10 ideas for a mission driven and measurable volunteer appreciation plan

Having an effective volunteer appreciation plan is key to keeping volunteers engaged, retained, and happy. This article not only shares ideas on how to build an effective recognition plan but also how to align it with your organization's goals.
A helpful guide on how to create an effective volunteer appreciation plan for your organization
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others? - Martin Luther King Jr.

Now more than ever, organizations need volunteers to deliver support to communities at-risk due to COVID-19. While your organization may have a strong virtual recruitment strategy for volunteers, retaining them is just as important so you don’t face a leaky bucket problem.

The most effective way to ensure volunteer retention is having a clear lens on who your volunteers are and ensuring a solid volunteer experience using an effective volunteer management software system. However, you shouldn’t only rely on your technology to retain your volunteers: you also need to recognize the importance of the work your volunteers provide through a mission-driven volunteer appreciation plan.

At Mon Ami, we’ve coordinated over 10,000 hours of service during the pandemic alone, and with our experience working with governments, nonprofits, and senior service organizations, we’ve compiled tips for how any organization can create a volunteer appreciation plan that demonstrates care for your volunteers while also increasing volunteer retention.

Why is Volunteer Appreciation Important for Organizations?

Every time a person volunteers, they are choosing to contribute to the mission of your organization while sacrificing time that could be spent with family and friends or fulfilling personal responsibilities. When your organization recognizes the effort made by volunteers, your volunteers will feel seen and supported and will be more likely to continue working with your organization.

Not only will your organization experience higher volunteer retention, but by publicizing extraordinary efforts made by volunteers, you are positively reinforcing those exemplary actions for your entire volunteer base and allowing shareability of volunteer opportunities to the network of your volunteers. Effectively recognizing your volunteers should lead to higher engagement and the potential for word of mouth sharing, giving outsiders a clearer picture of what volunteer work looks like, making your volunteer recruitment efforts easier.

Outlining the Mission of Your Volunteer Appreciation Plan

To start, outline the mission of your volunteer recognition plan by asking: “what are you trying to achieve?”  We believe that a strong volunteer recognition plan will achieve three things:

  1. Demonstrate gratitude and positive reinforcement for the incredible services volunteers provide AND
  2. Build awareness for all volunteers and the general public of what exemplary support being provided looks like AND
  3. Develop a personal relationship with your volunteers that reflects the culture of your organization

Your mission guidelines should now drive every action of your volunteer recognition plan. Whether you’re writing handwritten thank you cards to your volunteers or gifting a sweet surprise, every action should demonstrate gratitude, build awareness of the incredible service your volunteers have provided, and develop a lasting relationship with your volunteers.

General Tips to Make Volunteer Appreciation Successful

Now that we understand what your Volunteer Recognition Plan aims to accomplish, here are some general tips to help make your plan a success.

  • Distinguish between formal and informal recognition actions

As you build out your plan for appreciating your volunteers, make sure you distinguish between what’s formal and informal. Formal recognition are actions that are scheduled and delivered regularly in your organization’s operations to recognize volunteers. In contrast, informal recognition are spontaneous, unscheduled actions delivered to volunteers. Check to make sure that you have enough scheduled formal recognition events to ensure you’re prepared and consistent when recognizing volunteers.

As an added tip, it’s always good to have a backlog of ideas for informal recognition actions as they come up. We’ve included some quick-hit ideas below if you’re feeling stuck!

  • Personalize your appreciations

Being able to individualize the gifts or recognition provided to a volunteer helps drive the personal connection between the volunteer and the organization. While giving personal phone calls and handwritten reminders to appreciate volunteers is thoughtful, you can level-up those same actions through personalization.

When a volunteer signs-up to work for your organization, what kind of personal questions do you ask them? Some of our favorite questions to embed within our sign-up form are:

  • What is your favorite snack or thing to munch on?
  • What is your favorite drink?
  • What do you like to spend your free time doing?
  • What’s your MBTI score?
  • Do you know your love language(s)?

