When I began my journey into non-profit work as a volunteer coordinator for a local organization, I was surprised atwhat a big task it was. I had to coordinate 40-50 volunteers weekly, create assignments for them and communicate that out, and then make sure the volunteers actually did what they were assigned to do. At our yearly gala, that was an even bigger task – over 100 volunteers doing just as many different jobs, when what most of them wanted to do was hang out and party with the donors and attendees. The most important thing? I had to make sure they were happy. Happy?? They were volunteers, so they must have wanted to be there, right? I learned very quickly that if the volunteers didn’t feel appreciated they didn’t last.
When you work in a non-profit, everything is very donor-centric. You cultivate the donor. You steward the donor. You honor the donor. Everything they do is met with fanfare and gratitude. But it’s just as important to thank your volunteers, including your board.
It’s incredibly easy to make someone feel appreciated, and the more your volunteers feel that, the easier it’s going to be to retain them. There are some really easy ways to show your gratitude for what they do that doesn’t require gifts or food (although everyone loves pizza!)
Show your volunteers respect – a little acknowledgement goes a long way. Did a volunteer take on a big task, or go above and beyond when doing something? Have them stand for applause at your next volunteer meeting, or post their picture with a little biography at your headquarters or in your next newsletter.
Remember important dates – giving them a shoutout on their birthday is a great thing. Post it on your social media page – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. Even better, if you have blank cards have all the other volunteers sign it and present it to them when you see them next.
Listen to them – your volunteers are your best eyes and ears to what’s going on. Most of them are deep in the little daily things that the organization does. If a volunteer comes to you with a suggestion or an idea on ways to improve something, or an idea for a new program, give them a few minutes of your time. Most likely they have some good ideas!
Have an appreciation day – even if it’s just pizza and beer at your local joint, having a day specifically for your volunteers makes it a special day for them. Take the time to talk to as many of them as you can, making sure to thank them when you do. Little gestures go a long way.
When volunteers are appreciated, they’re happier. They’re going to tell their friends and family about what they’re doing. And they will continue to be motivated to keep coming back.
I know that after learning the hard way, I will always ensure that my volunteers feel the gratitude I have for them. Because without them, we wouldn’t be anywhere.
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” – William Arthur WardDon