How to Recognise and Reward Volunteers

Whether they cheer from the sidelines at challenge events, raise awareness in local communities or work directly with beneficiaries, volunteers will play a critical part in your charity’s success. Making sure you recognise and reward them appropriately is fundamental to your volunteer retention strategy. So how do you do this successfully, particularly with little (or no) budget? Here’s how…

Thank them by name

The simple things can be the most important, so first and foremost, learn your volunteers’ names. That’s essential to make them feel valued and not just like insignificant cogs in the machine. And it sounds really obvious, but don’t forget to say thank you. A volunteer’s supervisor should thank them on a regular basis, but a ‘thank you’ from someone on the senior management team can also have a big impact. In addition, you could consider hand-writing thank you notes or cards for that personal touch and to show a little extra effort.

There are also more public ways you can say thank you, such as acknowledging volunteers by name in your annual report, or displaying a ‘volunteer of the month’ on your staff noticeboard or intranet.

If you’re feeling more creative then you could even film a thank you video and get different people across the organisation involved in making your volunteers feel special and acknowledging their importance.

Send cards and small gifts

Make a note of important dates like volunteers’ birthdays or the anniversary of the date they started volunteering. Then you can send cards and/or gifts. Gifts don’t have to be big or expensive—and volunteers wouldn’t want you to spend charity funds that way—but even a small gesture like buying their favourite chocolate bar, or giving them a charity branded mug or T-shirt can mean a lot.

If you don’t have a dedicated volunteer manager, then make sure someone specific is responsible for remembering these dates and organising the gifts. Don’t just rely on collective memory, or some volunteers may get forgotten.

Give awards

If you have lots of volunteers, then you could show them your gratitude by holding an annual volunteering awards ceremony. But be careful to make sure that each one is included and thanked in some way. Alternatively, you could also nominate your volunteers for any local community awards.

Certificates of achievement can also be a meaningful way to celebrate success. You could present these at particular milestones, like the end of a project or for long service.

Organise social events

For a more sociable way to recognise and reward volunteers, organise a party or social event. This could be a Christmas, summer or end of financial year celebration, or simply just an annual event to show gratitude for all their hard work. If needed, this can be kept very low budget and done in your office (or even online). Most volunteers will enjoy the opportunity to get together socially, particularly with some of the paid employees at the charity too.

Similarly, you could periodically organise a lunch for your volunteers to say thank you. Again, this can be done as cheaply as necessary, or you could even ask each person to bring in one item to share and have an indoor (or outdoor) picnic.

Organise social events to recognise and reward volunteers

Use a rewards scheme (and offer training)

If you sign-up to a rewards scheme such as Tempo, your volunteers can earn digital time credits that can be redeemed for rewards, such as free cinema tickets or exercise classes. These rewards are funded by businesses that want to give back to their local communities.

You could also offer opportunities to help develop volunteers’ skills in the form of training courses. We have a good range of low cost courses and the Open University has a wide selection of free ones, including one on working in the voluntary sector. And don’t forget other less traditional learning resources, such as TED Talks.

Give and receive feedback

As you would with paid staff members, it’s important to give volunteers feedback at regular intervals. It’s a good idea to set a framework in place for this, so they know what to expect and when, and supervisors can be prepared.

There are lots of ways you can provide feedback and different people it can come from, but it should cover their performance and also the impact their role is having. It’s really important that volunteers understand the value and meaning of what they do—so it’s not just ‘menial work’. Perhaps they can have a visit with, or letter from, your beneficiaries? Or paid staff could write testimonials about the difference volunteers have made?

Asking volunteers for feedback themselves is also worthwhile. They’re in a great position to see things that paid members of staff might not, such as improvements to processes. Don’t forget to ask if there’s anything they need to perform their roles better (and to actually action it if there is). Volunteers are often very close to beneficiaries as well—sometimes they have used your charity’s services themselves or have a loved one or close friend who has been affected by your cause. So if you have volunteers with long service who have the right experience, it could be valuable to ask them to join key meetings to share their opinions and feedback. If you do this, make sure they are taken seriously and you actually take their ideas on board where possible.

Be sincere

You can recognise and reward volunteers in many ways. Make sure you have a proactive, consistent plan and don’t just let it be an after-thought. Be fair in your treatment of different volunteers and, above all, be sincere in your appreciation. Volunteers are exceptionally valuable to charities, so celebrate them as much as you can.

Tags: staff retention, training and development, volunteer management, volunteer recognition, volunteer retention, volunteer rewards

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About the author

Karen Harlow

Karen Harlow is Digital Content Manager at CharityJob.