique ideas in mind for when you want to shine the spotlight on your volunteers in a new and interesting way. Your volunteers will be so grateful and remember it for the rest of their lives.

By Dominic Lincoln