5 Unexpectedly Thoughtful Ways to Thank Your Association’s Volunteers

Associations, Retention // Volunteers play an integral role in your association.Give your volunteers an unexpected surprise with these 5 thank you methods.

Julie Dietz
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Whether they’re in your office or working remotely, your association probably has volunteers contributing to projects every day. They might be doing multiple microvolunteering activities, serving on a committee, or helping with special initiatives – all of which are essential to your association moving forward. So keep them motivated and feeling valued by showing appreciation for their hard work.

Here are five things you can do that that go above and beyond what your volunteers are expecting.

1. Publicly Thank Your Volunteers

Write a blog post, add a website banner, or call out your volunteers in online community discussion forums or social media to thank them for their hard work. Put your thank you message in a location that gets a lot of traffic to ensure that people see it, and give it a little more oomph by @mentioning your volunteer by name and listing accomplishments.

Want to do even better?

Change your member’s profile photos to show a special banner, such as MVP, so it’s clear that your volunteers are some of the most valuable members of your association. Other members, volunteers, and vendors will all see how important volunteers are every time they get an email, read a blog, or view other content authored by a volunteer with your MVP banner on their photo.

2. Send Handwritten Thank You Notes

Emails are a dime a dozen (probably less), but when was the last time you received a handwritten letter? To give your volunteers an unexpected boost, send them personalized cards or letters thanking them for their help. Use your volunteer’s first name, and describe their accomplishments as well as their impact on your association.

Don’t want to write handwritten cards? Give your volunteers a call instead. Make the same effort to personalize the call and talk about their achievements, then take time to chat about how your volunteers feel about their experiences.

Want to do even better?

Put a fun twist on your thank you letters by stocking up on cheap Valentine’s Day cards in February. Send them to your volunteers with handwritten, personalized thank you messages all year long.

You can also spin this idea by sending more than just a card. The North Carolina Association of Certified Public Accountants (NCACPA) sends their volunteers an entire book. They’ve chosen the simple, yet inspirational Gratitude book, which is filled with quotes that resonate with volunteers. The book is inexpensive to purchase and handwritten messages from staff inside its pages make it a surprisingly touching thank you gift.

3. Hold a Volunteer Appreciation Event

Somewhat more common than handwritten letters is a volunteer appreciation event at your annual conference. While well-known, this thank you technique is still effective when done right. Start by promoting your event as an exclusive dinner or cocktail hour, with invitations for your top volunteers and their families.

You can make the event even more special by including your conference’s keynote speakers, industry experts, and your own leadership and board members. Take plenty of photos and highlight them in slideshows in your online community or an article in your print newsletter to extend post-event engagement.

Want to do even better?

There’s something exciting about a surprise party, so to take your appreciation event to the next level, make it spontaneous. Pick one of your best or longest-serving volunteers and throw them a surprise appreciation party complete with cake and ice cream. You can also do this for groups of volunteers who are working at the same time instead of zeroing in one individual.

4. Tell the Story of How Volunteers Are Helping

Many volunteers devote their time and expertise to your association to make a difference, so tell the story of how their work is making an impact. You can do this by sharing photos of your projects or by posting blog updates on how effective your advocacy programs are. Like we’ve discussed previously, be specific when telling each story. Volunteers should be able to see how their actions contributed to progress.

Want to do even better?

The best stories come from those you’ve helped. If your association is working to improve the professional lives of members or make a change in the world, get a personal story from someone who’s been directly affected by your projects.

If your association helps the homeless, for instance, have one of the people who have benefited from your services write a thank you letter and distribute that letter to volunteers. If you help professionals achieve a certification, do the same with a member who used your resources to advance their career. These stories will be more powerful than a message written by association staff.

5. Make Them Leaders

Put your volunteers in charge of other people, projects, and even your association. Experienced volunteers may work with new recruits to help them learn the ropes, for example. You can also invite your top volunteers to strategy meetings with your board or executive team so they can help determine your association’s future priorities. This gives them a sense of ownership and helps them become more invested in your organization.

Want to do even better?

Don’t just invite volunteers to sit in on meetings, make it official. Add a permanent, rotating leadership role or board member position for your volunteers. Qualified candidates can then serve on your board or assist your leadership team for a period of time, then rotate out so another volunteer can take their place.

Find Appreciation Methods that Work for Your Members

These are just a few ideas of ways to thank your members and take more traditional volunteer appreciation techniques to the next level. There are many more thank you methods not listed here, including providing food for volunteers while they’re working, giving volunteers free registration for your annual conference, and membership discounts.

Whatever methods you choose, make sure that your appreciation techniques resonate with your volunteers. If volunteers want to make a difference, find an appreciation method that clearly shows how their work is impacting those around them. If volunteers want to help drive your association, find a way to give them a seat at the table.

And if you’re not sure what your volunteers want, ask them. Start a discussion thread in your online community or send out an email survey to find out what thank you techniques make them feel most appreciated. Develop your recognition program from there.


Julie Dietz

Content Manager & Strategist, Epic Notion

Julie is a Content Manager & Strategist at Epic Notion. In her past life, she worked her way through Europe and Asia as a freelance writer, editor and English teacher for local and international businesses.

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