By including these questions when volunteers sign-up, we now can tailor our appreciation for that volunteer based on the deeply personal, meaningful information we know about that individual. For example, if Tom went above and beyond in his grocery delivery to his senior companion Naomi, I might include a package of chocolate chip cookies with the thank you card I deliver to Tom given that his favorite snack is chocolate chip cookies. The key here is to get creative with the delivery once you capture the personal details upfront when a volunteer joins!

But what about our existing volunteers? You can slowly embed these same questions into post-service feedback surveys! If we didn’t initially collect that information from Tom, the next time he completes a service, we can follow-up with his service with a quick survey that only captures feedback from his volunteer experience but also allows us to capture personalization information!

  • Have a mix of online and offline recognition actions

In today’s digital world it’s easy to become fixated on digitizing everything, including your recognition actions. In a purely digital recognition plan, you might automate emails for volunteer birthdays, stick to a volunteer newsletter, and send digital gift cards. However, it’s also important to consider how easy it is for an email inbox to get swamped and for emails to get accidentally passed over or deleted.

Sending occasional physical reminders of how important your volunteers are to your organization by sending physical tokens like a t-shirt or memento, or sending a handwritten letter goes a long way in building a lasting relationship with your volunteers and further engaging them.

10 Ideas for Appreciating Volunteers

Looking for some ready-to-execute ideas to recognize your volunteers? Then look no further. Here are some quick-hit ideas to start appreciating!

1. Map out a calendar of key dates to recognize volunteers

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment: 2/5

A reliable way to build a formal recognition plan is to map out a calendar of key dates your organization will build recognition campaigns around.

Brainstorm which holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and other special dates your organization should build campaigns around and include them in your organization’s volunteer recognition calendar. Don’t forget to include any email newsletters or social media posts dedicated to recognizing volunteers!

2. Build a newsletter for tailored to your Volunteers

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment: 4/5

Volunteers appreciate being able to see the impact their work has on the people they serve. In a volunteer monthly newsletter, not only can you provide a recurring update on the collective impact of volunteers’ work but also provide shout outs, additional volunteer opportunities, and ask for feedback!

Here’s a high-level structure of a newsletter you can build for your organization:

  • Volunteer Impact Report
  • Volunteer Shout Outs
  • Volunteers of the Month
  • Volunteer Opportunities
  • Feedback Survey

3. Publish Volunteer Spotlights or Volunteers of the Month on your blog and social media

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment: 3/5

We love spotlighting our volunteers! Publicizing volunteer spotlights on your website, newsletter, and/or social media aligns with the mission of building awareness of world-class services from special volunteers. After deciding on a Volunteer to spotlight, try to personally reach out to the volunteer to express your gratitude and interest in showcasing them on your social channels.

If they’re willing (and always check!) send them a form with questions that allow you to build out those blogs or social media posts. Here’s a short but sweet template we like to use:

  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • Why do you volunteer with [organization]?
  • What’s your favorite part about [organization]?
  • Any pictures you can share from your experience with [organization]?

4. Deliver wellness packs during this unprecedented time

  • Cost: $$$
  • Time Investment: 3/5

With many volunteers physically moving from place to place to provide essential services, one idea for informal recognition is providing a wellness pack. A couple of essentials in a wellness pack include a branded face mask, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and a sweet treat! Wearing a branded face mask not only reminds the volunteer and the individuals they serve of the organization sponsoring the service being provided, but it also ensures the safety of the volunteer along with the other sanitizing goodies included in the pack.

Also, don’t forget you can always pull from your personalization surveys to decide which sweet surprise to include in the pack.

5. Gift a memento that represents your organization

  • Cost: $$
  • Time Investment: 3/5

If there’s a particular item or symbol that comes to mind when thinking about your organization, think about branding it as a gift for your dedicated volunteers! Mon Ami aims to prioritize friendship and connection with everyone we work with, so a memento that comes to mind is the Mon Ami Band, a classic friendship bracelet that we can give to our volunteers and their senior companions.

Think about a memento that would represent your organization well. You can even make the memento something earned by the number of hours served, or any volunteer reports of outstanding actions that deserve recognition!

6. Plan a “phone-athon” during Volunteer Appreciation Week

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment: 5/5

Since most physical events or gatherings are unfeasible during the pandemic, your organization can still mobilize to reach almost all of your volunteers to make an impact for Volunteer Appreciation Week.

Consider designating a point person to create a schedule for your team to designate lists of volunteers to call during specified time blocks throughout the week. Since it’s a team effort, even if you have hundreds or thousands of volunteers you should be able to reach almost all of them to give them a personal human-to-human thank you for all the amazing work they have done.

7. Re-create a “baton pass” thank you singing video

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment: 2/5

It doesn’t matter if you’re tone-deaf or can bellow like Beyonce. We loved this video led by Gal Gadot bringing together a plethora of familiar faces to sing Imagine to lift up everyone’s spirits during this difficult time.

Make your own “baton pass” video singing a classic (or new!) tune that shares the gratitude you have for your volunteers. Most likely, your volunteers will carry an unknowing smile by the closing seconds of your melodious video.

8. Host a weekly or monthly raffle for active volunteers

  • Cost: $$$
  • Time Investment: 2/5

With a large volunteer base, it can be logistically challenging to try to individualize every gift or recognition action for volunteers. However, to provide an ongoing benefit for your volunteers paired with a bit of luck, a raffle would be a great option to add to your recognition plan!

Try to mix up the raffle rewards to not only include gift cards or physical items! Consider subscriptions to wellness services like mindfulness app Calm, or even a one-on-one with your leadership. Again, you can pull from your personalization surveys to determine what might be good to offer as a raffle reward!

9. Ship a DIY at-home movie night (or other event)

  • Cost: $$$
  • Time Investment: 2/5

Replace the big group outing with the staycation! The Mon Ami team loves Pixar, and we would love for our volunteers to experience the same joy we experience when watching a Pixar film. What better way to do this than to ship a DIY at-home movie night!

Here’s what you need to send:

  • A Netflix or Disney+ gift card
  • A bag of microwave popcorn
  • A box of candy or another sweet treat

Then lights off, Luxo on!

10. Send a “loaded” handwritten thank you card

  • Cost: $
  • Time Investment 2/5

Who doesn’t like surprises? While handwritten thank you cards alone are an incredible way to recognize volunteers, you can elevate these cards by including folded slips of paper that include testimonials or shout-outs to volunteers for the service they provided. You can even include a small packet of flower seeds and include the note: “thanks a ‘bunch’”.

The “loaded” thank you card is sure to make for a welcome surprise!

Assessing Your Volunteer Appreciation Plan

After building out your recognition plan, it’s important to ask: “how can you measure whether your plan is achieving those three (or more) goals in your mission outline?” Given the importance of volunteers to your organization, this is incredibly important to track to determine satisfaction in volunteering and also as a way to achieve more communication touch points with your volunteers.

To measure the success of your plan consider instituting a Net Promoter Score (NPS) analysis on your volunteer experience. If you don’t have the capacity to institute an NPS analysis, consider tracking any changes with referrals for your volunteer programs and/or the retention of your volunteers.

An appreciated volunteer who clearly understands the impact of the work they do is sure to stay, so make sure to recognize the cornerstone of your volunteer programs: your volunteers, and build your volunteer recognition plan today!

Mon Ami’s technology is an off-the-shelf solution for governments, nonprofits, and other senior service organizations. Our software has coordinated over 10,000 hours of service in its testing, helping seniors and other vulnerable populations receive essential services. We are committed to working with frontline social service providers to make sure they run as smoothly and effectively as possible.  If you’re looking to upgrade your volunteer management software or adopt one, request a demo today.